Defining Christianity’s Purpose and Ideal Brand Position
When developing a branding strategy for our clients, our firm begins by trying to uncover and understand the organization’s true purpose. In many cases, this involves a discussion with the founder or leaders of the organization to ask them these questions:
- Why was the organization started?
- What problem were you seeking to solve when you started the organization?
- What is the passion that is the driving force behind the organization?
For example, Southwest Airlines built their company with a laser-like focus on their purpose to “democratize the skies”. They strive to provide the best combination of low fares and convenient service for their passengers. Southwest CEO, Herb Kelleher, said that there have been a number of cases where managers within the company came to him with well prepared plans of how to make money from offering meals on their flights. In each case, he turned them down because offering meals means raising the cost to the passenger, which means diverting away from their purpose. The result of this strong adherence to their purpose? Southwest is one of the most successful and profitable airlines in the world because people understand their brand promise and the company delivers on it over and over.
So what is the purpose that defines Christianity’s brand? Of course, Jesus could not be directly interviewed to discuss His true purpose, but delving into the red letters within the Bible – the actual words of Jesus – provides a strong sense of the purpose that He set out for His followers. Here are some of His key statements that relate to that purpose:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.
A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.
You could certainly go through the red letters of the Gospels and select other key passages, but these provide a strong sense that the purpose is based on love above all else. He also speaks consistently about serving the needs of the least of these – the poor and the marginalized in the world and showing mercy and forgiveness.
If you look at the current perceptions of Christianity that were illustrated in UnChristian (any-homosexual, judgmental, hypocritical, sheltered, too political, proselytizers), love, although clearly the central theme in the teachings of Jesus, does not show up on the list of most common perceptions. Conversely, if you look at Southwest Airlines, the actions of the members of the company are aligned with the purpose that has been defined and, in turn, their customers understand what the company stands for. The actions of Christians, in a general sense, appear to be out of alignment with the true purpose.
In the days of the early church, there were examples of thousands of people at one time being converted to “The Way”, as following Jesus was called at the time. “The Way” enjoyed substantial growth and, if it were a business, one could say that it had an extremely successful launch and quickly gained a solid share of the market. Sometimes its members strayed from “The Way”, requiring recourse to correct its direction. In much the same way as a directive from a company CEO, some of the letters of the apostles were written to bring the early church back on track and on purpose.
As with many organizations, growth provided challenges to adhering to the original purpose of “The Way”, which eventually became known as Christianity. Decisions, probably with good intentions, were made by church leaders to put rules and rituals in place to try to dictate a common set of beliefs and guide behaviour among followers.
Many of these rules and rituals have their foundation in the Bible. Bruxy Cavey, in his book The End of Religion, explains it this way: “The rules and rituals of the Bible are like a map that leads to a great treasure, though they are not the treasure itself…Religious people often tend to confuse the treasure map for the treasure.”
Companies that experience significant growth in their workforce often try to guide the behaviour of their staff by putting codes of conduct or policy manuals into place. Such direction can dictate behaviour from a top-down approach. However, successful companies like Southwest Airlines have found that it is more powerful when employees buy into a purpose whole-heartedly and are equipped to reflect that purpose in their day to day activities.
Somewhere along the way, a large enough number of Christians have stopped reflecting the purpose of the faith. For the general public to form perceptions that Christians are anti-homosexual and judgmental rather than loving and merciful, gives evidence that there is a serious misalignment. This is the underlying reason why Christianity’s brand is in crisis.
The next post will deal with some practical steps that can be taken for Christianity to take corrective action, borrowed from the business world.
I strongly encourage you to read unChristian for yourself to learn the full extent of these issues.
Photo from http://matthewpaulturner.net/ – I highly recommend his blog.