Your Church Brand is More Than a Logo | Mark MacDonald

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Mark MacDonald has helped many churches clarify their message and what they’re known for. We also discuss his book Be Known For Something.

Podcast Transcription


Jason Hamrock: In today’s podcast, I am talking with Mark MacDonald. I’m so excited about this podcast that you get to listen to. Mark is a tremendous guy, he is a husband and a father, he’s a follower of Jesus, and he has helped countless churches understand how to clarify their message and what they’re known for. In fact, Mark wrote a book, Be Known For Something. I highly recommend you buy this book, we’re going to talk about it in the podcast. But Mark is one of those guys that you just want to tap into his wisdom and learn from him, and then implement what you’ve learned into the strategy of how to reach more people for Jesus. Here’s Mark MacDonald.

Jason Hamrock: Hey, Mark, thanks so much for joining me today. How are you doing?

Mark MacDonald: I’m doing great, I am so excited to be able to actually be talking to Jason today. So I think that we have an awful lot in common, and we could probably make this a very long episode.

Jason Hamrock: We could. Yes. Yes. Your background is very interesting, and it’s kind of parallel to a little bit about what I’ve been able to do. And because of God, we’re both focused on him and focused on serving his ministry, so we are equally yoked my friend.

Mark MacDonald: That’s true. And just so that you know, I’m on that creative side as well, that when you said my background, I was thinking, that’s right, we both have shiplap.

Jason Hamrock: Yes. Yes. Well, my wife has good influence on me as well. So we watch that show in Texas a lot.

Mark MacDonald: Nice. Nice.

Jason Hamrock: Mark, share a little bit about your ministry experience. How you ended up in the church, and in marketing and communications, and how did that all unfold?

Mark MacDonald: Well, it’s interesting because, I mean, I’m just this little kid from East Coast Canada, and I grew up in a fairly small town in New Brunswick. And I you know, I graduated from college with a graphic design degree, and I decided that I just wanted to be able to use it any way that God wants me to use it. And I ended up in an ad agency, and kind of made my way to the top of one of eastern Canada’s largest ad agencies as senior creative director. And the entire time that I was kind of, you know, going up that ladder, I kept thinking, so why doesn’t the church know this stuff? And I started to just really ask God, is there a way to use this? Like, how can I use this?

Mark MacDonald: And I was a singer, so I sang it a lot of churches, and I started talking to a lot of pastors. And I kept saying, so what do you, you know, what do you do for marketing? And like, it was just like, oh my goodness, like we don’t do marketing because we’re a church. And the more I read scripture, the more I realized, oK, well, marketing is just taking your product to market. You know, a group of people, isn’t that what we’re called to in evangelism? I mean, we have the greatest product, Jesus Christ, the salvation, the gospel message. Why can’t we take that to to market and do it better? And so I had the opportunity to move to North Carolina, set up an agency that helped churches and in some businesses at that time, and really started to focus on how can I help the church? And I, you know, started writing articles, and I have written over eight hundred magazine articles that have been published. Then became the author of Be Known for Something, and it became a best selling book. Through that, one of my clients, the Florida Baptist Convention, hired me to be a strategic communications catalyst for their three thousand churches.

Mark MacDonald: Now, I’m a resource partner with Generis; and then I also have Be Known For Something. So it’s kind of like, like I just look back over my life and it’s been a blur, and I will do whatever God wants me to do, but I love what I get to do right now.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, you’ve had some tremendous impact on churches, in a positive way, to help them shape their message. And so church branding is one of your key competencies, talking about church branding. How do you define the brand for a church?

Mark MacDonald: Oh, my goodness. Ok, so, wow, what a great question. And I think I could probably do it in one word, and it’s just focus. You know, it’s really understanding what you should be known for, and then focusing on that thread so that you’re relevant and needed in your audience.

Jason Hamrock: Focus. Yeah, that seems to be a word that churches have a hard time grasping. Like you, I talk to a lot of churches, and I always get into that that question, that conversation. And I usually ask, well, what does your congregation know you for? And that’s probably different from what the external community thinks about you. And, you know, when you ask that question, they’re like, huh? They’re just, it’s almost like they have no idea what you’re talking about.

