Branding youth ministries is not a new idea. Gone are the days of using a piece of clipart and a strange acronyms, like the phone tree and the disposable camera.
Youth ministry has evolved, and branding is something that is becoming more and more common. The question has now become: “When is branding right for me?”
I brand my groups. I have branded my events. In some cases, I even brand my youth spaces. I love branding. I obviously am biased. But, there are plenty of things to keep in mind when considering to brand a youth group.
If done incorrectly, branding can be a negative experience. So, in an effort to explore both sides of the branding topic, I have compiled a few thoughts on what specifically to consider.
Creating a brand can be a good way of promoting your youth ministry quickly and easily by slapping your logo on everything we do. The first time I tried branding, the first thing I did was order t-shirts for the youth to wear to school. It was literally the first thing I did when I sat down at my desk for the first time. I saw an immediate opportunity to promote the youth group by my youth’s friends becoming aware of their youth ministry affiliation. So when I put posters out in the community, advertise on Facebook or create shirts and other takeaways, the logo is always displayed. But, this can have the opposite effect as well; if only one group of friends display their shirts, it can appear that the group is only for them; if members of the group wear it while breaking rules, swearing loudly or selling black market organs, your brand is now associated with the wrong sort of message.
Brand recognition is a double-edged sword, and it should be considered before slapping a logo or name on something.
Another reason I first tread the way of branding with my first youth group was that we were a group divided between two rival school districts. Each group of teens identified with their school over their church and there was tension in the group. Ironically, this group was branded by the previous leader as “Unity”. By redesigning the brand and promoting a unified group through the new brand, I was able to move past the rivalry and create new bonds as well as move the ministry into a new mindset of true unity. A possible problem with this that a youth subculture may develop and you can see a silo effect with your ministry from the wider church which is something you need to avoid at all costs. At the same time, it has also been my experience that a group doesn’t always align behind a name or logo. We all have tastes, and sometimes there are youth that just don’t like it. It can cause divides, arguments, hurt feelings and put stress on the ministry itself.
Branding has the opportunity to bring a group together, polarize it, and anything in between.
By giving my youth a brand and the means to display and promote that brand, I have seen on each occasion a team/school/hometown sort of spirit arise within the group. On two separate occasions, I have had the group organize specific days they all wear their shirts to school or out into the community. I have had teens treat Sunday morning like a homecoming week football game through their enthusiasm and creativity. A group can rally behind a brand and identity if the situation is right. But, as I stated with the last bullet point, making the identity of the group too important or too central to a group’s energy, and a divide from the wider church culture can begin to form.
A few great ways to safe guard against that are making sure the name of the group includes the church identity as well and to include the wider church in the activities and events that showcasing the brand. For example, once a month I have my youth wear their brand t-shirts to Sunday morning worship. At one church, I even had the congregation get in on it by encouraging them to wear the color of the shirts, too. It promotes a feeling of church wide unity, not just teen wide or group wide. If there is any way to bring the church into the brand and group, it is worth exploring.
Creative or Trendy
Brands, when done well, can help bring a bit of creativity and trend to a youth ministry. Like most things, a little flash can bring the excitement of an event or meeting to the next level. But, when done less than well, branding can make a group seem dated or non-relevant. Think clipart and Comic Sans. The brands that are most effective are the ones that express energy, relevance and style just by looking at them. A bad logo can do as much damage as a cool, fresh logo can do wonders. We are not all graphic designers or marketing majors, I get it. So, if this is your skill set, use it. If it isn’t, there are a few options available.
First, look around the congregation for a designer. If that’s not doable, you can check out online services like fiverr and get a $5 logo. Either way, if you are good at that sort of thing, do it, if not…get help. So in the trendy/graphic designy/creativity arena, know thy self. Or, if the group isn’t a trendy sort of group, consider no brand at all. I can’t tell you how little some of my past youth cared about the brand or how cool it looked. It was not the reason they first came to youth group, nor was it something that was attracting their particular friends. Knowing what will resonate with the group itself and the teens within the group is key, and sometimes that’s just calling it “Youth Group” or “YF”. In fact, some teens will never get past a name change. It will be “Youth Group” for their entire 4 years, and that’s okay.
In either case, when consider branding, I try to remember these points, because branding done well can be helpful, but we should be careful to use branding correctly. I say the risk is worth it, but I have had great success in all of my branding endeavors. The moral is to be intentional through this process, be careful and know the group. The rest is up to God, anyway.