Sub-Brands at Your Church

My first job in ministry was working with teens. I was barely removed from high school but ready to do the work of the Lord with about 15 kids at a rural church. The church gave me a ton of freedom (probably a bit too much) to make decisions for the student ministry that I probably shouldn’t have.

The students met in a second-floor room, so it only made sense. “The Upper Room Youth” was born.

This sort of thing happens all the time. Find a descriptive and biblical title, theme, idea and attach youth, students, or kids to it and there’s your ministry name.

Since I’ve been a church communicator, I loathe the decision I made as a young pup in ministry. Our student ministry had no connection to the over-arching identity of the church.

There is a ton of conversation about branding in our Church Communications Group. We talk and discuss the look and feel, the experience, and messaging. But another sub-conversation that has arisen is the issue of sub-branding. That is should your children and student ministries have their own brands.

There is a ton of things we could talk about here. But I want to give you some very tangible things to think about before diving off into creating different brands for your church’s ministries.

1) Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

In my own experience, the reason why most ministry leaders (including myself) want a brand for their department is typically for good reasons. They want visual representation. They want to send a message that their age groups are important. They want to create an atmosphere. While all of these things are well-meaning, a sub-brand could take away from your church’s overarching mission and vision.

2) Avoid the clutter.

I’ve found that most churches with sub-brands are cluttered brands. It’s hard to tell what the church is going after because children’s groups are called one thing. Student groups are known as another. Pastoral Care ministry has a title.

My dad was a truck driver for Nabisco. This cookie company is famous for Oreo, Chips Ahoy, and Ritz Crackers. While I loved being the beneficiary of delicious treats, my dad would remind me that it isn’t cookies that kept him employed, but rather, the way the company treated him and valued him as an employee. Nabisco had a core value of customer service at the stores they sold to. My dad was on the front lines. If something was wrong, he worked to fix it. The company valued it, and he was a long-time employee. For my dad, the cookies didn’t mean much.
I’m not suggesting here that student ministry and children’s ministry is not important. They are, but a sub-brand can hide the value of the overarching brand of your church to a large audience of people who need to know what your church does. People can get lost in the names of ministry and not in the mission of ministry. This leads to point 3.

3) Keep things simple.

I am a proponent in all things church communications to call things what they are. I take the approach that a ministry should reflect your church’s name and then simple what the area or ministry is. So for us, First West Students, First West Kids, and so on just makes sense for us. This sort of simplicity of allows for every ministry to be strategic to the church’s vision and mission.

4) Take your time, but be proactive.

Changing a church from a sub-brand culture to a branded house culture will take time. Our church is moving more and more to First West Kids, but that doesn’t mean the evidence of the Treehouse (which has been what it’s called) has disappeared. Our church spent over $100,000 to make this environment for children a year before I came on staff. Everything looks like a treehouse. It’s not necessarily going anywhere anytime soon. What we try to do is work with our surroundings to keep the environment, but push the vision within that environment.

It also takes time to change the language. If you have had a sub-brand and are switching to a branded house philosophy, people who have been emotionally invested or long-time members will need time to call it the new thing. We still have people calling “First West Kids” the “Treehouse” because it’s what they’ve known. Give them time. They’ll get there.

5) Be prepared for contention.

I want to give you a word of caution. This area of church communications is contentious. Some of the most significant disagreements I’ve had with others that I work with have been over this issue. What you have in mind for your church’s brand and what a ministry has in mind for their ministry could be two very different things. Give grace. Be humble. Take your time.

Church Comm Legend Kem Meyer said about Granger Community Church that they were a “branded house and not a house of brands.” This has been the mantra for my church communications philosophy.

6) You’ll tell more stories and do less announcing.

I’ve learned in my context that I can focus on vision and mission dripping through storytelling because I’m not having to clarify what every sub-brand does or what they have going on. We can express God’s story through all areas of the church because we don’t have to worry about competing brands.

In conclusion…

The first time I ever realized that FedEx has multiple sub-brands my mind was blown. FedEx Express (the overnight shipping arm of the company) and FedEx Ground (the standard delivery operation) are two separate entities of one larger brand. They have their own set of standards and expectations for you as a customer, but yet they don’t deviate from core values of the larger corporation. Ultimately, you can’t even tell that their backline systems and operations are different because their core values shine through. (As a side note, I think the way their visual identity of their sub-brands are set up is an excellent case study for how you could identify areas in your church.)

Let me challenge you to consider to let your church’s core values shine through first before creating a culture of sub-brands in your context.