How does branding “reach” people?
….You might say, “but branding—the logo, the name, how the church looks—reaches people.” (How?)
Of course it does. But how does something as anonymous as a brand identity or logo reach and affect people? And if that impact is neutral, unobtrusive and anonymous (as most brands seek to be), devoid of direct relational contact, then isn’t it essentially vacuous and meaningless? Might that be counter-intuitive to the Gospel?
Granted, many forms of Christian propaganda are semi-anonymous; a sermon or a tract, for example, is sent out as a blanket message. But those explicit mediums can be responded to and critiqued with some accountability. But the logo, however, is cast into the world as some kind of subliminal message. It is not even a message as much as a “sense”—almost a sort of eternal icon. If your brand is “good,” it tells people your church is “good” based on a culturally learned series of decoding steps. In the logic of debate, we all know you should not judge the contents of a book by its cover. So something is fishy when people are anonymously drawn in by an abstract, “good” logo.
When we create brands or logos that are generic, abstract and intentionally devoid of meaning, are we suggesting our churches have no meaning? Or have our brands made people assume our churches ought to be comfortable?=
If you feign “neutrality” and distance from religion—that you are “spiritual, not religious”—what kind of letdown are you setting seekers up for? What a bummer when they find that Jesus had an opinion about controversial matters. While your logo comforted them, the gospels might frighten them.
The real brand of Christianity
The ultimate critique of “branding” or logos is the more specific, concrete and fertile-with-meaning crucifix. The crucifix is the most sober logo yet depicted. It declares that, even if God were among us, we would respond with torture and murder. And upon this cross, even God screams about the abandonment of God in the midst of torture. It speaks not of some ideal of love, but, referring to a real event, says Love in our world was crucified.
But, on the other hand, the crucifix liberally douses on the faith, hope and love, inferring that sacrificing for love in a terrible world is actually worth doing. The crucifix relies not on pretty designs, a beatific vision of heaven or a concept of a metaphysical God, but centers upon a human and what humans did to Him. And it is inclusive enough to not only infer humanity’s uniting with God, but also humanity’s distance from God.
The crucifix is also the only logo that aims for its own destruction and outdated-ness. The crucifix depicts torture and sacrifice so that both might stop. While we had killed the righteous in ages past, we built them monuments and decorated their tombs, saying, “We wouldn’t kill the innocent.” This cover-up assured the continuance of the cycle. With Jesus’ murder we made a turn for honesty in our images. We don’t decorate a tomb but point to what we have done; we let the truth of our violence speak. But with eyes no longer trained to see God on a cross, the danger is we will fail to point to the murder of innocent victims in our day.
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