What’s Your Ministry’s Brand?

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Branding used to refer to what cowboys did to cattle in the west
to differentiate their cows from all the other cattle on the open
range. But in the 21st century, the word “branding” has become part
of advertisers’ vocabulary as they’ve tried to differentiate their
products from all the others on the range. The discipline of
branding or establishing a recognizable identity in a world that’s
oversaturated with messages is becoming one of the most valuable
skills in our day — especially for your ministry.

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What Is a Brand?

The overload of information in our society has made it
increasingly difficult for an organization or product to get
people’s attention without a brand. Put very simply, a brand is the
following.

A Single Concept — A brand is a single word or
single-minded concept in the mind of the customer. For instance,
when people think of Volvo, they think of “safety.” Mention Federal
Express, and people think of “reliable overnight delivery.” Martha
Stewart turned her passion for hostessing into one of the most
powerful brands today. What do people think of when they think of
your ministry?

Graphic Identity — A brand is also a visual
mark or word or combination of both that stands for that
single-minded concept. The Nike “swoosh” or the Golden Arches are
examples of brands that actually own real estate in your mind.
These companies can confidently display those marks without the
words because whenever people see the mark, they automatically
think of the word.

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A Shortcut — Finally, a brand is a shortcut to
trust. Anything you can do to help busy people navigate through the
overload of information will be perceivedas a welcome help.
Shortcuts save time and simplify people’s lives.

What Does a Brand Do?

Branding is the act of simplifying how you communicate your
ministry to children, families, and your community. A brand
identifies the factors that make your ministry stand out from
others. A strong brand provides the following benefits.

  • Promotes Loyalty and Commitment — One of the
    most important things a brand does is reassure people that their
    decision to choose your ministry was and still is a good
    decision.
  • Raises the Perceived Value of Your Ministry
    Brands bring the personality of your ministry to the surface and
    increase the potential for people to relate more quickly and deeply
    to what you do. Because they don’t answer all the questions, brands
    generate interest and encourage people to explore your
    ministry.
  • Creates Buzz — People talk more about your
    ministry if you pay attention to your brand. The good things you do
    will get noticed more if you have a strong brand. Because good
    brands create trust, they fare better if something goes wrong.
    People are more forgiving when mistakes are made. People are
    willing to invest more and sacrifice more for a strong brand than a
    weak one.
  • Pumps Up Your Team — The effect of a strong
    brand on your team is even more astounding. People identify with
    success. They want to be part of a strong entity. A strong brand
    creates a greater sense of community and makes it easier to retain
    and recruit more volunteers. People are more easily mobilized
    around a single-minded organization. A brand communicates vision —
    and vision generates motivation.

How Do I Get a Brand?

A rather frightening principle in branding is that you can’t not
communicate what you are. Whether you’re aware of it or not, you’ve
been establishing a brand by the way you’ve been doing ministry
already — whether that’s positive or negative. Here’s how to
identify your brand.

Gather Information — What makes your ministry
unique from others? Determining the difference that’s most
important to people is the first step in branding. The best way to
discover your relevant difference is to ask your most loyal
families what first drew them to your ministry. They can tell you
better than anyone what sets apart your ministry.

Great branding requires the humility to admit that you’re not an
objective source for evaluating your ministry. People will tend to
tell you what they think you want to hear. That’s normal human
behavior. Send a representative who can protect families’
identities, so people are more apt to provide honest and valuable
information that’ll help you discover your real brand. Another
option is to distribute and collect an anonymous questionnaire much
like restaurants provide.

Ask these questions:

  • What first drew you to our ministry?
  • What five words describe our ministry?
  • What five words don’t describe our ministry?
  • If our ministry were a car, what kind of car would it be?

Process Information — Once you’ve collected and sorted the
feed­­back, look for common themes in what people said. Then get
your entire team involved in the following three steps — and have
fun. For a fun meeting plan, check out “Brand X, Y, or Z?” on page
57.

1. State the “what” of your brand. What’s the
core benefit that your ministry delivers? Remember, this is a
unique strength that’s relevant to the people you serve. When
Burger King began in Australia, they decided their unique strength
that was most valuable to Australians was Burger King’s ability to
grill a good burger. That’s their “what.” Your “what” may be
dynamic children’s programs, fantastic outreach ministries, or
teachers who really care.

