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Janet Peterson
Tuesday, September 10 2013

Whose Church We Are

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How does The Church of Latter-day Saints “brand its message?” And just what does this “brand” convey?

“Every church has a message to share,” stated Dr. Curtis Newbold, who holds a Ph.D in Rhetorics, Communication and Information Design from Clemson University and now teaches visual communication. “And nearly every established church these days has a website in which it promotes and ‘brands’ its church and message. Doctrine aside, I thought it would be insightful to see just how the top 20 churches in America (in terms of reported membership) go about visually communicating their messages on their respective official church websites.” He posted “Images of Christianity: How America’s Top 20 Churches ‘Brand’ Their Message” on his website.

In his analysis of these 20 websites, Newbold found that only three contained images of Jesus Christ. Most websites emphasized news, leaders, programs, promotions of books, and other products while only a few featured visual images of doctrines or principles. The www.lds.org website, according to Newbold, is visually effective and shows viewers that this church is indeed The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. The Church is ranked fourth in terms of membership in the United States with 6,157,238 members listed.

ldsimages
Perhaps the most image-rich of all the denominations’ websites, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church) has a heavy visual emphasis on daily living according to Jesus Christ’s teachings,” stated Newbold. “Images emphasize service, strong family relationships, praying, friendship, forgiving, marriage, giving humanitarian aid, sharing the gospel, and remembering heritage. It is one of the few websites that displays actual images of Jesus Christ.”[1]

In another post, Newbold displayed a collage of religious signs and billboards, “Faith By Billboards: How American Religions Use Signs to Persuade” Prominent in this collection are examples of LDS Church billboards of the I’m A Mormon, Mormon.org, and the New York Times Square Christmas campaigns. He said: “Because visual communication is such a powerful and ubiquitous force in American advertising, it is no wonder that most all religious institutions in America have gone to signs and billboards to share their message.”[2]

Effective visual communication indeed can powerfully convey a message, or simply another way of saying “a picture is worth a thousand words.” Hewlett-Packard’s website describes visual communication as “everywhere today, from electronic media like Web pages and television screens to environmental contexts such as road signs and retail displays.”[3] 

Newbold defines visual communication as “the stuff (neon lights, parking signs, cereal boxes, bumper stickers, resumes, olive oil labels) around us that persuade us to buy or to move or to act because of how our brain reacts to what our eyes see. . . . Good visual communication also sends a message of professionalism and commitment to the people we are communicating to. . . . Visual communication affects our moods, our expectations, and our choices.”[4]

Researchers have found, however, that “while purely visual communication is more effective than solely verbal communication [text], the most compelling means of communication combines both visual and nonvisual content.”[5]

Thus, the visual images and accompanying text that an entity or organization displays strongly conveys what that group desires to emphasize. And the unmistakable and definitive message that the Church proclaims is that it is the church of Jesus Christ in the latter days.

Whose Church This Is

When the Savior visited the New World after His Resurrection, he commanded the Nephites to call the church in his name: “How be it my church save it be called in my name? For if a church be called in Moses’ name then it be Moses’ church; or if it be called in the name of a man then it be the church of a man; but if it be called in my name then it is my church, if it so be that they are built upon my gospel” (3 Nephi 27:8).

In the latter days, the Prophet Joseph Smith received a revelation in 1838 as to the name of the Church: “For thus shall my church be called in the last days, even The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints” (D&C 115:4).[6] Elder M. Russell Ballard stated, “The name the Savior has given to His Church tells us exactly who we are and what we believe. We believe that Jesus Christ is the Savior and the Redeemer of the world. He atoned for all who would repent of their sins, and He broke the bands of death and provided the resurrection from the dead. We follow Jesus Christ. And as King Benjamin said to his people, so I reaffirm to all of us today: ‘Ye should remember to retain [His] name written always in your hearts’ (Mosiah 5:12).”[7]

In 1996, the visual display of the name of the Church was redesigned so that the words Jesus Christ are larger and receive greater visual emphasis. Bruce L. Olsen, managing director of public affairs at the time, commented: “The logo reemphasizes the official name of the Church and the central position of the Savior in its theology. The three-line design reflects the prominence of the Savior in both proportional sizing and position within the name of the Church.”[8] This definitive logo appears on stationery, magazines, books, pamphlets, signs, buildings, and missionary nametags to name a few.

church logo

Latter-day Saints know “whose church we are;” they have faith in and testimonies of Jesus Christ as the Savior and Redeemer of the world and strive to live according to His teachings. The mission of the Church is “invite others to come unto Christ by helping them receive the restored gospel through faith in Jesus Christ and His Atonement, repentance, baptism, receiving the gift of the Holy Ghost, and enduring to the end.”[9] One of the ways the Church proclaims (or “brands”) to the world that we are indeed the church of Jesus Christ is through effective visual communication that is frequently and prominently presented through a variety of mediums.

Readers may be interested in viewing Curtis Newbold’s blog to see websites of other religions.

                 

[1] www.thevisualcommunicationguy.com.

[2] www.thevisualcommunicationguy.com, July 23, 2013.

[3] www.hp.com.

[4] www.thevisualcommunicationguy.com.

[5] www.hp.com.

[6] Elder M. Russell Ballard explained each element of the name of the Church in his general conference address “The Importance of a Name,” Ensign, Nov. 2011, lds.org.

[7] Ibid.

[8] “New Church Logo Announced,” Ensign, October 1996, lds.org.

[9] Preach My Gospel..

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