As of August 1, 2018, the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions is doing business as Citygate Network, with an emphasis on gospel-powered life transformation. This refocusing and rebranding initiative took the better part of a year to unfold. There were numerous meetings with think-tank groups, focus groups, a Blue Ribbon Panel, the staff, and the board. In the end, the changes were widely embraced by members and other stakeholders, and the process has been declared by some nonprofit leaders as the model to follow for introducing an organizational makeover.
This timeline highlights some of the key communications with members over the course of the year. Click on the buttons and read the articles or watch the videos to be fully informed about the development, explanation, and vision of Citygate Network.
You’ve likely heard some recent chatter that AGRM is thinking about expanding its reach and doing a bit of rebranding. Actually, if you were in Dallas for AGRM’s Annual Convention this past June, you heard more than chatter. Attendees at that event listened to me give a 10-year progress report and share some exciting possibilities regarding a path to even greater effectiveness in the days ahead.
Admittedly, what I had to say introduced a certain “C” word: change. That particular word tends to evoke another “C” word for a lot of people: concern.
I have put together a lot of information to bring all members up to speed on what I talked about in Dallas and where things currently stand. And if by chance what I had to say triggered that second “C” word for you, I want to introduce you to a third “C” word: confidence.
If you have the time, you can watch my full presentation from the Annual Convention by clicking this link. If you want a summary in 10 points, here it is:
Indeed, that is part of it. AGRM has ridden up on the crest of an epic wave. Membership is strong. Products and services are plentiful and appreciated. Government agencies, other ministries, and the public at-large have a renewed awareness and respect for what our organization stands for and what it produces.
But very soon, we will have a choice to make: We can ride this wave all the way to the beach, or we can stay in the action and paddle out to the next wave.
To move this conversation onto a life-cycle chart (below), we are approaching what’s known in the world of organizational management as a key decision point. We either start getting ready to manage a gradual decline—or reinvent ourselves for the probable future.
The truth is, this is a choice that needs to be made multiple times throughout the history of any organization. Since its inception, AGRM has decided on several occasions to paddle out to that next wave, changing its name, its mission and vision, its operating principles, its perspectives, and more. After almost 30 years, it is time to do this again.
At the risk of overstating it, in the process of climbing on to a new wave, we will NOT be changing our emphasis on the gospel as the catalyst for life transformation. And we will not be relaxing our statement of faith, code of ethics, or other tenets to which we hold.
I’ve let some time go by before reintroducing the proposed plans I presented in Dallas so we could: (1) collect feedback and assess pushback, should there be any; (2) convene a think-tank of association experts to process a slew of possibilities; and (3) have an AGRM board meeting so our leaders could ponder and process future direction in light of our storied past.
Regarding the collection of feedback, one of the questions we put on the convention survey was this:
Q12: As an AGRM member, how are you feeling about President John Ashmen’s presentation on future rebranding/restructuring and collaboration with like-focused ministries?
As you can see above, of those who heard the presentation, 20 percent checked #1 and 66 percent marked #2. Only 10 percent selected #3 and 4 percent picked #4. Interestingly, not one respondent voted for #5. Combining #1 and #2, a surprising 86 percent of attendees seemed to be positive about what they heard. And by the way, participation in 2017 Annual Convention evaluation was higher than in past years, increasing the reliability of our sample. So in short, those attending the convention are pretty much ready to go!
Even now in October, I have to say that excitement remains high. And while we have had some members issue appropriate warnings, there has been no strong, unified dissention.
Regarding the think-tank, in mid-June in California, I met with a group that has a combined 170 years of experience in association leadership and organizational management. They provided significant input and enhanced some of the rough ideas. They also pointed out possible pitfalls and made a lot of encouraging suggestions. Their work produced several guiding principles, which the AGRM board heard and endorsed.
The meeting of the board that followed a few weeks later was highly reflective but future focused. The board affirmed the association’s Statement of Faith and Code of Ethics. The group also looked at our values, mission, and vision, in light of any rebranding or embracing of new opportunities. Our values will remain the same. Mission and vision will likely be “tightened up” slightly in the months ahead.
Over the next few weeks, we will be appointing a “Blue Ribbon Panel” made of 15–20 individuals, representing a cross section of our member organizations. These individuals will help guide the rebranding and growth initiative until it is finished.
