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Branding and the church

July 31, 2015

In a discussion on Facebook about the face of anger that Christians sometimes present in the various social media, someone made a comment about Christianity having a “brand problem.” I don’t know precisely what he meant by that term, so I’ll take it at face value.

I was surprised by the comment but shouldn’t have been. I’ve heard it before. But I can’t help but wonder, why on earth would Christians worry about a brand problem? Branding has to do with commerce, with an image presented by a person or company that accurately (one would hope) presents the nature of the business or product with the intent of making it memorable and attractive to potential customers. It requires a knowledge of the buying public and of what they find attractive. In short, it is brought into being to interest people to buy. There’s nothing inherently dishonest about that.

But what place does that have in thinking about Christianity and about the reputation of Christians? Is the gospel a commodity, and are we its advertisers? It is certainly true, negatively speaking, that our actions which are not in keeping with the message and character of Christ can turn people away from the gospel. It’s also true, positively speaking, that some people might be so moved by what we do and how we behave that they will respond positively to the message. But should we think in terms of branding, which might incline us to make our likability the important thing?

While winning favor with people is a good thing, branding is not the way to think about it because it places too high a value on the sensibilities of nonbelievers. Trying to win a good name can cause us to water down the gospel. If we speak and act in keeping with the character of Jesus and according to the instructions in Scripture, our goodness may cause some people to glorify God in the day of his visitation (which some take to mean that they become believers). But it may also bring persecution (2 Tim. 3:12; 1 Pet. 2 and 3).

I hear so much nowadays about the terrible image Christians—especially evangelicals—have with non-Christians, and much verbal self-flagellation results. Do we really know why people have such a bad opinion of us? Is it because of bad things that they know we do? Or is it just an attitude, like a prejudice, that begins with some people and spreads without good reason to others? Is it because of what we believe, such as our claim that Jesus as the only way to the only true God, or because we have fixed ethical standards that we claim apply to everyone? If so, we can’t let ourselves worry about it. We are to please God, not men.

Whatever the reason non-Christians don’t like us, good branding is not the solution. The ideas of branding and image have connotations that give them little use in Christianity. The sensibilities of non-Christians are not our standard. Jesus is. All we need to ask of ourselves is whether we are honoring him. And then we let the chips fall where they may.

Addendum: Someone may complain that I’ve read too much into “branding,” that all that is meant is that we should look to our behavior to see if we are or are not modeling Christ. But words matter, and it’s a mistake to use words that carry connotations which aren’t fitting. If we don’t have a commercial model in mind, a different word should be used. It’s hard enough to communicate what we believe without using misleading terms.

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From → Culture, Discipleship

One Comment
  1. Paul Rutherford permalink

    Love it! Thanks for pointing out cultural fads like branding, and taking a moment to reflect on them, Rick. Appreciate your heart AND your wit.

    Paul Rutherford

    2001 W. Plano Pkwy Ste. #2000 Plano, TX 75075 972.941.4569 – office direct 469.338.6322 – mobile

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