Mark MacDonald: Well, it’s interesting because when I was talking to pastors and I got the pushback about marketing. The question that I realized that I could ask, and they would go, oh, that’s good, was so what do you think your community knows you for? And it’s interesting because everyone goes, I don’t know. And I think that that’s part of this issue, is that we don’t know what the perception of us is. And oftentimes it’s like if we think we know what it is, then we don’t want to go, oh, I know exactly what I’m known for, because then we come across with, you know, the lack of humility that I think we’re all called to. And I think that understanding what people outside of who you are, how they perceive you is so critical. And if you can figure out that perception, which I think you can, and that’s kind of all part of the process that I like to walk a church through, is let’s find out what your community actually thinks you are. And then why don’t we think about okay, so the people who have hands on experience, the people who go to your church on a regular basis, what do you think that they would think your church is? And and I find that the lack of clarity on that issue alone, is probably the reason why our communities are divided into a third, a third, a third. A third of our communities have no connection to any church at all, and a third who have an idea of what church is choose not to go to church, and then the third that kind of do go to church on a regular basis don’t know why they go to church.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, yeah, that’s interesting. Whenever I ask that question to a church, what I get, usually the feedback I get is, well, we’re known for the church that goes and serves. And I think they are saying what they think they want to be known for, and what they actually believe they’re known for. But in reality, it may be totally different, because they’ve never gone and asked, like you said.

Mark MacDonald: Well, and it’s crazy that how many…You know, one of those crazy things that I get to do is, you know, people pay me to come and be a mystery visitor for their church. And I’ll, oftentimes it’s like, okay, I don’t really need to know too much about you before I arrive because I want to be an outsider. And almost inevitably, a pastor will say, oh, you’ll just be amazed at how loving we are. And then I arrive, and no one talks to me the entire time I’m there. I see community, I see love happening all around me, except I don’t feel loved when I leave. And I think that we oftentimes think we know who we are, but we really don’t know who we are.

Jason Hamrock: So yeah, I agree with you. So when you’re helping a church understand their their brand, what is one of the biggest obstacles? You kind of mentioned actually asking your internal audience, and your external audience, to kind of figure out what that looks like, but is there a misalignment? Like do churches realize, oh, well, we wanted to be known as the serving church, but apparently we’re not, at all. Like, how do you help a church really understand their focus.

Mark MacDonald: Wow. See, and there’s a big topic that we need to talk about because the thing is, is that we have…Effective communication rises and falls on how well you know your audience. Now, that sounds pretty secular. Jesus takes it and he ramps it up. He doesn’t say, I want you to know your audience, he says, I want you to love your audience. And as a church today, we’ve been planted into a community that has an audience all around, and oftentimes we become so inward focused that our communities don’t even know about us at all. Like, they’re just, they’re to a point where they wouldn’t necessarily feel loved by a church. But it’s like, oh no, but if they started coming to our church, they would feel loved. And it’s like, no, I don’t think that’s what we’re called, I think we’re called to love the people in our church, but I think we’re called to love our communities to a point where they actually can feel that love.

Mark MacDonald: It’s interesting because Gary Chapman wrote the foreword to my to my book. Gary Chapman, The Five Love Language, the guy who’s known for being the five love language guru. And what’s so fascinating about it is that Gary writes that certain people feel love a certain way, and if you’re not loving them that way, they won’t feel love. So why would you even love them that way? Love them the way that they will receive it as love. And in the same sense, as communicators, we need to figure out, how do we communicate so that people receive it? And most of our churches today aren’t focused in the way that we deliver our communications, so all that happens is that we just create more noise. And there’s so much noise out there already, that the biggest obstacle probably to the church today is the noise that’s all around them that they’re not creating, but they just add to the noise. And in order for us to have some, you know, plausibility of survival in our world today, we have to know what we listen to and what we ignore. So we have an ignore switch, so if it doesn’t feel like it’s something for me, I just ignore it. And the problem is that the church over communicates, so that it just creates more noise, and then everyone just starts to ignore it.

Mark MacDonald: And most pastors will know exactly what I’m talking about, because at the end of a service where the pastor thinks that he has communicated it extremely well, that there is a special event happening this coming week. That somebody’s on the way out of the door, shakes his hand and says, how come you never talked about the special event that’s coming up? And he’s thinking…

Jason Hamrock: I just did it.

Mark MacDonald: I just did it. But the problem is, is that the more you talk because people are only half listening, so the church has surprisingly figured that out. And so if they’re only half listening, they talk twice as much, and what they think is a solution has actually become part of the problem. We need to figure out how do we talk less, so that people will listen more.

Jason Hamrock: Wow, and that’s a hard thing to do because sometimes…Well, when I worked at my church, it was like if you weren’t doing more, you weren’t doing your job. And you fall into that trap, and so many churches these days still do that, and they fall into this trap. And, you know, you start looking at the laundry list of stuff that they have to get done, and it’s like you’re checking boxes, if that’s what God’s calling you to do, checkboxes, you’re doing a great job. But if he’s actually calling you to reach people and connect with people, maybe we need to rethink what you’re doing here.

