This past Sunday, Alex Treaster, the bright, young director of communications at my congregation, spoke to an adult education class about "branding" a church.
Well, indeed, the idea of branding (which means trying to create an attractive image of a congregation, an image that reflects its core reality) may come from the business world, but it's quite applicable to the new world in which American congregations of all religions find themselves.
The American religious landscape has been undergoing some significant changes for 50 or more years, moving from a time when it was simply assumed that most people would show up in church (probably Protestant) on a Sunday morning to a time when Protestants now make up less than half the population for the first time in the country's history.
In this rapidly changing situation, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and other houses of worship need to be intentional about describing to others what they're about. Thus, the concept of branding.
Alex asked us to think about what makes Second Presbyterian Church unique. I'm not sure my description represents something no other congregation offers, but I think that we provide thoughtful biblical literacy (we're not literalists or fundamentalists; instead, we take the Bible seriously) that leads us to engage in work to improve our community and to offer an opportunity for people to be transformed by the grace of Jesus Christ.
When people think of Second, I want them to think of people who care enough about their neighborhood, region and world that they become engaged in trying to make a difference for good. I want, of course, for them to think of our beautiful building, great preaching, excellent music and on and on. But, more, I want them to know that we start on the inside and move out.
But for people to wrap all of that up briefly requires branding. And branding is nothing to shy away from just because it may be an adaptation of something businesses use to sell computers and sports cars. The good news (Gospel) of the church is that we're not selling anything. Rather, we're pointing people to God, who is giving away love and compassion for free. That's surely worth branding.
(The Second Church logo you see here today, by the way, we now use consistently in all of our communications. Consistency is an important branding technique. You'll now even see this logo in big letters on the west side of our building at 55th and Brookside.)
* * *
ANOTHER CHARGE AGAINST JEWS
Speaking of branding -- well, misbranding, in this case -- the head of the traditionalist breakaway Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) just called Jews the "the enemies of the church," causing the Vatican to reconfirm its commitment to Catholic-Jewish dialogue and good relations with Judaism. Over the years SSPX has given Catholicism, religion and civility a bad name. Why does anyone pay attention to such people?
* * *
P.S.: My latest National Catholic Reporter column now is online. To read it, click here.