“In Jerusalem Christianity became a religion, in Rome it became a law, in Greece it became a philosophy, in Europe it became a culture, in America it became an enterprise.” A. W. Tozer
When a company advertises itself, along with the goods and services it offers, it attempts to communicate a certain image of itself to the people they are attempting to market its goods and services to. This marketing concept is known as “branding.” Every year, billions upon billions of dollars are spent by companies in an attempt to get you to recognize their brand. If a company does it well, within seconds of stumbling across such things as a television ad, you will be able to instantly recognize the company, and the goods and services they offer. For a company that has created an effective brand, certain colors, styles, graphics, and sounds will instantly be associated with everything that company does.
Truth be told, however, branding isn’t something that companies simply undertake. You and I, every single day of our lives, convey a certain image about ourselves. Sometimes this is very subtle, sometimes intentional, sometimes unintentional. But either way, we all convey a certain image to others.
The clothes we wear, our hair cut, and the cologne or perfume we splash on before we go out the door, are all forms of branding that we undergo every single day. Even the homes we live in, the schools we attend, and the cars we drive convey a certain image about ourselves to others. And those who wish to market themselves to a certain demographic and be embraced within certain circles ultimately adopt the philosophy of, “dressing for the job you want, not the job you have.” Therefore, some people will deliberately embrace a certain image in order to fit into certain groups that they would not otherwise fit in very easily because of their image. Somebody wishing to join the punk rock crowd will not likely dress like a lawyer, instead, they will dress like a punk rocker. And likewise, those wishing to become lawyers will not likely dress like somebody from the punk rock crowd, rather, they will dress like a lawyer. All of this image making that we engage in is branding.
And the Church is likewise, something that is not immune from the issue of branding. Whether we like it or not, the Church of Jesus Christ will convey a certain image about itself, intentionally or unintentionally. Some people may not like that, and think it doesn’t sound very spiritual. But truth be told, that’s simply a reality of life. As corporations bare an image, and as we bare an image, even so the Church bares an image. The question isn’t whether we should bare an image or not, rather, the question is, what image should we bare?
Over the years, I have often received mail from Churches in the area, often new, telling me what the vision of their Church is, and the ministries they offer. But nothing sticks out as strongly as one advertisement I saw a few times. One Church in the area I live, advertised itself at the local movie theater, right before a movie started. The ad was catchy, and though it’s been years since I’ve seen it, I still remember it to this day. The ad had a close up picture of somebody wearing a pair of blue jeans, with a slogan on it saying, “Jeans? No problem.” This Church wanted to convey the image to people who might consider attending that they are a Church that is laid back, easy going, and contemporary. Their branding was being relaxed.
I applaud the efforts of these Churches that obviously have a desire to reach out to the community, and make a difference for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the kingdom of God. I thank God they are not huddled together with the “us four and no more” mentality. But as much as I applaud their efforts, I am concerned that for all the advertisements, that they are missing the mark in what they do, and that they are engaged in activity that is actually contrary to the Spirit of God, and the image He would have us to convey as a Church.
John the Baptist was a forerunner of Jesus Christ in His first coming. John saw that the entire purpose of his ministry was to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah, and to make Him know to Israel. John the Baptist sought to make no name for himself, but to simply make Christ known. “He must increase, but I must decrease.” When you saw John, though you would have seen a man oddly dressed and seemingly out of touch, John wanted you to take one glimpse at him and think of nobody else but Jesus. For Jesus Christ was the image John was ultimately stamped with. Jesus Christ was John’s brand.
As John the Baptist was a forerunner of Jesus Christ in His first coming, I believe the Church of Jesus Christ stands in the shoes of John the Baptist as a forerunner of His second coming. And as Jesus Christ was the only thing John wanted you to see when you saw him, likewise, I believe we as a Church should be a people whose sole brand is also Jesus Christ. Thus, instead of seeking to make our awesome Churches known, and the wonderful ministries and services we have available, I believe the Lord would be better served in our making Christ known. For if we fail to make the knowledge of Him known as a Church, then we have lost everything, and the entire reason for our being. In attempting to increase ourselves, we fail to increase Him, and in doing so, become indistinguishable from any other corporation out there today. Our unique identity is lost, and the Church simply becomes seen as an organization who offers a religious diet to people who like to eat that sort of thing.
Rather than attempting to entice visitors to our Church through the various ministries we have to offer, or because we are some trendy cool religious people with contemporary music and a relevant message, we should only attempt to entice them to come and join us because we have conveyed something of the knowledge of Christ to them in our branding. Indeed, we must realize that for all of our great ministries, we have nothing to offer this lost and dying world except the one thing that the world does not have, and that is the knowledge of Christ.
This mindset was so deeply embedded into the Church, that it was at Antioch that the disciples of Jesus Christ first began to be called, “Christians.” They weren’t called Casual Church, Relevant Church, Family Church, House Church, or any of the other thing that we so often wish our Churches would be known for today. The people of Antioch didn’t look at the Church and say, “Oh man, what a great youth ministry they have!” Rather, they looked at the Church in Antioch, saw its image, and said, “Christ!” For the Church there was so consumed with wanting to convey the true knowledge of Jesus Christ to the rest of the world, that when the world did look at them, it noticed that they were a people who made much about Him.
Let us be such a people. So much so that when we talk about our Church to others, and invite people from the community to visit it, that if the only thing they do is visit our Church website, that something of the knowledge of Christ is conveyed to them in the process. For we are not looking to offer people our programs and services, rather, we are looking to offer people Christ. And if Jesus Christ is not enough to entice them to visit us, then they need to realize we have nothing else to offer them but Him.