What is the first thing that comes to mind when deciding to push into the tech frontier as a faith community?
I am sure that question could be answered in a number of ways, many of which might be correct for that particular congregation or ministry team. As it turns out, when you sign up to build a custom app with a maker such as Subsplash, one of the paramount tasks is to provide a branding scheme. When I look at this task from the perspective of an internet company building web properties for a church that is anywhere from 2-months to 100-years-old, I see where they might assume it is as easy as calling up the images that populate your signage, current website, newsletter, newspaper ad, and weekly bulletin and distilling them to fit into the app format.
It seems to me that many churches in the modern era have faced the decision of how, why and when to rebrand their community in recent decades. That question is especially acute when planning for a digital strategy. Having a logo that does well as a black and white 1”x2” ad in the religion section of your local paper is very different from having one that stands out in the clutter of the mobile phone home screen.
With that challenge in front of us, we decided to employ a student worker in the design school who was near graduation and interested in building his portfolio.
We had already signed a contract with Subsplash as our “engagement platform” and now needed to get a property built in order to move forward in the publishing process. For Pivot NW, having access to the platform allowed us to see the requirements and guidelines for branding on their platform. This helped us to design within our limits. For churches that are considering this route, their salespeople and any designers with whom the church already has a relationship can probably guide the modification of an existing brand prior to signing up. This will lessen the amount of downtime between cutting the first check to your engagement platform and having an active app.
Of course, a brand is important if you are planning on releasing content that points back and defines your mission. Ours needed to reflect the complicated work we were doing. For some churches, it reflects their location to a certain community as defined by a particular geophysical feature. For others, it’s the graphical reflection of their commitment to diversity or the reality of their diversity. For some, it might be a particular institution they are near or are a part of, such as a church near a University that is part of a denomination. And finally, there are the fortunate churches that have some sort of special architecture or art that embodies their presence and which they choose to deploy as integral to their identity.
Any of these can simultaneously tell a variety of recipients that the church is “for you” or “not for you.” The difficult task of creating a brand, especially as it applies to content and web-based engagement platforms, is how to signal to your audience, “this is for you.” And when preaching the gospel, the difficulty is multiplied, since the gospel is for everyone. How might you go about navigating this inconsistency? How do you simultaneously brand so that you say to young adults, “this is for you” but also do not alienate the Millenials, Gen Xers and Boomers who are already part of the church? The answer may be simple in concept, but maybe not be so simple in reality.
Because we are committed to being open source, here are two documents we created that help us keep our design consistent and true to our mission: Our Design Principles and our Brand Identity. While we don’t design for absolutely everyone, we do have a rather broad audience to consider and do not want to create obstacles where they need not exist.
This post is the second in an occasional series written by Martin Jimenez, the Pivot NW Program Manager. As part of our open-source philosophy we reveal the decision-making process behind some of our experimentation on using new technology to aid in our research and innovation efforts. We hope that our experimentation can inspire churches toward appropriate technologies, and in other directions as appropriate to their ministry contexts.