Are We Hiding Our United Methodist Affiliation?

This is a reprint of an article posted earlier this week in the Wesley Report. I'd love your comments... By Shane Raynor

If you visit the web site for Granger Community Church, you might browse through page after page without realizing that Granger is a United Methodist congregation. The only indicator I was able to find was a note on a time line a few pages in. If you click on 1988, you'll see that Granger received a United Methodist charter that year. GCC's Wikipedia entry, however, confirms that it is indeed a "United Methodist megachurch" and notes a weekend attendance range between 5,000 and 9,000.

Granger is just one among many churches in our connection that don't emphasize (or even outright avoid) the United Methodist name, logos and branding in their church identity and marketing. Other churches use "A United Methodist Congregation" or something similar as their tag line, but even that often shows up only one font size larger than the church sign manufacturer's name.

Clayton Childers is troubled by this. In a recent essay for the UM Reporter, Childers writes:

From an outreach standpoint, it is hard to explain, let alone justify. People who do branding studies have found that United Methodist is one of the top two religious “brands” in the U.S. It has also been determined that our denomination’s logo, the cross and flame, is one of the most readily recognized symbols.

Umcpepsi I'm a loyal United Methodist, but this trend of churches "running away" from the UMC brand doesn't really bother me. Here's why. If denominations were cola drinks, the UMC would be Pepsi. We're number two, but our sales are going down. Number one is Coke (Southern Baptist Convention) but the last time I checked, Coke's sales were going down, too. (And the SBC's attendance has reached a plateau or maybe even decreased. I can't find the latest figures.)

So how have the big cola companies dealt with their flagship brands falling out of favor? They've developed new soft drink brands, including sports drinks and bottled water. Pepsi and Coke have broadened their corporate focus from a single brand of cola to multiple beverage brands. In our denomination, our "product" is ultimately not the United Methodist Church, it's the Gospel of Jesus Christ. (Please forgive me for these marketing analogies. I understand that Jesus isn't a consumable product or brand name.) If Pepsi and Coke had gone into "protection mode" years ago when they were losing sales to specialty beverages and sports drinks, that would have been an unwise move, and soft drink sales surely would've continued to decline. Instead, Pepsi and Coke developed their own "competing" brands and products. They adapted to market conditions.Today Gatorade is owned by Pepsi, and Coke has its own Powerade sports drink.

Starbucks bought competitor Seattle's Best five years ago, but instead of converting Seattle's Best stores to Starbucks stores, it made SB a subsidiary and kept the SB name. Some people who don't like Starbucks probably frequent Seattle's Best and Starbucks is cool with that because their product is coffee and they're fulfilling their mission (which is presumably to sell all of the coffee they can.) Starbuck's isn't being dishonest or misleading, but they're also not using the tag line "a Starbucks subsidiary" in their Seattle's Best branding. In the same way, UM churches that play down the UM name and branding aren't necessarily being disloyal or rejecting United Methodism, they're just trying to expand their reach! Some people are prejudiced against all denominations, and some others just may not have a good impression of United Methodism.

In his Reporter article, Rev. Childers discusses the cross and flame logo and the "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" slogan:

...the positive response to our “Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors” advertising is paying dividends. People are identifying the church with the positive, hopeful message portrayed in the ads. ... I love our cross and flame logo. It says so much in its simplicity. When I see it, I see a church centered on the love of Christ expressed supremely on the cross and the living power of the Spirit expressed in the flame.

I'm not sure the ad campaigns are as effective as we've been led to believe. How many years have we used "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors"? And how much have we grown during that time? I'm not trying to be difficult here, I'm just suggesting that perhaps it's time for something fresh. Maybe a slogan that includes Jesus Christ somehow.

I love the cross and flame logo too, but let's not assume that everyone knows what it means. I've had a number of minority teenagers in my youth ministry over the years ask me why we have a burning cross on the side of our church building. Think about that for a minute. For everyone who had the courage to ask me that, I'm sure there were others who quietly wondered the same thing.

My pastor sometimes says that he isn't interested in making more Methodists, he wants to make more Christians. By saying that, he's not putting down the UMC, he's just setting priorities. Let's not forget why we're here.

I say "Go, Granger." I wish we had a few hundred more UM churches just like it.

What are your thoughts about Shane's article? Do you say "Go Granger" or "Shame on you Granger"?

Tim Stevens37 Comments