The 21st Century Christian Brand

Long before branding metamorphosed into a megabucks business, a small horde of society’s dregs changed the face of the 1st century. They were basically uneducated in the Roman and Greek classics. They were commoners and only few could read and write. They were mainly fishermen and tradesmen whose voices could not reach the corridors of power since theirs were muffled by their low socioeconomic status. Somehow, they banded around a man of lowly birth and means, whose personality they found irresistible. He made them look inwards to see that imprinted in their hearts was the insignia and image of the Almighty God, “Imago Deo”. He gave them hope and above all, he caused their minds to be enlightened to such a level that they believed in themselves and their ability to change the world. They were fearless and no weapon of established hegemony was enough to deter them. They had no physical armory but wielded power of divine dimension that made the Roman Army fear them, while the Jewish religious leaders and custodians loathed and envied them altogether.

Threatened by their rising profile, the religious and political authorities united to subjugate and decimate them. But the more they persecuted and hounded them, the more they thrived and spread in prominence and strength. Onlookers in Antioch could not understand the basis upon which they operated. And due to limitation of vocabulary at that time, these group of world changers were christened ‘Christians’ for the first time because they had displayed moral character, and supernatural ability reminiscent of those that made Jesus Christ, outstanding. When their eloquence could not be linked to their lack of education, the elites marveled for ‘these ones have been with Jesus of Nazareth’. So grew the influence of Christianity all across the world, even though the spark was generated first in Jerusalem by a group of ‘nobodies’. Now the Christian brand has become ubiquitous and trendy like the Coca Cola brand which is drank all over the world. It has become merchandised and bereft of much spiritual essence.

The corporate world is ruled by branding and a successfully branded product or service is sure to outpace its competitors and rake in more sales at any given point. Hence copywriters, brand managers, brand designers, and graphic artists who think outside the box have been working assiduously to create brands and adverts that would make their brand unique and exceptional. Though efforts are made to create, promote and market a brand through eye-catching and heart-pulling adverts, what keeps a brand going is the consistency of the quality of its content. It is not the sophistry and attractiveness of the packaging and catch-phrase that gets the customer to buy or depend on a product. Rather, a brand-loyalty and continued support by customers is assured when the latter’s expectations are matched by the utility and quality offered by the brand. Hence in branding parlance, it is said that ‘a good product always sells itself’; through its ‘unique selling point’.

A corporate entity that is its branding would normally invest in R & D, especially market research to ascertain how it is performing in the minds of its clients. They would also research on how best they are perceived by those who love or hate them. They would not disregard the opinions of their critics or the activities of their competitors. Based on the outcome of their extensive research, products and services are designed to be at the cutting edge. And to ensure consistency of quality, all products are subjected to quality assurance tests before they are pushed into the open market. And if faulty ones slip through unnoticed, they are usually recalled back and destroyed at the expense of the brand owner to avoid any dent on the brand’s name. In such a case, a re-calibration of the tools and machinery used may become necessary.

Having laid this foundation, I would want to dare to bring the contemporary brand of Christianity into scrutiny and being a Christian myself; I make no apologies for my views which are based on my personal opinion and not on empirical or brand-oriented research. Christianity like I earlier said became a veritable brand at Antioch in the first century A.D. when the evangelistic efforts of Paul and Barnabas yielded much fruits as recorded in the Book of Acts of the Apostles. They became a brand not by the word of mouth alone but by the moral and spiritual quality of the lives they lived. The people marveled and could only help but call them Christians because they lived and walked like Jesus Christ whom they called and submitted to as their Master. Their mindset and worldview were shaped and influenced by their understanding of what values and lifestyles that Jesus had lived and promoted during his short time with them. His followers carried on the torch and passed it from generation to generation till it has come to berth in ours. Now we are the custodians of the Christian brand and we are to bequeath to posterity what we know as the essence of Christianity in contemporary times that we live in.

In my sincere opinion, the contemporary brand of Christianity in Nigeria and across the world is marred and unattractive to a majority of onlookers and faithful to say the least. For instance, majority of folks you see on the streets of Nigeria are ‘born again’. And if they are not born again, they at least belong to one of the traditionally conservative churches from where the ubiquitous Pentecostals metamorphosed from. The multiplicity of churches has not in any way impacted positively on the destiny and there is disconnect between what Christians preach and profess on Sundays and the life and examples we live out on the streets from Mondays to Saturdays at their work places and at home. This inconsistency has been found to be a ‘consistent attribute’ of majority of Christians such that the general public, who usually are seen as unbelievers marvel and are left fussy in a confused state.

In corporate offices, Christian professionals speak clichés and ‘christianees’ but we live an ambivalent life that has no bearing on our supposed faith that is linked to the Apostles and Prophets of old. We seem incapacitated by the conflicting and hypocritical lives they live to be able to sell their Christian brand because we have failed to live out the example expected of the brand we are to promote. No congregation or denomination has been found to live above board; the Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals and Pentecostals alike. Though my focus is not on the seemingly conservative churches, not for want of evidence, I am particularly irked and disappointed by the brand called ‘Pentecostalism’ which I sadly have been a part of for over 10 years.

