We’ve all seen the power and appeal of an iconic character, and we all know the importance of effective branding for the world of specialty coffee and niche computers, but what does all of this have to do with my children’s ministry department? Well, more than you may think. Whether intentional or not, your ministry has a brand which can either help, or hurt your ministry’s mission. First, let’s define what a brand is.

Look up brand in the dictionary or on the internet and you’ll get several different versions. Traditionally, a brand is thought of simply as a type of product, or a logo (aka “brand mark”). It has commercial or pop-culture connotations. But a brand is much more than that. Those are pieces of a brand. Seth Godin, famous marketing expert (just google “Seth”, and his blog will be first on the list) defines a brand as, “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”

You’re not selling a product or service. You are creating an experience…a touch point based, relationship driven experience. For what’s it’s worth, here’s my “Children’s Ministry Brand” definition: A children’s ministry brand is the totality of the story, vision, mission, promises, and goals of a specific local church expressed experientially thru the children’s ministry department.

A brand is much more than a logo. It’s the totality of what you stand for. It’s the essence of your mission. A brand has many visual touch points (like logos and collateral) that help convey your brand, but it is really experienced by all 5 senses. It’s about the total experience. How people are greeted, how easy the check-in process is, how safe the environment feels, how fun the visuals look, how connected your ministry feels to the rest of the church. The list goes on. But is branding Biblical? Obviously the term “brand” is not in scripture, but all of it’s components sure are.

Remove your modern day brand connotations for a moment. Now use your imagination to go back to the time of the book of Exodus. In chapter 31 we see where God called and appointed a man named Bezalel to be the chief artisan of the Tabernacle. Everything about how the tabernacle was made including the materials, colors, types of wood and precious metals, production of statues, priestly utensils, layout of the structure, and many other details were specifically dictated by God and performed thru Bezalel and other artisans.

That’s branding! Even things like, incense, the smell of burnt offerings, the details of the priestly garments, all were part of the tabernacle’s experiential “brand”. Knowing how the 5 senses impact humans, God wanted the Israelites to build a structure that accurately conveyed God’s character, mission, purpose, values, and promises. At the risk of sounding irreverent…that’s a brand!

If God went to that much trouble to impact those who came in contact with Him thru the old testament system, shouldn’t we go through that much trouble to leverage our ministry brand to facilitate the great commission? Our ministry environments should be well thought out touch points that support the mission of our church. Many churches do a great job at this and have taken the time to be intentional about how their brand impacts children and parents. But many have not. It’s well worth the time and effort to peel back the layers, think thru, plan, and execute an intentional brand for your children’s ministry.

Now…what about the character part? How do you “brand with character”? It’s no secret that in the realm of children’s merchandising, once an iconic character is established (think Disney, Pixar, or popular TV cartoon characters), companies line up to license the character(s) for use in their products. For example, Sponge Bob Square Pants is an $8 billion licensing franchise. He shows up on everything from clothes, to toys, to band-aids and macaroni and cheese.

I’m not suggesting that we attempt to license a children’s ministry character, but I’m pointing out the underlying fact that children connect with characters enough to drive a multi-billion dollar industry. What if children’s ministry leaders developed characters that helped support the brand (i.e. vision, mission and goals) of their church, while facilitating spiritual formation in the children that come in contact with their ministry?

Well developed cartoon characters have a long shelf life and multiple applications from outreach events, environment graphics and t-shirts, to motion media and curriculum. Well developed KidMin characters can positively change the trajectory of your ministry.

If this peaks your interest at all, I want to share 5 character branding tips for your children’s ministry. These are chronological steps with one step feeding critical information into the next step.

1. Perform a “Brand Audit”
This is a discovery process. It is a detailed analysis of your current brand and typically includes: internal and external surveys, a collateral audit, a language audit, and time spent with core leaders and stake holders to discover the vision and history of the ministry.

2. Develop a “Brand Guide”
Using the results from the Brand Audit, a 10-25 page Brand Guide is developed to establish key entry points to your brand. Brand Guides typically include: brand story, vision, mission, brand mark (logo), personality, color palette, typography, photography, and other key brand components.

3. Develop Brand Characters
Using the Brand Guide, you can develop characters that support and facilitate the brand. It is key to focus on concept and personality first, and visuals second. The development of characters for a brand typically includes: research and brainstorming, gathering reference material, concept art, settling on a direction, written descriptions of the character personalities and backstory, designing the characters, turnarounds (how each character looks from all angles), pose and expression sheets (to show the characters personality and range of emotion), final color art, character packs and exported art for print and other usage.

4. Plan an Internal Brand Launch
This is very important. To effectively roll out a new or updated brand, you must launch first to your team of staff and volunteers. Many of them should be involved in the entire process, but this is your in-house event to unveil the final product, talk to them about how to effectively communicate the brand, cast vision, and share the purpose behind the new brand. It also prepares your team to communicate the brand to the parents and children in your ministry.

5. Plan an External Brand Launch
This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. This is where you get to unleash the wow factor. You can launch the brand at strategic events such as a back-to school night, promotion Sunday, ministry orientation, or during a key holiday event like Christmas or Easter.

You might be saying. “Ok. This sounds awesome, but I don’t have the time or resources to pull it off. What am I supposed to do?” Well, there’s no doubt it will take some intentional planning, vision casting, and some effort, but don’t let that stop you. I have a saying that I use to motivate myself and others: “Anything is better than nothing.” Whether forming healthy eating, work out, or Bible study habits,…or intentionally branding your children’s ministry, “anything is better than nothing”. If this proposition seems overwhelming and out of reach, here are a few suggestions which may help:

Look first in your church body. You may have volunteers in your church with the exact skills and experience needed. Or, they may have key connections to companies or people who can help. God has a way of putting the right people in the right church body. I’m currently volunteering to help the children’s ministry at my church rebrand all of their environments with custom wall murals and branded characters. Find artists, or creative business owners in your church and ask them to help. You might be surprised at what you find.

Talk to other ministries that have gone thru rebranding or branding with characters and ask them about the experience and what resources they used. Study ministries you admire to see how they handled branding, and ask them for an informational interview. You would be surprised how willing people are to share information.

Plan for a rebranding phase as part of next year’s budget or as part of a new building campaign. There are logical times to walk thru a rebranding and/or character development process. Leverage those opportunities and plan effectively for the next decade and beyond. It will generate momentum and create a buzz about your ministry, attracting more people to your church to hear the message of Christ!

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