I served as the pastor of a two-point charge in the Kentucky Annual Conference from June of 2019 to June of 2021.
The churches were different enough that I felt I needed to prepare two different sermons each Sunday. But like most pastors with a church job and a regular job, I definitely did not have time for that.
Though I was strained for time, I was determined to point the churches in a direction that could position them for growth. Neither church had tried something new in so long, it just seemed like wasted potential if I didn’t.
I wasn’t sure if either church was open to change. Members often say they want new blood, but changing things can cause people to rethink that position pretty quickly.
The smaller church of 15 people was content with where they were. Attendees of the larger church suggested, in a roundabout way, that they would like to see some growth.
One night at Bible study, I asked everyone who they were as a church. The room went quiet.
Someone said, “We’re friendly.” Another person agreed.
Being friendly is an important value to have, but almost every church would lay claim to this characteristic.
The bigger question for our little country church: What does “friendly” look like? How do you let people in the community who frequently pass by your building know you are friendly?
Branding your church
Who you are as a church is a concept that guides your programs. It also is a foundational marketing concept that lets people know what to expect if they visit your church.
If your church is regularly involved in the community, people there probably have a solid impression of you based on what you’re doing. If you’re not out in the community, there are still ways, even if it’s just seconds at a time, to let people know who you are.
Flying a banner outside the church that reads “We are friendly” won’t be effective.
There’s a more subtle way.
The logo at my larger church had been the same for several decades and people in the church were hesitant to think about changing it. However, with persistence and inclusion of a representative group of people, the door was opened.
Achieving unity and a fresh, new look
I invited people from different subsections of the congregation to participate on the branding committee. Then brainstorming began. Since we were not graphic designers, it was hard to know where to start. But after fleshing out rough ideas, we jotted down some thoughts to send to a graphic designer.
The church building sits at the intersection of two major county roads. We thought about referencing something recognizable to the community. We considered possible colors and what they could signify. (Look into the psychology of color and what many people recognize colors to mean.)
We settled on navy blue and a golden color that were present in our stained-glass windows.
There were so many possibilities for fonts. We asked the designer to try modern and traditional fonts. I took our notes, gave them to the graphic designer and we waited.
A few weeks later, we received our first set of mockups. Everyone on the committee had an immediate favorite. My favorite was not the one most everyone else liked best. I know it’s not common to have consensus, so I went with the committee’s choice.
I was reasonably happy with the experience. During the process, I observed several key principles at work. I hope that these design principles can help your church in undertaking the rebranding process.
A visual roadmap
Once you've started the process and have initial drafts, start evaluating the options. Below are details about the mockups that we received and the thought process behind our decision as a guide.
The graphic designer found a photo of the church building online and made a silhouette logo for this mockup. The silhouette approach is a common choice for a logo, using some piece of architecture to represent the church as a whole.
The designer also chose this particular mockup to incorporate a modern font.
I liked the modern font, but it didn’t fit our church since the aesthetics of the church building hadn’t been updated since the 1980s. We’re more of an old-fashioned, traditional church, so a modern font felt incongruent.
If I was launching a church hoping to attract millennials, I might have felt differently.
The silhouette logo approach used here is a great approach if you have something recognizable about your building or something else distinct that people might notice. (I’ve seen a church use a large bell from their lawn for their logo.)
Why we passed on this design:
1. There’s nothing about this design that overtly matches our values.
2. Our building is not distinct enough to be recognized in a logo.
This design was my favorite. Our church members do shake hands with each other a lot, which backs up the expressed idea that we are a “friendly” church.
The font is even what I might call a friendly font. Instead of sharp, formal edges, the edges are round. The font makes use of lowercase letters instead of all capitals. (Kind of like how we, as people, don’t capitalize every letter in our name).
The heart-and-hands image is consistent with what people would want from a small, country congregation. People who have never been to a service wouldn’t expect technology and a bunch of programs. What they would expect is for people to know your name and be happy to bring you some food if you’re sick.
Why we passed on this design:
1. In many ways, their building felt like their heritage. The committee wanted to include something about their building in the logo, which this one didn’t have.
The committee found this one confusing at first. But once I explained the design, the concept became a favorite. There wasn’t much discussion about other options from there.
The cross represents where the church building sits in the “Y” intersection where two major county roads meet. The lines on either side of the cross represent the roads that converge into a third road a few miles behind the building.
Everyone professing membership at the church lives up and down these two intersecting roads. This logo seemed like a nod to the “us-ness” of the congregation. Most church members have been a part of the congregation for decades. So maybe the nod to a geographic location felt like a nod to home.
The committee reached out to the designer and asked for some revisions.
What we wanted changed:
1. The committee wanted more color. One committee member noted that the gold color almost matched the color in the stained-glass windows in the sanctuary. The group asked: “Can we make some of the other colors from the stained-glass window work in this logo?”
2. I felt that the font was almost gothic looking. We’re traditional, but not that traditional. I asked, “Can the graphic designer incorporate a more friendly font?”
This is the final result and the logo that now graces the sign outside Bethel United Methodist Church in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
The graphic designer was able to incorporate some of the red from the stained-glass window. The cross design was modified to provide a place to put the color.
For the font, the designer replaced the gothic look with a more friendly font in the heart/handshake design.
We compromised. I got some of what I wanted from the design and the church committee got some of what it wanted.
There is one design principle to note regarding our chosen logo: The more intricate the logo, the less scalable it remains.
In order to add more color to the design, the graphic designer had to make our design more intricate. The more intricate the design, the harder it is to duplicate the design on T-shirts and promotional products. (Printing machines aren’t as precise as a computer screen and often have a limit on colors).
Details will typically disappear as you shrink the usable space. A product vendor may have to simplify your original logo, using less color and detail in other applications.
Craig Catlett is senior manager of Local Church Services at United Methodist Communications.