For instance, Nigeria entered the Guinness Book of World Records when a frontline Pentecostal Church built a 50,000 capacity auditorium within a year. Nigeria has also been on record to have hosted the largest gathering of Christians worldwide in one single meeting like the yearly Holy Ghost Congresses and Shiloh which the Redeemed Christian Church of God and Winners Chapel hosts respectively. Pentecostal Churches (not the orthodox ones) have acquired hectares of land along Lagos-Ibadan Expressway for their meetings and have caused untold hardship to motorists at various times. Some Pentecostal churches have reached the ‘mega church’ status with little or no impact on the immediate environment where they are situated. Only a few have impacted the social and economic status of the poor and downtrodden among them, let alone the wider society.

A Pentecostal church can be found within every measurable kilometer in Nigerian cities and suburbs but the moral quality of the lives of the professing members lives nothing to be desired. The magnificence of the buildings where the sermons are preached and heard is paled by the weak witness of the multitudes that exit the edifices every Sunday. We criticize the government as being undemocratic, insensitive to human sufferings and corrupt, but our churches are built as castles where despotic theocrats and hegemonies rule and reign with absolute power, leaving the followers in spiritual poverty and subjugation. A lot of Pentecostal churches are run like one-man businesses with a winner-takes-it-all mentality with no recourse to accountability and financial transparency which was a mark of the early church. We have widened the dichotomy between secular work and ministerial work such that church members who miss out weekly services are labeled as promoting the cause of Babylon. We have forgotten that God’s first assignment to Adam was to tend the Garden of Eden long before the fall of man. But a lot of pastors in order to enslave their members have made them loathe their work places rather than help them strike a balance between work and church attendance.

We promote the sanctity of human life but haven’t quite added much value to living generally. Our private schools and universities are the most expensive yet the missionary schools built by orthodox Christians trained us for free, yet we label them as ‘dead churches’. We proclaim the sanctity of marriage and family life yet our lives are mired by utter hypocrisy, infidelity and promiscuity. Divorces hardly happen in orthodox churches but some Pentecostal pastors and members have had non-plausible and scandalous divorces that went through easily, and they remarried without a care in this world. The stunned world watches in shock and trepidation at these Christians whose lot is to bring healing and change to our dying and sick world.

Little wonder we’ve lost our biblical saltiness; our value and essence; hence have been truly trampled upon and lost our redemptive voice. In the yore years of Pentecostal Christianity in Nigeria, people respected ‘born again’ Christians because they truly lived a regenerated lifestyle of moral integrity despite their conservative excesses. Many lived what they professed and wielded tangible spiritual power that drew the attention on non-believers. The moral quality of the lives they lived made their alternative lifestyle attractive even to the educated and upwardly-mobile class of young Nigerian professionals. Many graduates left their paid jobs to take up full-time pastoral positions not for pecuniary reasons. They wanted to promote and project the authentic and tested Christian brand which they had admired and were ready to sacrifice their professional life for; thus becoming the ‘brand managers and promoters’.

One of the unique selling points of the Christian brand is its consistent stance on the absoluteness of moral and ethical conduct. But today, the Christian brand seem to have a vacillating moral value system which more or less reflects the moral decadence in the wider society which it was originally created to reverse. Moral scandals of pastors having tryst with female church members are no longer news item for soft sell and gossip tabloids. In essence, society’s celebrities now share the headlines with Pentecostal pastors. The brand promoters and marketers (the congregation) on the other hand are not wary of showcasing and distributing the distorted brand which they are so comfortable with. Hence churches burst at the seams on Sundays from Mondays to Saturdays; the Christian brand becomes submerged and subsumed into the moral morass of the wider society. If the doctor who is to treat a patient becomes a patient, anarchy and hopelessness would become imminent.

The contemporary brand of Christianity in Nigeria is in dire need of re-branding. This will not require so much research and experimentation as the original template has not been marred or proven to be dysfunctional. We need to face reality and accept the fact that we have failed to meet our own expectations and that of the wider society whom looks up to us. The hope of the mass on non-believers is not mistaken for if we strictly follow the examples shown by our forebears and live up to our responsibilities as reform agents, we would once again reclaim the respect we’ve so lost before other Christians and the wider society. We need to become more realistic in our worldview so we can positively influence and change the prevailing social realities for the good of society. We need to find biblical answers to the prevailing problems caused by poverty and disease among our people. We need to influence the market place by tapping into divine insight and wisdom which the Pentecostal experience guarantees. And added to that, we need to rise up from our fallen moral state and wash our soiled garments so we can shine as lights in this morally perverse and dark world.

Written by
Felix-Abrahams Obi
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2 comments
  • No matter how you brand it it, it still smells like B.S. and Money-Making Scheme. But finally a man who is honest, religion/church is a business to steal people’s money.

    I think you need to accept it that everything changes in life and it seems the Born-Again Theme is Hot and Trendy at the moment. Revamp your Pentescostal Church and maybe it will be trendy again. Instead of speaking in tongue, speak a mixture of Chinese and Yoruba. Instead of dancing up and down around the Church, do backflips to entertain your audience. There is so many ways, you just have to think hard and posh.

  • How very true, this article is! The church statred failing when leaders in the church who experienced the move of the holy spirit in the ’80s started to believe they could order God around to do as they wished, when God refused to be so used , they turned to pyschology and other brain washing techinques to keep their audience “spell” bound.

    The sad result is the state of Christianity as the author of the above article as so clearly stated. Humility is the only pillar that can sustain a man that God would use and continue to use… Sadly, most “men of God” will fail this test woefully and God cannot share his glory with anyone least of all a mere mortal