Bill, a rancher raising Hereford cattle at the AG Ranch, was distressed that news of mad-cow disease was devaluing the sale of the British breed. One morning his neighbor stopped for a visit and found Bill heating a newly fashioned iron. He looked closely and saw that it had the letters (N US) on it. “Whatcha doin’ Bill?” he asked. “Burger King pays more for ’em this way,” Bill said, pointing to a penned cow with it’s new brand, “ANGUS.”

– – – –

NPR this week ran a story about the Republican Party, which essentially boiled down to the party making changes at “re-branding” to reach a younger, or at least larger, clientele. There was talk that emerging Republicans are more socially libertarian than their socially conservative party, etc.

Not too long ago, I was hearing much the same thing about the Democratic Party, which was seeking to “re-brand” itself to break out of the liberal/activist stereotypes that had been applied to it over the years.

In addition, this week:

  • Sci Fi (formerly The Science Fiction Channel) became Sy Fy, a re-branding effort to reach a wider audience.
  • KFC (formerly Kentucky Fried Chicken) continues to aggressively advertise with its “UNThink” campaign (focusing on grilled chicken), trying to re-brand itself as a healthier alternative.
  • Certain Pizza Hut franchises are re-branding as The Hut, to alter its image since it offers more than pizza. (I’m waiting for some creative franchise owner & Star Wars Fan to add a “Jabba” to the store name.)

And then there is The United Methodist Church. It’s been over a decade since The UMC launched “Igniting Ministry,” a national advertising effort that included encouraging local churches to participate in a variety of means (advertisement, church facility improvements, programmatic changes, etc) tied to the slogan “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.”

Now The UMC is also working on re-branding, with the new “ReThink Church” campaign. (Others have wondered/questioned if the new KFC and UMC campaigns used the same firm!)

The new campaign wants to encourage people, both in and out of the Church, to rethink what the church is. [The campaign also encourages churches to participate in ways that help transform the idea of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” from being descriptive (as adjectives) of what the church is (i.e. we have open hearts, minds, doors) to being descriptive (as verbs) of what the church does (i.e. we open hearts, minds, doors).]

Now, I have always liked the slogan, and hoped for the reality, of “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.” (And like shifting the emphasis from adjective to verb.) Some of the commercials have been spot on about who we could be – who we want to be – as United Methodists.

However, I also have to admit that none of the local churches I’ve been in have yet fully incarnated the ideal. (Nor, likely, have I as a leader.) I can recount stories of people in these churches who did not feel the churches were “open” to them; whether because of differences in race, theology, sexuality, language, etc.

So, truth be told, I’ve been neither that excited nor hopeful about the new ReThink Church idea. It wasn’t sitting well with me. There was no glaring issue with it, and no fundamental error in the presentation or idea, that left me feeling adversarial to it. I was more… ambivalent: a part of me thought, “oh, this might be a good extension of Igniting Ministry,” but another part of me thought, “oh, no, not again.” I worried/felt that we’re trying too hard and moving away from some core; but I couldn’t put my finger on what it seemed we were straying from.

Thanks to another author, I’m better able to articulate my concern now. And, as a result, I’m feeling a bit more open to the campaign.

I’ve recently begun to peruse the blog of author Dan Dick (United Methodeviations). Dan worked in the research office of the General Board of Discipleship, until they terminated him last year. His previous position was focused on research, so he has written books and shares informative insights into the life and health of the church. His current focus, in a word, seems to be community.

My sense of what Dan is sharing (and this is based on precursory perusing of his posts; reading some quickly and scanning others) is that the central core people seek/need in a church is a sense of community.

This is striking a chord deep within me. At our core, the Church is about community – we’re the Body of Christ, the community of those who yearn to be more like Jesus (or at least yearn to know/love God). The Church exists because we are created to be in community, to be in relationship with others.

Do we need to “re-brand” the Church as community? I struggle with this at one level, because I feel so often that “new” and “emergent” churches, pastors, and leaders are overly critical of the existing Church. (Some criticism is necessary, as is some ownership of our failures/sins. But sometimes I feel as though we’re splitting the church itself into an “us vs. them.”)