We will also be engaging a branding company to serve us along the way in a testing and consulting role. We have already started talking to two such companies.
The Internet is replete with articles on reasons for rebranding. Here are three specific reasons to rebrand, with real-life examples from the evangelical world:
When you have grown to become much more than your name implies
Example: HCJB > HCJB Global > Reach Beyond
HCJB, started in Ecuador, was the first Christian missionary radio station in the world. As the work expanded into medical services and crossed oceans, it became HCJB Global. In 2014, with workers in 100-plus countries, they rebranded as Reach Beyond, focusing on media, healthcare, and community development in areas where Christians are a small percentage of the population.
When your name is entwined with an outdated nomenclature from the past
Example: American Sunday School Union > American Missionary Fellowship > InFaith
Early on, this organization was all about establishing Sunday schools in urban and rural America. As the Sunday school movement began to lose steam and the organization’s “home missionaries” engaged in other endeavors, they became American Missionary Fellowship. By 2011, that name was seen as limiting and soft; they rebranded as InFaith. Today, they give their field staff freedom to develop unique ministries that best reach their local communities with the gospel.
When your name is seen to be culturally problematic
Example: Campus Crusade for Christ > Cru
This organization did not change its name to Cru because they thought identifying with Christ was hurting them (although it does keep some doors from opening quickly these days). They did so to avoid the negative connotation that “crusade” invokes in Muslim communities. Plus, much of the organization’s evangelism work is no longer limited to college campuses.
The changes outlined above were not easy—particularly for stakeholders who were longtime supporters. They saw history and organizational culture disappearing, and feared the worst in regard to the future. But they were changes that needed to be made. Today, the three ministries mentioned are doing quite well.
Interestingly, the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions, in some ways, can identify with all three reasons described above.
If we are going to grow and draw into our circle the ministries that fit well with what our missions will (should) be doing, we need to have an identity with “wide doors” that minimizes misconceptions and unfavorable mental images that might exist. The bottom line for our association, when it comes to rebranding, is sustainability and growth so that Kingdom work can be done more efficiently and more effectively. I know that is something we all want to see happen.
Identifying with these words and having the words in our name are two different things. We will always identity with gospel, rescue, and mission. That is very important to us. But it’s also important to us to serve a new generation of ministries who respect these words but don’t readily use them in the same context we use them.
These words have different levels of importance and prominence in AGRM’s current members. It might surprise you to know that:
I guarantee you that the 85 percent that don’t have gospel in their name remain convinced that it is core to their purpose. They simply don’t include it in their moniker for a variety of reasons.
At the risk of being redundant, I will say this again: Our association will always stand on the fact that the gospel is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. And without that power, the organizations that we serve would be just an eclectic collection of social justice organizations.
It wouldn’t. Rescue mission boards make the decision to rebrand when they believe there is a compelling reason to do so. I am not at all suggesting that individual members need to change their brand. If your mission is known as the Main Street Gospel Rescue Mission and that name is esteemed in your community and easily draws people of all ages to your cause—and you are sure it will be a strong brand going forward—it would be foolish to change it.
And keep in mind that it’s extremely unlikely our association’s rebranding would even be noticed by your constituents and outside stakeholders—unless you wanted them to know about it. We come in the back door of your mission and provide you with the resources you need to accelerate quality and effectiveness. You go out the front door of your mission to your community encouraged, equipped, and empowered by your association. But you go wrapped in your own brand, not ours.
A surprising number of member missions have done a rebranding in recent years, for various reasons. Looking back at some recent issues of Street Smart, I see where Lenawee County Mission (Michigan) changed its name to Neighbors of Hope, offering a more welcoming word picture. And Albuquerque Rescue Mission (New Mexico) rebranded as Steelbridge Ministries, offering a creative word picture that breaks away from the prototypal image. I spoke at the event where Bakersfield Rescue Mission (California) became The Mission at Kern County, showing that they serve a broader area than just one city. Even our board chair went through a rebranding a few years back. The Atlanta Union Mission (Georgia) dropped the word Union from its name because it was no longer relevant. They are now Atlanta Mission. Such changes are always an individual mission decision; AGRM has no say.
What are some of the ministries we might attract if we rebrand?
