Book Review: "Branding Faith" by Phil Cooke


Full disclosure. Phil Cooke is a friend and occasional colleague. We have frequently found ourselves at the same conference table working for the same media ministry client. I like Phil and find him a smart, funny and unfailingly stimulating guy to talk to. But our friendship doesn’t mean I can’t review his upcoming book with a fair measure of objectivity. 

Phil’s latest, Branding Faith: Why Some Churches and Non-Profits Impact the Culture and Others Don’t, will be released in a few weeks but I was privileged to receive an advance copy. I looked forward to seeing what Phil had to say about the way ministries can and should present themselves for greater impact in this media-saturated, YouTubed, MySpaced, mobile-messaged environment. 

A big reason for my expectancy was the fact that I know Phil Cooke to be genuinely passionate about the subject. A lot more than I am, to be honest. Even though I’m in “the business,” when I see crappy Christian media I just want to walk away shaking my head. Phil wants to run forward and fix it. 

You don’t have to be around him very long to discover that Phil is genuinely, deeply bothered—grieved may be a better word—by the shoddy, backward and ineffective ways many ministries go about presenting themselves to a world they claim they want to engage and influence. 

I also know that Phil has taken more than a little flak from religious folks over the years for his efforts to challenge ministry leaders to raise their standards (and therefore their production budgets). A sampling of some of the cranky-grams the editors of Charisma magazine receive in reaction to Phil’s regular column there testify to that fact. 

The truth is, there are powerful segments of American Christendom that recoil when guys like Phil use the terms marketing, branding and packaging in a conversation about ministry effectiveness. They are offended by the very idea of applying “worldly wisdom” to the sacred business of carrying out the Great Commission. 

For some in ministry, it just doesn’t matter that what they present looks bad, sounds bad, communicates poorly, and feels utterly irrelevant to the intended target. To them, all that matters is that the presenters love Jesus and that they mean well. They don’t feel the need to be effective. Only sincere. 

But there are others in ministry leadership who know their organizations need to change. They desire to be a more positive reflection on the Savior they serve and hunger to increase their ability to engage the culture for the Gospel. They’re just not sure how. And they’ve heard enough from the old-school religious nay-sayers to have doubts about whether their desires are fully biblical. 

It is for these folks that Branding Faith is a God-send.

In it, Phil Cooke exposes the tension I just described as a false dilemma. He makes a compelling case that we don’t have to choose between being effective marketers and fully biblical Christians—that, in fact, the former is a natural extension of the latter. 

One of the great values of this book is the way it de-mystifies a lot of the branding and marketing jargon that so permeates these discussions. For example, throughout the book Phil—correctly, in my opinion—encourages us to think of effective branding, design and marketing as simply excellence in “story telling.” This is a key insight.

Of all people, a preacher viscerally understands the power of being an effective storyteller. These are guys who work tirelessly on their live presentations. They deploy a variety of oratorical techniques to make sure they hold the congregation’s attention; make their points memorable, touch the emotions and well as the intellect, and pretty much do whatever is necessary to get that listener to act—whether that desired action be receiving salvation, repenting, committing more deeply, tithing or simply reading their Bible’s more. 

And yet some of these same guys will look at you like you’re advocating child sacrifice if you suggest revamping the logo, re-formatting the broadcast, or putting some underlining in their letters—all to accomplish the very same thing. That is, telling the story in a clearer, more compelling way.

In the rapidly emerging world of 500 television channels; hundreds of radio micro-formats,; downloadable, portable media; and ubiquitous wireless connectivity—just how are 21st Century ministries and churches supposed to breakthrough the clutter so they can do their thing? 

In Branding Faith, Phil Cooke offers us some timely answers. 

[Available for pre-order here]