2. Decide the “who” of your brand. This is when
things get really fun. What’s the tone or the attitude or the
personality of your brand? Think about the emotion and passion
associated with your ministry. This is where you create connections
to people that generate excitement about what you’re doing.

If your ministry were a car, what kind would it be? a Model T, a
race car, or a clown’s Volkswagen? If your ministry were a cartoon
character, which one would it be? a brainiac Jimmy Neutron, a loyal
SpongeBob SquarePants, or an out-of-control Tasmanian Devil?
Choosing these images helps you better understand your brand.

Australians take great pride in their ability to grill meat. If
you were invited to their house for a barbecue, they’d never trust
you or any guest to run the grill. Burger King decided that if they
were a person, they’d be the only “mate” that an Australian would
always trust with the “barbie.”

3. Pound out the “essence” of your brand.
Create a vivid and inspiring statement of what your ministry seeks
to become in people’s hearts and minds, such as “a caring place for
kids” or “the best hour of a kid’s week.” In Australia, Burger
King’s essence ended up being “burgers just like yours.” Federal
Express used “When it absolutely, positively has to be there
overnight.”

If possible, get a graphic artist involved from the beginning to
create a mark that reflects the personality of your brand. A strong
brand’s mark should follow God’s design. We were designed with two
eyes that are side by side, not on top of each other. It just makes
sense that the shape of your brand should fit in a horizontal
rectangle that’s a little shorter than a business card.

The more specific a brand is, the more dynamic it becomes. Don’t
try to be everything to everybody. Every small town has a coffee
shop. It may be called a coffee shop but you can usually get
breakfast, lunch, and dinner with your coffee. Until, of course,
Starbucks came to town. All they serve is coffee. Starbucks is one
of the strongest brands in America because they narrowed their
focus on coffee. You can be the Starbucks of children’s ministry in
your community!

Brand X, Y, or Z?

We explored branding for our ministry recently at church. Follow
this plan with your team, too.

1. Form a team. Gather about a dozen people who
are passionate about your ministry. Ask them to commit to meet for
an hour for four weeks to explore how to best brand and position
your ministry.

2. Focus on the positive. Identify your
ministry’s strengths, what you do well, and what you’re known for.
This is a time to celebrate! Jot a separate sticky note for each
ministry strength. Compile the notes on a sheet of poster board.
Group similar comments so you can visually see trends.

Just for fun, do the same thing with your pastor. Put your
pastor on a chair in the center of your circle. Next, fill out one
sticky note per strength or affirmation for your pastor (or you can
do this for the lead children’s minister). One by one, cover your
pastor with sticky notes and voice what you’ve written. This is a
wonderful way to encourage leadership and begin with a positive
perspective of what God is doing through your ministry and staff.
After all, it’s the positive that you want to brand!

3. Clarify your target audience. Ask people to
each think of a person, child, or parent who might be interested in
your ministry. Encourage them to think as if they were that person
for this activity. Together, complete as many 3×5 cards per idea as
possible to complete these statements:

  • I believe I am…
  • Others say I am…
  • Our ministry/church is…

Then group piles of similar cards for each statement. Look for
overlaps, connections, and words or phrases that might begin to
describe the people you’re trying to reach.

4. Analyze the other ministries in your
community.
Form work teams and divvy up your local
newspaper’s ads for the surrounding churches or children’s
ministries. Have each team review one or two ads to report what
they believe each church’s brand is. What an eye-opening exercise!
From one little ad, you’ll pick up what’s important to each
ministry.

5. Synthesize the information. With all these
activities to spark your thinking, brainstorm your ministry’s
unique calling. Combine your unique strengths, the understanding of
your target audience, and how you’d differentiate your ministry
from other children’s ministries in your area.

6. Pray. Give thanks for all the ministries
around you. And pray for guidance in how God will use your unique
strengths, wonderful people, and special calling.

Joani Schultz
Loveland, Colorado


Jim Misloski is a discipleship and education pastor at a
church in Fort Collins, Colorado. Please keep in mind that phone
numbers, addresses, and prices are subject to change.

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