Mark MacDonald: Well, if you’re communicating and no one is listening…

Jason Hamrock: What’s the point?

Mark MacDonald: What is the point? And so we need to figure out how does a community, or an audience, actually listen, and what do they listen to. And what I know, and it kind of couples together with, you know, Jesus said that, you know, if you’re my disciples, if you’re Christ followers, you will be known for having loved one towards another. Well, part of love is understanding needs, concerns, and goals, and if I can know the needs, concerns, and goals of my community, I can become a solution to the needs, and concerns, and I can help them have a pathway to their goals.

Mark MacDonald: So in some sense, as communicators in the church today, we need to figure out how do we become pain experts with the things that will get the attention of our community, and most of those aren’t spiritual. So it’s just a matter of of becoming that pain expert so that the community goes, hmm, did you just say what my problem is, how do you know about my problem? And it’s like, you know what, I know so much about your problem, but I also know what the solution is. And it doesn’t have to be a spiritual solution, but that engagement that you can get when the community just looks up above the noise and says, someone has heard me, then at that point you can start a pathway to, what I call, make the turn to Jesus.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Yeah. Well said. And so it goes back to just staying focused, staying focused, and loving people. It’s almost simple.

Mark MacDonald: Staying focused, though, like we have to focus on people, so we have to focus on our audiences, and the complexity of that is that the church has two audiences. You have your internal audience, your congregation, your external audience, your community. So you have to focus on them, focus on them to a point that they know you love them, which just talking about needs, concerns, and goals. And then coming up with, like there’s lots of things that you could talk about that your your community would engage with, but it’s really focusing down to one umbrella concept that becomes your brand. That you become known for that, and that each one of your ministries can unite underneath of that umbrella. It really makes the paradigm shift between being a house of brands, and being a branded house.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, well said. Well, where does digital come into that? You know, when you think about all the digital tools, how does that play into shaping that brand?

Mark MacDonald: First of all, thank you, Missional Marketing, for all you’re doing in this world to to get people to focus on on digital. You and I have been talking until we’re blue in the face, and all we needed was a virus, and every church goes, you know, we probably should go more digital. And so I know that you and I could probably go off on, of course you need digital. But I guess, you know, the way I look at it is that there’s all kinds of channels of communication. It used to be that the center of all of our communication as a church was our bulletin, you’re not a church unless you have a bulletin. And that printed device, everyone turned to it because it was the trusted source. And so now people go, I don’t need a printed source. I mean, like I can still remember growing up and my mother saying, like, I would be like, so what time is the youth thing happening? And my mother would say, I don’t know, find the bulletin. So then you’d have to go find the bulletin.

Mark MacDonald: Well, now we live in this world where everybody reverts back to something digital, and I think that that digital hub mentality of even your print stuff has to point to the center of that digital hub, which is your website. And what I’ve often found is that we, over hundreds and hundreds of years, we got our bulletins so that they were controlled mediums of communication. And whether it’s like the bulletin Nazi that looks after it that, how dare you submit something with a typo in it because I look bad, and all of that stuff is very, very controlled. And then we created websites, and they’re just not controlled at all. You know, oftentimes you go to a website, you know, I was just on a very large church website, and weeks after Christmas, they still have a Merry Christmas message up on their website. Which is like, I mean, would you put out a bulletin, you know, weeks after Christmas that said Merry Christmas on the front of it? Like it just wouldn’t happen.

Jason Hamrock: Oh, heavens no!

Mark MacDonald: So the thing is, we just need to focus on digital in that, you know, the digital world now, I think is upon us. I think we all understand how critical it is, but we are mismanaging it right now, so we need to start taking control of it. And to me, taking control of anything digital starts with the content. How do you focus on something, so that all of your content comes underneath the big umbrella brand of your church.

Jason Hamrock: I couldn’t agree more, and what’s ironic is churches are creating content, maybe now more than ever, but the way that they’re putting that and using that on digital tools or digital platforms, it’s almost like they’re not doing that. They’re not doing it accurately, certainly, that’s what we like to teach is, we just want to inform you how to do that so that others can find you either organically or through some kind of a paid campaign or whatnot. But the fact that you’re creating this content, which is incredible content, is not being utilized the right way. It’d almost be like if you were to preach, but only parts of that message were being preached, you would never allow that to happen. Just like the typo in the bulletin,who in the world would print a bulletin this weekend that says Merry Christmas?

