In the marketing, design, visual communications, public relations, advertising worlds, brand and branding is a major issue. Disclaimer: I am not a branding, marketing, advertising, public relations expert. I am a pastor, which has its own version of these things included in the job description. Having said that, as a consumer, I recognize the importance of brands and how things are branded. I believe brand is a significant issue when it comes to The United Methodist Church.
I wrote a 3-part series awhile back entitled, “Anything Goes” which highlights some of the branding issues we face as The United Methodist Church and misperceptions that many hold regarding our beliefs (or lack thereof). Our denomination has a branding issue. Yes, the Cross and Flame logo has created strong brand recognition around the world but it’s the recognition of “what” where I believe the issue lies.
There is an inability by our members, regular church attenders, and even some of our own clergy to articulate what it means to live Wesleyan theology as a United Methodist. This creates a branding issue. If people in our pews don’t understand the brand they are claiming, how can we expect the individual who is unchurched or de-churched to know what The United Methodist brand is about?
Brand consistency is crucial for brands hoping to connect in varying contexts and cultures. The strength of a brand depends on its consistency within those differing contexts and cultures. Our shared doctrines and beliefs within The United Methodist Church is what should enable our brand to remain consistent within different cultural contexts. Without consistency, a brand falls apart.
There has been and will continue to be much discussion, debate, frustration, and dialogue around the topic of human sexuality and how The United Methodist Church should approach it. These conversations usually include comments about the interpretation and authority of scripture, “orthodoxy,” tradition, schism, polity, trials, etc. All of which highlight valid points to bring up yet somehow, I believe, miss the branding issue.
As I stated earlier, I believe we already have a branding issue within The United Methodist Church. Not only are those outside of the “UMC world” confused by who we are, those of us “inside” are as well. It is confusing to me, as a United Methodist pastor, how I can hold such differing views on various issues, (ie. the divinity of Christ, the sacrament of Baptism, the doctrine of the Trinity, to name a few) as another United Methodist pastor. From the outside, we are both United Methodist pastors, which one might assume means a certain thing and yet, from the inside, we are actually quite different, resulting in a different approach to teaching, preaching, and pastoral ministry. There is a lack of brand consistency.
One of the many suggestions that has been offered concerning the human sexuality debate is to allow United Methodist Annual Conferences (or regions) more autonomy in determining their approach to ministry on specific issues while maintaining The United Methodist Church name. I believe this would do a disservice to all involved as it would cause further and greater brand confusion. If The United Methodist Church in one region is so vastly different from The United Methodist Church in another region, the brand could really become no brand at all.