But perhaps we do need a bit of re-branding. Specifically, we might need to better help those outside and inside the church know that at our heart the church is a community that is (and/or needs to be)…

  • Open. Here our slogan fits. God’s family is open to all, and “all means all.” We may not agree with one another’s dress, musical taste, theology, or lifestyle; but God loves us and invites us to be a part of the community that is seeking to know, love, and follow God
  • Reconciling. This is a key insight for me from our most recent annual conference session. I was distressed that a woman came up to me during the session, after a video was shown about another couple who experienced welcome and reconciliation at our local church, to ask me if I “knew their story,” and the painful situations they had been a part of in another church. The subtext seemed to be that I should beware. But the community that is the church needs to better articulate (and incarnate) the sense of grace and reconciliation that are at our core as a Christian community.
  • Affirming. Too many people, outside and inside the church, view the church community as hypocritical and critical. We’re seen as not living what we say we believe, and of judging others too harshly. Our articulated theology – and our life together – must speak a word of affirmation: a word that we are loved, that we are/were created good, that we are redeemed, that we are/can be good. (Sin is a reality, of course, but shouldn’t overshadow grace!)

I’m sure there is more, and I’ll continue to reflect on this idea of community as core for the church. I also need to reflect on how important it is to “re-brand” who we are, as compared to re-identifying who we are called to be.

I hope these new reflections help direct my personal leadership and ministry in ways that better allow people to experience God in Jesus Christ; better assist people to experience authentic and life-affirming relationships with other people; better guide people to learn, grow, and live in faith.

– – – –

Reading Rainbow taught me, “don’t just take my word for it”:

  • Dan expresses concern about the new campaign (see “What Do You Think ReThink is Thinking” on his blog; he also has some responses to the campaign at “ReThink Redux“). If you’re interested in knowing his thoughts on the campaign, I encourage you to read them directly
  • One letter to Dan that he posted on his blog really struck me. (Forgive me; I’m not going to re-search for it!) In the post, the author shares that in her experience, “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” is not so much a description of what the church is – but an invitation of grace to all. An invitation to what the church community could be
  • And please share your own thoughts in the comments.

One response to “Re-branding

  1. Using the anecdote with which you started, I think that “re-branding” is just the same old cow with a different brand on it. And I’m concerned that the “Rethink Church” system is just re-branding. And we really need to rethink church. (I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately.)

    I agree that a connectional church is valuable. I am always amazed at Annual Conference at the amount of good that is done as we put our resources together. Any of these projects could make any of us Rethink Church if we knew more about them. Some of them have a simple task, “Nothing But Nets” but has such a huge impact. Any church could participate with little effort. Some of them are complex and require a cadre of workers who dedicate their work to that project. They happen because we are connectional.

    But we are not the people Christ or Wesley tried to get us to be. We are stuck in a model that was building churches when my parents were children. I think of the joke that in southern states, you can say anything you want about a person if you proceed their name and preceed the talk with, “Bless his/her heart.” If we are not(and it is definitely a goal not a reality) the people with Open Hearts, Open Minds and Open Doors, we demean others as in need of being taken care of. It does not give them the respect and whole hearted love of each other as God calls us to give.

    The entire United Methodist Church structure needs to be examined to see where we are being disciples and where we are being scribes and pharisees. And that needs to be an examination that takes place continually. We are making changes. We are looking at different ways to bring people together as “churches” or groups of people who are disciples rather than members of the club. But we still hold on to a church building when the attendance is small enough to fit into someone’s home or we could join with others to maintain the building as a worship center for several “churches.”

    People my age(63) and older are the predominant leaders in the United Methodist Church. We (on average, because there are many like me who seek a more outreaching church) believe that the way we worshipped as children and young adults is the only way that a church should be. But that is not true. The churches I grew up in, are not like Jesus’ groups, the disciples’ groups or Wesley’s groups. Too much focus on worldly lives and not enough on the relationships which you mention. And those of us who are trying to get us back to center (not that I nor probably anyone has it 100% right) have to accept slow change so that we don’t split the church.

    Although a building is important as a “command post,” the real work needs to be done outside the command post. We need to be where the unchurched are. We need to be willing to accept ANYONE. All means ALL. Love, truly LOVE, people where they are, and share God’s love and desires for the Kingdom, so that they can begin a relationship with God.

    And I have to tell myself, that since all means ALL, I have to be loving and open to those who are relating to God in an older or any different mode than I believe God and Wesley were pointing to. I need to get out there and serve those in need. I need to get out there and build relationships with those whose culture is different than my 1950’s, midwest, church-going culture, so that I can share my story of what an Awesome God we have.

    We need to rethink church from top to bottom, not just rebrand it.

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