Innovation. Sounds cool and sexy.

Disrupters. The word drips from one’s lips.

Change agent. Sign me up.



Sounds like the chaperone who makes everyone uncomfortable at the dance.

Innovation and standardization are two sides of the organizational coin. Without one, the other fails. Innovation without standardization is like playing tag with no home base. From what does innovation leap from? To where does innovation land?

Most enterprises understand this fact, but many churches still lag behind when it comes to finding this balance. I’ve met so many great leaders who are doing amazing things to inspire people with the hope of the gospel. They have a clear vision, but lack clear visuals or a clear voice.

Having a standards manual/ style guide/ brand standards (interchangeable phrases for this article’s purposes) can be the first leap into creating a solid foundation from which your church can leap. The importance of this document and the ideas captured within cannot be over expressed. Without one, the look, feel and voice of your church will be a diluted, ever changing and unimpressive mess.

Innovation and standardization are two sides of the organizational coin. Without one, the other fails.

A brand standards manual becomes the dictionary for your church’s vocabulary. It becomes the Constitution for your church’s grand experiment. It becomes the Magna Carta that quells the internal “How do we say that?” and “Is it ok if I use this color?” wars that are probably already brewing if you’ve existed without one.

I could go on and on like this, but here are 3 quick things that a brand guide allows you to do:

Frame your story so others can tell their story.

We all know that Disneyland is the Happiest place on Earth. We can almost feel the burn in the backs of our throats just by seeing the red and white logo of Coke classic. We have ambitions to be faster, stronger runners when we see the ads for Nike shoes and gear.

Those connections aren’t just marketing ploys. They are rooted in the stories each of these brands tell. We’ve may have never run a 4:00 mile or felt the runners high in our lives, but we feel connected to the stories of the many who have because of choices made long before the race was run.

When we connect life change to logos, people start to connect the dots. When we limit our vocabulary it begins to stand out from the crowd. But it’s not possible for the curious to know what to connect with when the usage isn’t clearly dictated. Someone has to stand up and say, “Here’s exactly who we are and this is exactly how we say who we are.” Once people in your community can see you standing out thanks to clearly defined brand standards, they can begin to connect with the stories you tell. They can begin to imagine their own lives being changed in your church. Then the rock starts to roll downhill:

  • the card you left at the coffee shop has a well designed logo and clearly defined info for your website
  • the website has your well designed logo and copy written in clearly defined vocabulary that help introduce them to who you are and authenticates the choice to investigate the info on the card
  • they come to the church that looks like the site and hear the host and communicator sound like what they read on the site, reinforcing their choice to go to the website
  • their experience at the church opens their hearts and ears to hear the good news of Jesus, establishing them and their story as a part of our story
  • they begin to re-tell their story using the established tools you standardized a while ago

We know that Christ gets to people’s hearts in a myriad of ways, so please don’t read this as a formula. Instead, I’m trying to make the point that our creative choices can create an ecosystem that informs and influences people. When you can clearly tell your story, they can use these tools to tell their story. That’s how it becomes our story.

Define the yes. Avoid the no.

I tell our creative teams at Sandals Church to always get to a yes. By that I mean, let’s continue to explore creative options so that any request results in a “Yes!” Sometimes that means re-routing original requests or generating different ideas that achieve the same goal. But we try to avoid no’s at all costs.

With that said, there are a lot of no’s.


“Can I use pink instead of black on the logo? It’s my favorite color.” No.

“I’m not sure how to crop this, can I just stretch it?” No.

“The kids love comic sans.” No. No. No.


So, how do we say no? We define clear usage in the standards manual. In great detail we let everyone in our organization know, “Do this, not this. Use this, not that. Say this, don’t ever say that.” We reiterate the importance of the standards and can back up our choices with data that say “These choices work. Those choices don’t work.”

If we run into a snag and find that people are using language, images, fonts or other assets that don’t feel like us, we balance that against the standards manual. If it’s a gray area, we make a choice and communicate that choice. We update the manual to reflect the choice we made and we create whatever resources people need so that they can make good choices.

It may sound restrictive, but someone has to be the guard dog for the brand. If you can clearly define the yes and resource people well so they can avoid the no, then that someone should be you.

Looking for some inspiration on creating a brand standards for your church.  Check out the free SALT16 Brand Guide and get some great ideas on creating your own brand guide.  Click here to download

Serve the people who serve the people.

 Ultimately, our goal in creative services is to serve the people who serve the people. If I can help campus pastors avoid choices that distract them from the main goal of their ministry, then I’m doing my job. If Family ministries team members can focus on loving kids all the way to Christ and not get dragged into design challenges, I’m doing my job. If people know exactly how to say what they want to say so they can quickly talk about what God is doing to change lives in our community, I’m doing my job.

Me focusing on my main thing (maintaining and advancing our brand) means they can focus on their main thing (advancing the cause of Christ in their areas.) If I’m unclear on my main thing, then they have to pull time from their main thing resulting in a lessened impact in their area of ministry. I’ve benefitted from the gifted leaders in our church – my marriage is better, my kids are walking with Christ and I feel connected to our community. I hope that me playing my part by developing our brand standards has helped them to create the capacity necessary to do what they do so well.

We’ll go over so much more at the session at SALT 2018. I hope to see you there.