When a church becomes a brand it no longer operates or identifies as a church.
Churches aren’t brands…but some haven’t gotten the memo. Brands are divisive by design. They want to stand out…to demonstrate that they have better quality than the next brand. Brands are defended by lawsuits with great care that no one copies your secret sauce. Brands are territorial…they care that you come here rather than go there. They care that you wear these clothes rather than those clothes. Brands grow by outdoing the other guy…in this case the other guy are other churches.
It is very tempting in church land to create a better system than the other guy and capitalize on the margin of difference between your church and the other churches. In ever other area of our lives we would call this success…but not in the kingdom.
Churches shouldn’t operate like a brand. Churches should embrace unity and an open handedness about what is working. Churches exist to give themselves away, not build a personal empire. Churches aren’t defended by lawsuits…in fact, we want others to succeed!
Some churches have a brand and they are calling people to be loyal to the brand rather than loyal to Jesus. They would never say that directly but it happens. When this move is made the focus is placed firmly on ourselves rather than on God. When you focus on yourself long enough you lose your identity in Christ and do what Adam and Eve did in the garden – try to be like God instead of honoring God over yourself.
We don’t need more brands in Christianity. What we need instead are open handed people who share what they have learned and their resources for the benefit and betterment of others. We need churches where you know the person/people who are speaking on Sunday. Where the leadership cannot get away with being secretly abusive because they are in serious, committed and accountable relationships with others in the congregation.
I can hear you say – “But my church is small and if we are a brand, we aren’t doing it very well!” Even if you aren’t a mega church, you might well benefit from the concept that churches are a brand. If you rely on “kingdom growth” by people moving to your community who went to a church like yours in another town to come to your church when they get there…you are hoping that your church has brand recognition and will receive the benefit and growth from that connection. This expectation often hinders churches from being evangelistic because the church sees growth even though it is the shuffling of Christians from one congregation to another rather than new kingdom growth. The only thing keeping some churches afloat are the hope that people will move into town who agree with them. Where is that in the Bible? And we end up giving up on our biblical instruction to make disciples. We are hoping the brand will do the work for us.
Let us have a “business model” that is set to fail…to give ourselves away. To be so generous that we aren’t around in ten years because we gave all of our leaders away. I would be willing to bet that if you embraced that idea and ideal that you wouldn’t lack for leaders…that you wouldn’t lack for resources…that you wouldn’t lack for purpose. It might just be a Christ-like formula for maximum kingdom impact rather than making sure your congregation grows.
Even Churches of Christ have a brand presence and loyalty. We have selling points that are used to appeal to certain kinds of people. Really no one is immune to the temptation to see things grow and make ourselves look good…we have to be discerning of our motives in wanting to see growth and always keep the focus on God rather than on ourselves.