The first time I worked at a church, I had no idea what I was getting into. I was leaving a job in corporate communications where everything a graphic designer needed to know was laid out clearly from day one. I was told what fonts to use, what two colors the logo could be, where to purchase stock photos, and a list of other guidelines to keep the brand consistent. But at the church, it was totally different. I was the first graphic designer they had ever hired. And the only guidelines for design that existed lived in the minds of the few other staff members who had communications responsibilities.
In general, the visual brand of the church felt scattered and lacked consistency. I think this is natural, though, when no one is solely focused on this area. We had many different versions of the logo being used and no standard for what we should or should not do. It became difficult to try to explain to a ministry why I couldn’t make the logo pink for their women’s event, for example. I had nothing to back me up but my own opinion. At that point, I had never put together a brand style guide before, but I knew it was what we needed. So together, our team began to work on this document to start us on the right path.
What is a Style Guide?
A style guide can include many things but essentially, it’s a document that outlines what your branding elements are and how to correctly use them. This can (and should) include the logo and visual brand, but can also review how to use photography, color schemes, typography, social media, and writing content. It outlines the standards your church has determined to use when communicating. Most commonly, the style guide lives as a PDF document easily accessible to staff members either online or through an internal server, but it could take a number of forms. Whatever it looks like, it should be easy to reference by staff members.
Three Reasons Your Church Needs a Style Guide
The most important reason to have a style guide for your church comes down to consistency. When every ministry is communicating with one voice, you become one church brand, rather than dozens of separate sub-brands with individual identities. Consistency conveys a sense of excellence and implies that things are intentional and well thought out. A good style guide will be an effective reference tool for you to use with ministries, volunteers, and outside vendors to keep everyone on the same page.
Getting thoughts written down and into some kind of official document just makes them more real. Maybe half your staff knows what the official church typeface is, but once you get that into a style guide, it suddenly becomes a standard. It’s now wrong to use any other typeface, whereas before it may have felt more like a preference. Although it’s second nature to a communications person, most people don’t think much about design and communications standards. Documenting the things we expect our staff and ministries to understand makes it easier on everyone.
One of the things I realized as we got into the process of creating that first brand style guide was that a lot of things had never really been firmly decided. Many questions arose during the process that we had to answer once and for all. Like, should we continue using the ugly gradient version of the logo just because we don’t want to reprint all the business cards? And in our official communications, including from the stage, do we want to call it the “sanctuary” or the “auditorium?” Working through this process was great and painful at the same time. We finally started to get clarity on things so we could move forward toward being consistent in our branding. But at some points, we ran into bigger, more complex questions, and many decisions had to be made by leadership or even the senior pastor. It wasn’t an easy process, but it was worth it.
In the end, once decisions are made and they become standards, it improves the overall communications process. You’re no longer starting from scratch when a ministry wants to get the word out about something. You have a pre-determined set of guidelines readily available for anyone on your staff to reference. And maybe for the first time, everyone begins to communicate with one voice.
The brand style guide is a living document that will probably never be fully completed. As your church and ministries evolve and grow, there will always be updates and additions as you try to communicate in new ways. But start where you can, and see how much it can improve consistency in what you communicate and design.