Now that Trinity United Church of Christ (TUCC) has been out of the news for several months since the airing of Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s snippets of sermons, the church has undergone a successful public affairs rebranding – or udpated brand – under enormously complicated conditions. This updated brand, not the controversy created by national politics, is the real story of TUCC.
The attention, criticism, exxageration and sometimes lies directed against the church came at a very delicate time for TUCC. Rev. Otis Moss III, a passionate and smart young pastor with a growing national following was selected to succeed Rev. Wright after 30+ years leading TUCC. During Wright’s tenure, he oversaw the church expand to a huge facility and grew its membership to over 5,000 members. More than that, Wright and TUCC established its reputation, theological positions, focused its issues and honed its style as a leading church on Chicago’s South Side.
The transition from Wright to Moss would be difficult and complicated but it also came exactly when the attacks against Wright and TUCC were at its highest. The Chicago Tribune reported on the trying times Trinity experienced in a recent article.
Through all the adversity and uncertainty (see the Trib. article), Moss was also given the opportunity to take what Wright had built and continue and expand its ministry. This is an enormous task considering the gap between Wright’s fingerprint on TUCC and the fresher, younger vision Rev. Moss brought to the church.
And while the Obama relationship with Wright and TUCC made life at the church difficult, it made Moss’ job of implementing some changes and taking the church in new directions even harder. Moss was too busy tending to the immedate scrutiny brought upon the church from the election.
Now, at the start of 2009, about two months after the election ended, TUCC is well on the way to a successful brand update. Just check out TUCC’s new website, it’s softer, more inviting color scheme and it’s use of audio and online video to reach people. From a communications standpoint, Moss and his transition team have sent the message that the church is not going to be dominated by one man’s legacy (Wright) and it will be first and foremost a welcoming house of worship with a distinct faith mission.
Moreover, Trinity has gotten its blog started and is on the way to building compelling and regular content.
Moss was also able to use the election crisis to his advantage, to help instill the core values he saw that will guide the church. I know Moss wanted to bring the church back to concentrate on very localized issues. He capitalized on the crisis through a “circle the wagons” strategy by keeping members of the press out of the church and asking congregants to refrain from talking to the press.
What has Moss and his staff have accomplished in a very short time is quite remarkable. Brands often take a long time to define and existing brands are usually hard to alter. I think Moss has hit the right balance of good listening (to his church members and others), building on existing TUCC strenghts, responding well to crises and knowing his own strengths, style and leadership capabilities.
Moss was able to succeed in altering TUCC’s brand because he recognized TUCC would have to “walk the walk” before he could declare Trinity had a different image. The changes Moss made and stuck to were not cosmetic. They were changes in how TUCC carried out ministry as well as adjusting its focus.
Full disclosure: I met and know Pastor Moss when I worked in community relations and maintain relations with members of the church who helped put the church’s new communications program into practice.