Mark MacDonald: No one. Or who would publish bulletins, and let’s leave them out on a table in front of our church so that the wind can happen to blow them through our community, so that people will know about our church. Is like, let’s just trust the wind to get them to the right people, where with digital, you can control all of that. It’s just a matter of of shifting your mindset away from bulletin mentality, and shifting it to oh my goodness, what a time to be alive, that we have all these tools, and we have the greatest story ever told that needs to be told everybody.

Jason Hamrock: Yep, I couldn’t agree more. All right, so you you wrote this book, Be Known For Something. Tell me a little bit about this book, and why did you decide to write it, and who should be reading this book?

Mark MacDonald: Well, certainly, I think every pastor needs to read this book. You know, if somebody, if a pastor, really, truly wants to reconnect with their community especially, and their congregation, and just really focus on a thread, you know, this is the book for you. I mean, it will help you talk less, so that people will listen more. And ultimately, the book kind of walks you through a process where you can discover your thread, and every church should have a different thread. The more unique your thread is, the better.

Mark MacDonald: And, you know, it’s one of those books where, again, my English teachers growing up would not believe I have written a book and it became a bestseller, which is just phenomenal. And what it is, is it’s just a really easy to read book, but it’s set up so that it’s easy to lead. So what you want to do is read through the chapters, it’s a lot of stories. And what it does is it just says, okay, so we all know something about somebody, and that makes us quickly make decisions to choose that person to do something for us. What if our communities, who maybe don’t want spiritual teaching at a certain point, they will need something else? And if you become known for that something else, they’ll actually turn and want to listen to you.

Mark MacDonald: And so the book walks you through, whether you’re a solo pastor or a pastoral team, you read through each chapter and everyone goes, yes, yes, of course, yes. And then the chapter ends with some really critical questions to ask yourself. And so it allows you to kind of conduct it as a part of your weekly leadership meeting, where you can say, so let’s answer these questions about our church. And what it’ll do is, it’ll walk you through everything you need to know in order to develop your thread.

Mark MacDonald: But then the last part becomes just highly practical about how to, once you have your thread, how do you communicate it, how do you create a digital hub, how do you tier your ministries? How do you make sure everyone doesn’t have the loudest voice, and stop the competition within your church, so that certain voices rise to the top?

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, okay, so smaller churches, yeah, lead pastors, you guys should read this book, and buy a few extra copies for your other your key leadership team. If you’re the communication director out there in a megachurch like I served in, how do I introduce or explain to my boss why he or she should be reading this book?

Mark MacDonald: Yeah. And it’s so interesting because I get to work with a lot of larger churches, larger churches need more focus than even the smaller church. Most smaller churches have to focus because of the, you know, the limited staff that they have. But a larger church oftentimes just chases squirrels, and it’s following those scattered paths that just add so much noise to the church. And what ends up happening, is that you end up just, you know, a lot of senior pastors of large churches have created so much noise that even their own staff don’t know what’s going on, and then we all shake our heads wondering why the people in the pews don’t know what’s going on. So it really is, it’s a book that will just help you take a step back and focus on the right things, in order to make sure that you’re speaking less so that they’ll listen more now.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, okay, great advice. And I feel like, just looking through this book and reading through it, it absolutely has a great message for for anybody in the church that serves in some capacity. And I agree with you, there’s so much noise being shared. It seems like the bigger church, it’s more about how do we grow more campuses because we’re going to go to the people. Great, yes, yes, but then you launch that campus and there’s just more noise over there, now there’s more noise over here, and you have that multi-campus noise effect going on.

Mark MacDonald: Well, and in some sense, you know, people always are asking me, so what’s the thread of this large campus? Well, usually the thread is the celebrity pastor who’s in charge of it, so everything’s about that person. And that’s where we run into a problem, if that large person has a moral failure, or leaves the church, or retires, it’s hard to pass the torch because the church has just become known for that large person. And we need to figure out, no, based upon the audience, what should we be known for. And get the celebrity pastor, or the pastor over the multitude of churches, get them to focus on that thread so that the torch can be passed. And you’re just passing the torch over to somebody else who knows and loves that thread as well.

Jason Hamrock: Well said. Well, where do you find inspiration? What books or are you reading, or podcasts you listen to? Give us a little glimpse into that.

Mark MacDonald: Oh, my goodness. So, again, what a time to be alive. I mean, the ability…It used to be, you know, you would buy a book, and until you go back to the bookstore, you wouldn’t know about another book. And now we’re just, we know about so many things and podcasts. I mean, I get to follow, just like you all get to follow, a ton of people like Phil Cook, and Donald Miller with Story Brand, I mean, that’s just fascinating stuff. In some sense, Story Brand is Be Known For Something, except that he makes more money off of his than I do.

