5 thoughts on “Sermon Branding

  1. John Ballenger says:

    Ryan,

    I’d like to challenge you a bit on this one.

    Words are important. Symbols, metaphors, ideas and concepts carry with them connotations that have deep meaning for those who have ears to hear. The fact that the writer of John refers to our Lord as “The Word” should make us consider and reconsider our use of words. While I don’t have anything against “branding” per se, I do wonder what we are communicating when we use a marketing term to describe the preaching moment. I instantly think that you’re selling me a bill of goods.

    If we examine the use of these terms within the broader context of our society, we might begin to wonder as to the kingdom in which we truly find our membership. We’ve been talking about “transferable concepts” in theological education for decades now and I think it has made the American Church more like the business world and less like the Church. We only need to look at the impact that the downturn in the economy has had on so many churches in our country to see how tied into the business world we’ve become.

    Please understand that I’m not advocating the lazy, backward, thoughtless and non-creative church culture that has also been all too pervasive. We should be the most creative force on the planet. I love that guys like Rob Bell are workhorses in terms of effort and creativity. I just think the words we use should reflect something other than the economic forces of our day.

    If we find the the system we’ve created requires us to “brand” our sermons, it may be time to change the system. If we are unwilling to evaluate such things then I think we may be in line for an Isaiah type message of condemnation. Sorry if this is a bit forward, I just wonder what we are doing to ourselves by adopting the business world as our metaphor for the Church.

    Peace,

    jb

    • John, thank you for commenting! I appreciate your point about the importance of words and your challenge of the use of the term “branding” being used in association with sermons, a term from the business world. You’re invited to comment here as much as you’d like!

      If I understand you correctly, your main point is that using a business term to refer to sermons is off-putting in a culture that is already skeptical of the Church (“all churches want is my money”, etc.) You also may be saying that the business world has corrupted the Church. Am I understanding you correctly?

      In response, I want to offer some points. I think this is a discussion that needs to take place more:

      1. Is business, by default, an unholy enterprise? Is it ungodly to engage in business or marketing or to use terms from the business world to describe communication that takes place in the Church? Can followers of Jesus engage in business without forsaking Christ? If so, then is a term unworthy of the Church just because it was coined by the business world?

      2. I think that “Brand” is another word for “Symbol”. The sermon does not sell an idea for money, so the sermon is not marketing, as the market refers to the trade of goods. The look, sound, feel, etc. of a sermon, however, creates a “brand” or a set of symbols whether one creates it intentionally or not. I fact, I think it’s a matter of semantics. Another more church-friendly word for “Branding” might be “Icon”.

      3. I’ll agree somewhat with what I think is your main point, that the word “Branding” is, in itself, a symbol that is commonly associated with selling, so that symbol may be offensive to some who are skeptical of selling or business, especially with any connection to the Church.

      Ryan

      • I’ve been thinking about this more. Skye Jethani has recently written a book entitled The Divine Commodity. The central theme of his book is that churches can and have sold out to consumerism in American culture. Worship can become entertainment. Church buildings can look like malls. And I have seen what I believe are examples of this. For example, a church in AZ raffled off a cheap Ford, and the way participants entered the raffle was by reading chapters of the Bible. The reward for reading the Bible was a cheap Ford. Ok, that’s some consumerism at work.

        However, I cannot miss the irony that Skye is selling a book about consumerism. His website is very cool and has a photo of the Simpsons on it, as of today. http://www.skyejethani.com/. Rob Bell (I appreciate Rob very much, by the way), who has sold hundreds of thousands of books and videos endorses the book about consumerism. Rob’s congregation meets in a renovated mall. It’s just hard for me to take someone seriously who sells lots of well-branded products and then speaks against consumerism.

        America has an addiction to stuff. Materialism is rampant. Some churches go too far in trying to identify with the culture, and even well-meaning conscientious followers of Jesus are consuming books about consumerism.

  2. John Ballenger says:

    There is quite a bit to respond to in your reply. I’m not sure that I have adequate time or space to do so, at least not thoroughly or well.

    Societies by definition involve economy. I’m not against society so I’m not against economy (or business). I think God made us to live together so… business, in that sense, is God ordained.

    I’m not so sure about marketing. Since the vast majority of marketing is an attempt to get you to buy something that you do not need, it may indeed be unholy. In many cases I’m fairly sure it is. I wouldn’t want to say that all marketing is unholy, some of it is simply communication. I’m just highly skeptical of it in general. Speaking of skepticism, I wasn’t really referring to or even thinking about the skepticism of those outside the Church (though there is certainly enough of that to go around).

    Let me put it this way Ryan: When Jesus or those in the early church made use of important stories, words, symbols, and metaphors from their culture they almost always subverted their meaning (i.e. King of Kings and Lord of Lords, crosses, Samaritans, etc.). We don’t subvert the culture much anymore, we try to emulate it. We use its symbols, words, and metaphors as ours but we do so without changing the meaning or turning it on its head. I think we’re fooling ourselves if we think we can simply adopt and use business concepts without it having a major impact on who we are as the Church. I think it has taken a terrible toll on pastors and churches all over our country. I’d be willing to explain what I mean by that if you’d like to talk about it. It is a much larger conversation.

    I know that I must sound like a backward thinking, closed-minded dude. I don’t think that it so. However, I’m willing to sound backward if it means that we ask good questions. Progress for progress sake is a god that I don’t want to bow to. As I said, I’d be more than willing to chat in person. Peace…

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