The Church Brand: Time to Re-Christianise

There is a lot of talk in the UK press about whether we can be ‘overtly Christian’.  People want to wear a cross around their neck, a ring on their finger, a bracelet around their wrist and a t-shirt that trades upon the branding of the latest must have item.  It is what Jesus would do – “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, for you have a WWJD bracelet”.  For those who buy in to the Christian brand these are must have items and those who do not buy in are seen as “de-christianising” and are therefore vilified.  People must be ‘overtly’ Christian or they are “ashamed of the gospel” and are removing our Christian presence. 

There is an episode of Friends where Joey finds the keys to a Porsche and uses this to spend time with the ladies.  At one point he no longer has the car but wants people to recognise that he is a Porsche owner.  To achieve this he is wearing all of the Porsche gear.  Hat, jacket, keyring… if they make it he has it.  When his friends see him the response is 

“What happened Joey? It looks like a Porsche threw up on you!”

Personally, I ride a motorbike.  There seems to be a broad consensus among bikers about the Harley Davidson brand that they market to two different types of people.  There are those for whom the primary focus is the bikes and those who like the logo.  The bike lovers buy a Harley and ride it.  The others buy a t-shirt.  It is a much cheaper option.  You do get the warm fuzzy feeling of brand loyalty without actually having to do anything about it.  The added benefit is that you don’t get cold or wet as when the weather is bad as you don’t actually ride a bike.  This type of merchandising is concerned with one thing, making money from people who can’t or won’t make the bigger sacrifice and buy the bike. 

So how does this play out for the church?  I agree that it is time for people to stop being “ashamed of the gospel” and to “re-christianise”.  However, I suspect that merchandising is not the best way that the church can show that it is not ashamed.  May I humbly suggest that “re-christianising” does not involve buying a t-shirt but by feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and those in prison.  This is the mission the church has been sent on.  As Emil Brunner said,

“The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission there is no church”.

You can tell a Harley a mile away because it oozes Harley from every pore.  If we focussed upon following the way then we will have a real christian presence in our communities.  Our “Christianity” will ooze Christ from every pore.

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8 Responses

  1. Good post, good questions! Here’s another related post for you and your readers to ponder: For I am ashamed of the Gospel: Christianity’s Crass Commercialisation

  2. Interesting article. I have always approached Christian “stuff” in two different ways. I have tonnes of this stuff (4 minutes in) in the house as it amuses me. I have a 14″ glow in the dark BVM that my mate who worked in the old SPCK found in the back room. It amuses me greatly that it was sold as a serious item. Or my glow in the dark rosary beads from St Paul’s bookshop in London. “It would be so easy to make it look cheap and tacky but just look at it there, pure class”.

    It is the stuff that people think will change the world that worries me. I bought some Christian Sweets with bible verses on them because it amused me. The more I look at them the more sinister I find them. And of course the verses are printed in the KJV. I wonder who the sweets are aimed at. They clearly are not aimed at the children but at the over zealous parents who think that they have done something to “bring their children to faith”. This aim would be much better achieved by passing down the stories of our faith with The Manga Bible.

  3. Manga Bible = excellent! I know Siku: he was a student at LST when I was bookshop manager there — great guy, knows how to bring the good book to life! My review here: The Manga Bible

    Have you read the iMonk on Christian tat? Selling Jesus by the Pound. Amusing and challenging in equal measure.

    On the “de-Christianising” thing — I’m all in favour of Living Oasis ditching the tat. What puzzles me, though, is the way they’re marketing themselves to the churches they want to partner with: declared aim to be a Christian presence on the high street; but in practice, wanting to remove everything that might identify them as such from the storefront. Let’s face it, that palm tree logo thing looks more like a 70’s travel agent sign; there’s certainly no evident “Christian presence” in their branding, is there? Am I missing something or are they?

  4. Interesting: just left a longish response and it vanished without trace…

  5. Not to worry, it was just the spam filter. I’m back at the computer and it knows you are a person now. It shouldn’t happen again!

    That article is good. The image saying “Cheap Chinese labour + plastic Jesus trinkets = huge profits!” is particularly poignant.

    Having been to all of the meetings for local churches about the Living Oasis prototype store I know a little bit about it. They are looking to be a viable business that will keep their presence on the high street secured. They want to compete against Starbucks and Pret A Manger and other mainstream coffeeshops. All of these are within 100 yards of the new premises at 77 Albion Street in Leeds.

    The Logo was naff. I said it when I first saw it. It’s gone and a nice sleek new one is being used. 3 weeks ago upon hearing this someone a little more forthright than I (is it possible?) said “Good, it looked like the naff part of the 80’s”.

    I suppose it depends on what you want from presence on the high street. If you want another sandwich board in Leeds centre (and we have plenty of street preachers peddling the end times) then we can dress it up as that. “come and have a cup of Kingdom Coffee and we’ll tell you the good news about Jesus”. Personally I’d rather have a Christian place to take people regardless of their faith without being embarrassed. To me a ‘presence’ doesn’t mean proselytising place because I don’t think that works. I’m not sure I’d want it to.

    I think I conveyed where I believe the heart of the Gospel is in my last couple of paragraphs of the blog. Being Christian doesn’t need a badge. The early church grew in persecution through putting their money where their mouth’s were.

    A big coffee shop in the middle floor selling food you’d like to eat and coffee that doesn’t taste like DDT is a step up from most. Then there is a massive basement for the books which you can’t miss as it is glazed. Then there is an mezzanine floor that is for Church groups to use for activities.

    It sounds like a really exciting idea and well thought out at the moment. I love that it involves being with people in the city centre rather than a secret shop for the initiated to track down and enter for their specialist pamphlets wrapped in brown paper to squirrel back to the inside of their churches. I also love that it isn’t to be about sustaining the unsustainable out of a sense of duty.

  6. I love this, so thought provoking. I also think the same ethos needs to apply to ‘arms length mission’ where people just give money over to someone else in a far flung place and feel virtuous about doing mission. If we do what Robb says, JEsus did, and the Bible tells us, we can’t substitute someone else to do our part of it here where we live. Not saying its easy tho.

    Glad to hear of the demise of the palm tree logo – it was easily the worst one on the high st where my nearest store is. Haven’t seen the new one yet but I wish them well.

  7. […] 14, 2011 Interesting blog post on The Church Brand:
    Time to Re-Christianise.  It asks what does it mean to
    show the gospel, to display the gospel to others: There is a lot of
    […]

  8. Thanks for this, it encapsulates many of my own thoughts. I struggle with the attitude ‘be known for your merchandise’ – I’m fairly sure that isn’t what Jesus said…now wasn’t there something about the things we do, not the things we wear?

    It’s interesting how this works out in a culture that is more and more merchandise focused. Hmm (goes away to ponder).

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