Church life is replete with themes, growth strategies, title phrases, and trendy belief statements. At one point the only differentiator among churches in a community was the denominational tag.
As non-denominational churches expanded and those within our Baptist world divided, grew, and launched into the church-growth strategies so prevalent in the late twentieth century, we added to our lexicon such church designators as seeker-friendly, purpose-driven, contemporary, family-based, and more. As a response, or perhaps a reaction, other churches sought to ensure that they were known for not being any of those things declared by neighboring churches, promoting their version of church as traditional, “old-time religion” or even “KJV-only.” Words matter and these were designed so that potential church members would know the version of church that was available.
It sounds like a marketing strategy because it is.
Often these descriptive phrases ended up on promotional pieces, church signs, t-shirts, banners, and whatever could be used to promote the local church.
As we work with church planters and journey with them through the process of naming their church and getting the word out to the community, often these same marketing techniques, though updated for the digital age and changed to be more “relevant,” tend to rise to the surface. I am not at all opposed to a proper marketing technique and right ways to get the word out about one’s church. I do believe there are some things pastors should consider.
If you’re intent on being a gospel-centered or gospel-driven church, then be that. You just don’t have to put that on your promotional material. I actually believe every church should be gospel-centered/driven because the gospel is the good news and the good news is Christ. If a new church is seeking to reach the previously unchurched, lost, unsaved people in its community, the phrase “gospel-centered/driven” will actually mean nothing…because that’s a church phrase. However, if a church is intent on reaching the already churched, those who attend other churches, disgruntled former attenders and church members, etc. the term may work. Yet, if the goal is to be a church that presents the good news to those who have never heard it, drop the churchy taglines and just be that type of church. Be gospel-centered/driven. It will become clear as you reach and disciple those who need this good news.
This is true for just about every other church-centric tagline that is used. At my church, we thought about putting “We love God. We love people,” on our church sign, but we have nixed that. Why? Because if I have to emblazon this truth on our sign that we are the people who love our neighbor, it may mean that we have never shown them. Which could mean that we do not love them actually, just philosophically. We desire our community to know we love God by our actions. We want them to know we love people by what we do and how we treat them. We desire that all know we love where we live because we exemplify that. We desire to do all this in Christ’s name, for the glory of God. And while we won’t shy away from using the words, there is more value in saying it to someone in person while showing these realities to them, than by just posting them on a sign or website.
Nevertheless, we do have these things visible within our church building and on internal communications as part of our church’s vision frame. In fact, we keep repeating the values of “Love God, love people, love where we live, etc.” not for the people outside our church family, but for the members already here…just so they/we do not forget. Like the ancient Israelites, we are all forgetful.
Pastor, planter, replanter, revitalizer, I encourage you to know why you do what you do. Know the unique version of local church God has called you to be. Preach the Word. Stand firmly in the faith on the Way, the Truth, and the Life, but focus more on being than on telling everyone what you are. Otherwise, your tagline will be little more than aspirational and you may just miss your target.