Resurrecting the Christian Brand
Dr. James Emery WhiteJames Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina; President of Serious Times, a ministry which explores the intersection of faith and culture (www.serioustimes.org); and ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture on the Charlotte campus of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. White holds the B.S., M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees, along with additional work at Vanderbilt University and Oxford University. He is the author of over a dozen books.
- 2009 Jan 31
“It’s down, it’s out – and its core voters are getting old.” So opened a recent Newsweek article on the Republican party. “If the GOP expects to rebound, it had better figure out how to reach younger voters. But how?”
For fun, Newsweek asked four hot, nonpartisan design firms to tackle the job.
The New York-based Pentagram agency went with, “Renew. Reinvest. Refresh. Recommit. Restore. Rethink. Republican” for its submission.
Frog Design, also out of New York, offered the idea of the party initiating a national brainstorming session, along the lines of “A New Vision for America 2012.”
Razorfish out of Chicago suggested that to reach new voters, you have to speak “tech.” As a result, they counsel the GOP to become smart users of social media, such as investing in a strong social networking site. Or even more forward-thinking, an iPhone application where users could register their friends without ever touching a piece of paper.
The Groop out of Los Angeles encouraged a new lexicon. Out: “old money” and “faith-based.” In: “new wealth” and “spirituality-based.”
I couldn’t help but wonder…what if Newsweek had asked four leading agencies to brainstorm for Christianity in America?
On the surface of things, it would be a welcomed effort. Studies show the “image” of Christianity in America is in shambles: we are considered hypocritical, judgmental, unloving, homophobic, and far too involved in politics.
But in the end, nothing is solved through mere “surface rebranding.” I often speak with pastors of struggling churches who feel this is the answer. They want to change their church’s name, update their website, or move to a new location. It never quite enters their mind that perhaps it is the worship experience itself that is lacking, or the quality of their messages, or a dysfunctional community, or having lost sight of the missional task inherent within the Great Commission. Though it would horrify them, in truth such strategies have succumbed to the worst of a consumer-based, market-driven mindset.
The goal is not finding a marketing breakthrough. Lest we forget, to preach the cross in the first century was to preach shame, humiliation, and scandal. As Sean McDonough wrote in a blog last year, “when Paul made the cross the centerpiece of his preaching, he was arguably making the single worst marketing decision in the history of mankind.”
So what was the secret of the early church?
It’s simple. It so incarnated the gospel that it overcame its position of market-weakness and catapulted over the market and stormed the hearts of a deeply pagan culture.
A few years ago I wrote a book titled Rethinking the Church. Certain critics of all things large or contemporary took it to task on any number of fronts, but foundationally on the idea that the church needs “rethinking” at all, as if I was actually suggesting that the biblical idea itself should be reconsidered. The book, of course, proposes nothing of the sort. In truth, my idea behind “rethinking” was that how we approach the biblical idea and dynamic of church needed to be rethought in regard to how we have allowed traditionalism and custom, dated mindsets and worn-out methods to become sacrosanct.
In that spirit, I’m all for “rebranding.” Meaning the need to embody, and then reveal, Christianity itself - raw and unfiltered. Let’s rethink evangelism and discipleship, ministry and worship, community and social engagement in a way that unleashes the church to reach her full redemptive potential. And then, quite frankly, market it in any way appropriate to connect with the culture we so desperately need to reach.
So how do we resurrect the Christian brand?
We resurrect the church.
James Emery White
“Your Mission: Resurrect the Republican Brand,” Newsweek, December 29, 2008/January 5, 2009, p. 13.
Sean McDonough, “Image Problem,” Monday, June 30, 2008, Every Thought Captiive, at http://connect.gordonconwell.edu/members/blog_view.asp?id=190052&tag=Church+Image.
White, James Emery. Rethinking the Church: A Challenge to Creative Redesign in an Age of Transition, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2003).