Is the Church a Brand? A conversation between Manfred Bruhn and Albrecht Grözinger

Many companies believe that they have a strong product. In the case of the church, this would be the gospel. Ideally, good products sell themselves. Today, however, there is an ever-increasing competition of ideas, and this effect is thus more often absent. How does the church deal with this? To whom is the church losing its customers? What are ideas for the future? And fundamentally: Is the church a strong brand?


Manfred Bruhn: I had my first intensive contact with the church in a marketing context in 1999 during the Ecumenical Basel Church Study. I wonder if much has really changed since then. Why doesn't the church open up more to the outside world?

Albrecht Grözinger: This is mainly for historical reasons. Because historically, the church has been market-rejecting. And this group of church representatives still exists today. But there is also another group today. And this group says we have to open up! By the way, this group also has a different understanding of the market. It sees the church on the market of world views. The younger generation has accepted the challenge. But: We had a monopoly for years. We are a company without experience in marketing!

"Historically, the church has been market-rejecting."

You say it yourself: The church has lost its monopoly position. To whom are you losing your "customers" these days?

We are losing out to the free churches, of course. But that is not the core. Above all, we are losing to museums, art, etc. In other words, to the market of meaning. The resources for finding life/interpreting meaning have multiplied today. For example, the topic of mindfulness is almost a trend. But people don't go to church for that, they seek advice elsewhere.

To survive in this competitive environment, there are a few key success principles for service companies. First and foremost, interaction with the target groups and dialog at eye level. Doesn't the church cultivate too little interaction? Shouldn't relationships be better cultivated?

The Baselstädtische Kirche is currently trying to find this out with a member survey. But I'm sure it will peter out. You can't just do a survey, you then have to deliver. And that depends on the pastors in the congregations. Some want to sell a race car, others a classic car.

It sounds like you have a leadership problem?

You are right to a certain extent. The problem is at lower and middle management levels. But the main problem is: We don't have a corporate identity. That's not easy either, but look at the U.S., there are churches there with a strong corporate identity. We have been an authority church for too long.

"In the U.S., there are churches with a strong corporate identity."

In addition to strengthening their own corporate identity, many companies today are trying to build up so-called influencers. What does that look like for you?

There are intellectuals again who are interested in the church. But the church is too hesitant to take advantage of that. One wonders too often if this is appropriate to the Gospel.It was already progress that we became reactive! However, the mistake was that in the last 20 years we spent a lot of energy on working on our own structures and training. But not on external relationships.

Too often, therefore, there is no dialogue. No opening! But companies, people and the church must face up to change. Is the church in the right position?

Every church website says "openness" - but that doesn't come across. There are many empirical surveys: Where people talk about pastors, the experiences are positive. But not when the institution is talked about.

So there is no transfer from the relationship with the local pastor and the institution of the church. - But this would make a strong brand. Because a brand means that it is clear what an institution or a product stands for. And strong brands have power of attraction. But this is precisely what does not seem to be clear in the case of the church. It lacks a brand for which people like to donate, where they like to go, where they like to work....

We have a strong brand: the Christian image of man and centuries of experience.

"We have a strong brand: the Christian image of man."

But that is the internal view! If you are strong on the inside, why not on the outside?

We have not recognized the opportunities. We have been preoccupied with our own critical history for too long. Today, religion is once again an issue in different contexts, but the church has not managed to position itself properly there.

What do you think are the causes of this?

(thinks for a long time...) The church also has to contend with many difficulties in public perception. In part, our problems are self-inflicted. The church is completely different today, but you don't get that across.

Brands need to occupy topics: Agenda setting, content marketing. Every brand would be happy if it had as many topics as the church. Why don't you use that more?

I'm stumped! - But we are making progress. There are new entries again.

It sounds like you have the content, but there is a lack of structure and process.

That is correct. In addition, there is the Kantönli thinking in Switzerland. Decentralization is counterproductive at this point.

What relative importance does the brand ultimately have for the church?

Brand and church... The problem is that the church can agree on a certain label at most. It is highly plural. There is still no agreement on what the core content of the gospel is. Even if the leadership could agree, the staff would not. The church does not function hierarchically.

As we can see, there are still some open questions and tasks for the future. After all, our discussion was primarily intended to take stock. But do we have enough imagination about what can change in 50 to 100 years?

For me, the primary goal is not that the numbers increase. My goal is that people who buy are also satisfied. I want them to say that it was worth coming. But things are interrelated, of course. We have to work on the dialog with our target groups and at the same time on the image of our brand.

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