Do all Nike employees Just Do It?
Does everyone at Coca Cola really believe Coke is the Real Thing?
The United Methodist Church is on its way to launching the next step of our marketing campaign that began with Igniting Ministry. This effort, launched, I believe, 9 years ago, generated our now nearly famous tag line, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors, the People of the United Methodist Church.”
I’m not sure how this has played outside the denomination; our membership continues to slide. I can tell you how it has played within the denomination: the majority now believe it is not just our tag line but our Theological Statement.
As you know if you clicked the Igniting Minsitry link above, that site is no longer active. Instead you find this message:
Old wineskins into new wineskins — striving to honor the past and plan for the future
Igniting Ministry has moved, and with it, we hope, is your support and engagement in the new campaign, RETHINK CHURCH.
We didn’t actually get the web address “rethink church,” but that’s what we are calling our new effort anyway. Here is the website. It includes a slick, downloadable video featuring the voice of James Earl Jones.
In a continuing effort to brand the United Methodist Church as open, welcoming, and worthwhile, this effort strikes me as well intentioned, but suffering from the following flaws:
- While branding seeks to link expectations of a particular experience with a brand, successful branding begins with, well, success. We have now been telling the nation for 9 years that our denomination is open, open, open. Yet too many of our congregations are anything but open. Illustrative of this is the congregation I served once upon a time where I was told, “We want new people to come, new members to join… as long as they don’t change anything!”
- And our organization at the local, regional, and national level is not generally any more open. I once proposed an alternative to a new pension initiative/formula, to which a conference leader responded by calling a meeting of large-church pastors out of concern that the small churches were trying to do something against them.
- Therefore, if we are going to brand ourselves as open, we had better be ready, on many fronts, to actually present ourselves as such.
- I am deeply concerned that the word “God” occurs in the video exactly once, as does “spiritual,” yet “Jesus” is left out entirely. What the world needs to know, if we are to convince them we are open, is that we are open, or learning to become more open, because of the example and by the power of Jesus himself.
- The line, “What if church was more of an out-of-church experience” sums up the problem. This indirectly admits that we want to be something we don’t want to be. For prove, read this statement with any other noun substituted in the 2 places “church” occurs, and try and make any sense out of it.
Now, to be fair, there is some promise in this presentation. I appreciate the idea, even the vision of church being “outbound, unbound, active,” like it was “originally.” However, to the vast majority of those inside and oustide the church, “Church” is primarily construed as an institution not as a collection or collective of people.
Here is where it really has to start: “what if we all worked together to re-assess what it means to be people of faith,” because the hope is that we move to the place of understanding, of living church “not in terms of what it is, but in terms of what it could be?”
If we as United Methodists, or perhaps, when we as United Methodists, genuinely work together to re-assess what it means to be people of faith, we won’t need a clever, well-produced ad-campaign to reach others.