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I recently read an article given to me by my Consumer Behavior professor. The article came from Marketing News, a publication of the American Marketing Association. This article was title “Brand Apostles” and was published May 15, 2006, so it is a little out of date but still relevant to what is happening today. The article focused on two Chicago mega-churches, Salem Baptist Church of Chicago and Willow Creek Community Church, the populations of these churches being 23,890 and 20,000 respectively. These two churches have taken basic business marketing strategies and applied them to their churches.
“It is brand strategy at its most elemental, in which the brand (the church) makes a promise (the sense of community) to its consumers (the congregation) through both emotional benefits (“I feel good about being in this church”) and functional benefits (“The mission of this church fits my lifestyle well”).” In my class we discussed how we felt about these churches appealing to the values of people in order to get them to come to church. I do not see anything wrong with this approach since a person’s values are essential to them, and the gospel itself draws from those values, so God must be the perfect marketer in that sense.
In the last thirteen years (at the time of the article), there was a 92% increase in the number of unchurched Americans. These churches were drawing on the needs of these people looking for a place that was user-friendly, essentially where the “customer” comes first. These churches have several different ways of making these people feel more at home. Willow Creek has a full-service coffee shop, a children’s play area, choices two dozen workshops, a fully digital info kiosk, and the ability to watch service on plasma tvs. Salem also have ways of being seen as more user-friendly: three regulation size basketball courts, a concession stand, several classes on different topics, a welcome team, a membership department, and age appropriate ministries. The idea in itself of becoming more user-friendly is not a bad one, the church simply needs to examine the heart behind those additions.
Now this is where the problem comes in for me. Cally Parkinson, Director of Communication Services at Willow Creek said in this article, “We have a strong strategy for managing the brand. The power of the brand is the promise: contemporary, non threatening, you can be anonymous. You will be challenged, but it won’t be painful.” Now here’s my question, what good is a challenge if you won’t grow from it? And how do you expect to grow if it won’t be painful? As I was saying in a previous blog, Kyle Idleman discussed in his book “not a fan” that churches have become fan generators, and I think this is the perfect example of that.
I do not have a problem with a church using business principles in a way that fits the mission and vision of the church. I do not want the church to become a business and lose its focus. Churches must remain kingdom-focused above all else. This article was eye opening into what some churches are becoming. It is fine for a church to work on its brand. “A brand is much more than a logo, a symbol, a sign or device, or simply the result of clever advertising. It helps to communicate value and create and deliver that value. Branding is a promise of value for customers. It helps to attract and, if it is true and accurate, keep customers. It provides an extra element of understanding or meaning, for customers as they form opinions and make purchase decisions from a variety of competing offerings.” A church must be and have a brand, and they must be able to communicate that effectively. In order for a church to get new “brand loyal followers” they must market, but above all they cannot lose their kingdom focus in this endeavor.