What should ministries be posting online? We need to be more savvy and think about our message as a product. We need to understand that packaging matters when people are buying or buying-into something. Design matters. “Good” design is RELATIVE–in the eye of the beholder–but what I’m talking about is RELEVANT design.

But design isn’t the only things that matters. WHAT we share needs to be relevant as well. We need to highlight what makes us distinctive and different. We need to think like a brand. We need to market ourselves. We’re Seventh-day Adventists. The good stuff’s all in the name yet oftentimes our sermons and the media content we produce could fit in perfectly at any Sunday keeping church down the street. It’s a little like trying to sell food in a grocery store. What brand of cereal tries to market itself by talking about how 95% of it’s contents are identical to everything else in the aisle?

Even worse, sometimes we ARE talking about our distinct message but it’s coming from someone who’s so out of touch with reality that only weirdos are interested. Social media is about telling stories and engaging people–stories of people’s lives, what they did last night, what they just ate–even what they are doing right now. Smart brands use social media to tell their stories as well.

Unfortunately our church isn’t doing a good job of entering in to people’s personal stories. Our content has great potential but we’re sticking it in the wrong packaging. We’re mostly putting out an uninteresting, even embarrassing, vibe when it comes to connecting with people under 35–the wrong feel.

It’s not about the medium. You can be on Twitter and still look like a dummy or like you’re not with it. It’s about the way we are perceived. It’s time to ditch the mentality that would use old paintings of Jesus coming back as website backgrounds and profile icons and find a new way to get our message across. We’re still marketing ourselves like we’re in the Uncle Arthur days. It’s not that there’s not a small group of people that are still going to respond to that but it shouldn’t be our big push. It’s like we’re showing a silent movie to a generation who grew up on slick computer animation and crazy special effects.

Our stories themselves don’t have to change (and shouldn’t change) but the way they are told and the qualities with which they can be told does. Sure, redoing an organization’s image can be painful but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to happen. Just look at Apple when Steve Jobs re-took the reigns as CEO. Apple was near bankruptcy. It had lost it’s identity. It became a commodity. You know what happened: he pared the company down to the bones and started over. That’s when the computer was reborn and entered a new era thanks to the iMac. Steve sifted through company personnel. Some got repositioned and some, like Jony Ive, got discovered and promoted. And just because Apple makes awesome products doesn’t mean everyone loves them and not everyone will love the church’s message either, no matter how it is packaged, but I think we can do a lot better.

Right now the church has an image problem (and image is more than design). I believe it’s time to start over. Not to be cool–our message is already the essence of cool because it’s God’s message and nothing is cooler than that. By and large, with the exception of a few small glimmers of hope here and there, our packaging stinks.

Our church also misread the value of social media. We don’t get what it’s worth. We’re excited about Twitter and Facebook as marketing tools, not because we understand their true power, but because they are free! Yes, they are free to join but there are hundreds of professional social media tools that enhance a professional organization’s social presence and they aren’t cheap. Most people in our church probably don’t even know what they are! We’re not throwing any money, or real effort, behind an effective social media push. We’re treating it as a cheap add-on to the old way of doing things. We don’t want to change. We’re operating on social media properties on a consumer level. We need to realize that it’s OK, even necessary, to spend money to promote our message through new mediums. Why are companies like McDonald’s and Pepsi hitting social media home runs and lavishing funds on social media marketing while the church is languishing on the same field?

The effectiveness of church communication can be hampered by communicators, yes, but most communicators I know want to dive full-bore into social media, learn what they can and do what they can to be effective there. Unfortunately, money can be just as much of a roadblock to effective social media efforts as it can be in any operational area–either the lack of funds or, more probably, the appropriation of funds by gatekeepers who may not understand what’s current, effective or necessary.