Mark MacDonald: But it’s, you know, we need to figure out how do we focus on the right story, and how do we tell that story properly? I mean, people like Bob Iger from Disney past, Seth Godin. I mean, there are just so many people out there talking about this. And you’ve probably heard, I kind of concentrate a little bit on the secular side, mainly because there’s just an awful lot of thought power behind what’s happening on the secular side. And I like to take that and help me understand it, so that I can evangelize more. And then, you know, just on LinkedIn, and Instagram, and Twitter, and Facebook, like, there’s just so much stuff. And then now, I mean, I’ve just been introduced to the Missional Marketing podcast, everybody should be watching and listening to you guys. There’s just an awful lot of really good voices that are out there that should be listened to.

Jason Hamrock: So if people want to get ahold…Go ahead, sorry, go ahead.

Mark MacDonald: Well, in this, you know, because of the way I concentrate on the secular side. I’m also trying, just on the personal side, of studying Jesus, and studying, how did he do story branding? How did he do Be Known For Something? And how did he masterfully use threads? And things like the woman at the well in John, you know, he could have engaged with her on so many different topics, and yet he talks to her about water, which is her greatest need. And then, you know, he makes the turn and says, so what if I could give you a water and you’d never thirst again. And she goes, like, yeah, tell me about that. Where if you would have started with that, she’d be like, yeah, whatever. And even, you know, just in John 13, when Jesus says that we’re supposed to be known for love. Like all of those threads that connected everything that he said to people, I think our church just needs to figure out how do we connect better with our our communities, so that we can jump on the growth of our communities, when most of our churches are not growing.

Jason Hamrock: Wow, yeah, well said. Well, if people want to get ahold of you, if they have questions, how can they do that?

Mark MacDonald: Well, if you want to get my weekly email, is my website, but will get you on to our email list. And then most of the social media channels, either look for Be Known For Something, or most of my personal channels are all under @MarkMac1023. And 10/23 is my birthday, so that’s the way you can remember my birthday, but it’s @MarkMac1023.

Jason Hamrock: All right, I have an October birthday, so that’s awesome. You know what, we have a lot of things in common here, don’t we.

Mark MacDonald: We do, two boys, you have two boys,

Jason Hamrock: That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. I’m not quite the empty nester, as you are, but I’m not too far from it.

Mark MacDonald: Okay, thanks for pointing out, you’re young, I’m old.

Jason Hamrock: I don’t want to say by how many years, just kind of get that in there.

Mark MacDonald: That’s right, about a decade.

Jason Hamrock: Oh yeah, yeah. Well, Mark, thank you for your insight. I praise God for giving you his wisdom, and being able to put together not only this book, but just for the work you’re doing and the connections you have to help churches get better. And that’s all we’re, that’s what you and I, are both called to do. We just want to help expand the kingdom, introduce more people to Jesus, and through his local church, that’s how it’s going to get done. And so thank you for your pouring into this, using those God given talents and gifts to help expand the kingdom.

Mark MacDonald: Thank you, and likewise, thank you for all you’re doing as well.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Thank you. All right, well take care, we’ll talk to you soon.

Jason Hamrock: Well, that was a tremendous podcast. Mark, thank you so much for your insight and your wisdom. You’re absolutely right, every church, every church leader, should understand what his or her church is about, what that thread looks like. So church, here’s the takeaway, go buy the book. Go buy copies of this book, it’s an easy read, spend some time right now reading it and understanding what it is your church should be known for. You know, there’s probably maybe a disconnect between what you think you’re known for, versus what people think and know of you. Right? And so make sure that perception is reality, that’s the first thing I would do. The second thing I would do is, I’d encourage you to go deeper. Understand, once you’ve read this book, don’t stop there, now it’s time to roll up the sleeves and get to work to make the change that’s necessary inside your church.

Jason Hamrock: We’re here to serve at Missional Marketing. If we can help in any part of this, or along the way, we’re here to serve, we’re here to help you clarify that message. And certainly I’d encourage you to reach out to Mark, because he’s the expert. but we can certainly talk about what that looks like. And at the end of day, Mark would agree with me, that we want to help you win. This is all about Jesus, it’s all about pointing people to him, and helping them in their time of need, wherever and whatever that is.

Jason Hamrock: And so, Mark, I appreciate you. God bless you guys, thanks so much. And here’s to a happy, happy 2021.

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