Here’s the key difference: when you see the Golden Arches, you know essentially the experience that awaits you. That experience is even more predictable when you see the Chick-Fil-A “C,” but that’s another story.
Yet when you see a Methodist Church from the outside, the experience inside can vary greatly. What you’ll experience at Myers Park UMC in Charlotte, for example, will be dramatically different from what you’ll encounter at Granger Church in Indiana. And those distinctions have to do with style; when you throw quality into the mix, the variables rise considerably.
I think Talbot has hit the nail on the head with his observation. Of course, he’s not the first to have pointed this out. I seem to recall Shane Raynor made similar comments in a post last spring on this same subject.
Still, the point is well-taken. How can we possible do a marketing campaign for a denomination as a whole when we are filled with such a wonderful diversity of churches in style, quality, and even theology? How do you manage a brand for which there is no consistent experience?
One solution, I suppose, would be to enforce a strict conformity among all UM churches. Every church would have the same style of worship service, sing the same songs, read the same Scripture passages, maybe even preach the exact same sermon topics, and naturally teach the exact same theology (whatever that is). At least then, you would know what you’re getting when you walk into a UM church. You’d know, the experience is X. You may like that type of church, you might not. But, at least you’d know what you’re getting come Sunday.
Of course, I don’t imagine many of us would like that too much. I know I wouldn’t. After all, that raises a whole host of other questions. Who gets to decide what style of church we have to have? Who decides what type of music we all sing? Even more, who decides what theology we’d all teach? You’d think that sort of thing would be simple: Methodist theology. However, we all know better. It’s just not that simple. We are not all of one mind about these things. And that’s not even to begin to ask how you would enforce it.
So then, what do you do about our “brand”? Can we have a unifying brand? If not, then what do you advertise? Or, as Talbot suggests later on in his post, should we ignore denominational branding and let each local church work on their own brand? I confess, that seems to make more sense to me.
Of course, that may explain why the megachurch phenomenon has expanded to multiple campuses and church associations (like the Willow Creek Association) so successfully. People are looking for a reliable church experience, and they’ve learned what “brands” they can trust. Denominations lost that trust at least a generation ago. So now we’re on to the Willow Creeks, Saddlebacks, and Church of the Resurrections.
All of which leaves me wondering, what does this mean for the average UM church?