“You’re only 16, you don’t have a rep yet.” Man, parents just don’t understand.

Will Smith was on to something. Everyone has a reputation – even teenagers. Your reputation follows you (and, conversely, precedes you) wherever you go. It’s what you’re known for.

A reputation is what people use to gauge what you stand for. Good or bad, a reputation is a huge guiding factor in determining whether people want to be in relationship with you.

Don’t believe me? Let me ask you something: What do you think of Bernie Madoff? You know, the investment manager who defrauded investors to the tune of some $50 billion. Scum-of-the-earth, right? Sure, you think that now. He’s got a reputation for being a crook (and the prison sentence to prove it). But he had a good enough rep before he got caught for dozens of folks to trust him with very large sums of their money.

All that changed after he got caught. Madoff’s reputation was shattered. Completely and totally ruined. And a rep, once tarnished, is painfully difficult to restore. Funny how that works.

Every church has a reputation – be it good or bad.

The same set of “rep rules” apply to churches. Every church has a reputation – be it good or bad. It’s there, constantly influencing the behavior of hundreds, if not thousands, of people on a daily basis. To put it more simply, people are making decisions on whether or not they’ll go to your church based on what others say about you.

Like I said earlier, everyone has a reputation. Be it good, bad, or downright ugly, it’s there. The key is to make sure your rep accurately reflects who you are as a congregation. Proactively shaping your reputation is called brand-building and it’s something every church should think about.

Notice how I didn’t say “who you think you are as a congregation”. No, your reputation is the real-time assessment of how people see you. It’s your track record within the community. Hopefully the two (your assessment and the communal assessment) are similar. Often times, however, they aren’t. What you think about your church and what others think are sometimes woefully misaligned. These things contribute to your overall brand message.

What you think about your church and what others think are sometimes woefully misaligned.

The key for you is to make sure you’re aware of your reputation. Just like people with bad B.O. can’t smell their own stench after a while, churches can become immune to the funk they put off. No one likes a stinky person. No one likes a smelly church. Here are a few different ways churches can keep their reputation from tanking like the Titanic.

A Website is Worth a Thousand Words

38% of potential church visitors base their decision to attend a church on the website alone?
Did you know that 38% of potential church visitors base their decision to attend a church on the website alone? Our research at MonkDev shows that when people visit a church website and see outdated information, a clunky design, or can’t find what they need, they form a negative opinion about the organization.

The thought goes like this: “If they can’t keep their website up-to-date, what else is lagging behind?” As a web-savvy generation grows up and starts making its way to your church, your website will increasingly factor into the likelihood of someone visiting.

Make sure your site represents your church brand faithfully. If your organization is filled with creative, loving, talented individuals, don’t have a website that looks like it was built in the 90’s on Geocities. If you think of your church as a resource to other churches (a.k.a. a “teaching church”), well, you’d better have the website to back that up.

Simply put, don’t let your website communicate something that you know isn’t true.

Don’t let your website communicate something that you know isn’t true.

The Devil (eek!) is in the Details

I was visiting a church recently while traveling. I saw some things that made me question whether I’d ever go back if I lived in the area. Paint scrapes everywhere. Giant holes in the walls. Plus, the displays in the main foyer were obviously constructed haphazardly. They reeked of amateur craftsmanship.

There was no thought, no effort, no care into crafting the experience people have when they come into the building.

To top it all off, the coffee was terrible. I’m not looking for Kona or Blue Mountain, but at least give me something that’s drinkable. Last time I checked, “swill” wasn’t a type of roast.

You might think I’m being picky, but these were my first impressions. The reality is that most folks will decide whether or not to come back to your church before the message is given. That makes the sermon a little less important, doesn’t it?

Most folks will decide whether or not to come back to your church before the message is given.

I love seeing churches that invest the time and effort into crafting a worthwhile experience for visitors. When I look at church websites and see “Director of First Impressions”, my heart smiles. Why? Because that church knows the details matter.

Now, more than ever, people want to be taken on an experience. The Church is not exempt from this. If businesses and organizations like Starbucks, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Apple Computers invest time, effort, and resources into crafting an experience for their customers, shouldn’t the local church? Even more so?

Churches that neglect this do so at their own peril. Your brand identity will continue to be established by the care (or dismissal) you give to the details.

Seek Out Feedback

Our family was out driving recently. I needed to merge lanes to get over to our exit. Simple enough, right? Only when I went to make the turn, my wife yelped, “ACK! Stop!” It seems I didn’t see the Buick LeSabre hovering just behind the passenger-side back bumper.

I had a blind spot. I couldn’t see everything going on around me. Had my wife not seen that stylish Buick, our white Honda Pilot would have become a nice shade of skid mark maroon. In that moment, I was very thankful she saw something I couldn’t.

Similarly, your church has a blind spot. You have areas as a staff that you simply cannot see – places that escape your vision.

You have areas as a staff that you simply cannot see – places that escape your vision.

Don’t feel bad about it. I don’t know of a single, healthy church (or organization, for that matter) that doesn’t have a blind spot. It’s part of what it means to be a human being. We simply can’t see it all.

These blind spots, left unchecked, can become a part of your brand identity. Maybe it’s an unwillingness to acknowledge a leader’s “creativity” with the financial records. Maybe you don’t see that every time you go out for lunch as a church staff, the wait staff runs and hides because they know they’re going to get stiffed. Or maybe you don’t see that the mission trips you’re doing are actually hurting the culture you’re visiting, not helping. These all contribute to the brand of your church and, if you’re not careful, could bring things to a screeching halt. Permanently.

The good news is that you can uncover most (if not all) of your blind spots. All it takes is a little foresight and humility.

Encourage honest feedback and you’ll get surprising results.

Need some ideas? If you’re in leadership, ask the opinion of people who normally don’t contribute to the high-level vision of the church. “Does this make sense to you?” “What are we not seeing that we need to?” “What bugs you about this church?” Encourage honest feedback and you’ll get surprising results. I promise.

You could also bring people into your church who specialize in seeing the blind spots of organizations. (In some circles, these folks are called “consultants” but, for whatever reason, that’s a dirty word in the Church. We’ll just call them BS-Spotters :)) These are third-party individuals who can see your church for what it is, without all the red-tape, emotional baggage, and operational ruts.

Closing Thoughts

Whatever you do, make sure you’re actively seeking out feedback to see the things you’d normally miss. It’s key in shoring up any areas that are contributing to a negative reputation for your church. The more you can be aware of, the more you can change. The more you can change, the better your brand/reputation will be.