We are talking about organizations that provide services to hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted people, but don’t identify as traditional rescue missions. It could include those running a community kitchen, those doing addiction counseling, those offering language classes to immigrants, those conducting vocational training, those running independent thrift stores, those housing and helping men recently released from prison, those nurturing and supporting unwed mothers, those providing safe houses for victims of human trafficking, and the like. Again, we are talking about organizations run by people of like faith who would greatly benefit from the services, resources, and network our association provides. In fact, some are already asking if there is a way to connect.
After hearing my words in Dallas, more than a few rescue mission leaders told me that they felt convicted to seek out and get better acquainted with other evangelical ministries in their cities—to see where there is alignment or overlap, and how they might collaborate for better results. This is how we see growth happening in our association.
My hope is that they will enrich it. Fresh ideas and new perspectives are healthy. When faced with new possibilities, most Christians (I’m sorry to say), imagine the problems and fear the worst. But looking back down the road of history, reluctant acceptance was eventually replaced by wonderful advancement.
One fear members might have about what we are undertaking is that our association is going to throw open the doors and we will be invaded by a horde of unfamiliar, ungrounded social justice junkies who will bring about a seismic shift in our organization. That’s not at all what our board—which is ultimately guiding this—is thinking. We are looking at opening our doors and having our members go out and bring in those whose ministries are on parallel paths. They will give us vanguard insights as we impart to them knowledge born from experience.
Absolutely not. The organizations that we would want to have in our association would have to agree with our beliefs on the essentials of the Christian faith. They would also have to abide by our code of ethics and be in line with other positions we hold. Likewise, they would have to be gospel-focused in their programs and operations. Additionally, we would like them to be members of ECFA.
To be clear, from time to time, AGRM does collaborate with other ministries and faith-based organizations on certain initiatives or commissions where having a broader network produces a stronger voice, such as our Faith & Giving Coalition or the Circle of Protection. I talked about this in Dallas. Some of the other ministries that participate in these groups would have problems with our theology. But we need to be together to accomplish what’s best for all of us. Arrangements like this—which we will continue to do—are totally different from what I am talking about in regard to AGRM’s own branding and growth.
We have a lot of work to do before we get to names and logos. We first want to create several membership models based on collaboration possibilities and then develop funding strategies. Following that, we have to look at how to build and tier a member service proposition that makes sense for the future. There may end up being more than one category of mission membership.
We’ve seen other organizations go through a rebranding, and a couple of things are pretty much guaranteed: Not everyone will be immediately satisfied, and it will take a bit of time for people to get used to something different.
But the truth is, when it’s all done and any smoke blows away, most members will not notice a major difference. But they will benefit from being more connected to like-minded ministries in their communities and the increased reach and recognition of our association in the Christian community and to the public at-large. We just ask all of our members to be kind and patient with us.
I’m glad you asked.
Even though we have not been talking about this constantly (nor do we plan to), there is still a lot of buzz about where our association is headed. I hear this, directly and indirectly, when I talk to CEOs on the phone and engage with other members at district conferences and other events. Even so, I occasionally run into someone who misinterpreted something I said or picked up on a rumor. If you encounter someone like that, something else you can do is assure them that they will not lose their association and that the association’s president has not lost his mind. The board is together on this, a myriad of members will be involved in the process, and the association will not depart from its position that the gospel is the catalyst for transformation and development of poor and powerless people everywhere.
When the world around us changes—which it does constantly—followers of Jesus need to adjust their appearance and habits and make accommodations in order to make a difference in their spheres of influence. That’s what the Apostle Paul talks about in 1 Corinthian 9:22. The same principles hold true for an organization. We need to position ourselves for right now, as well as for the future we see coming. And if we do that well, I believe our association’s best days are ahead.
They’re the childhood frie
Because building roads is inconvenient.
Ain’t nobody got time to rake.
Because paper currency is for noobs.
by John Ashmen
I’m constantly being asked these days about rebranding. Since we have been in the midst of it for the past several months, people want my insights. They want me to walk them through the entire process and tell them what to expect should they undertake such a journey.
Honestly, our rebranding experience has been quite good (probably because a lot of our members were ready for it). But rebranding experts say to expect a variety of reactions—some positive, some not so much—all along the route. That’s because, as humans, we like routines and a sense of stability in our lives. Change disrupts the sameness that we need for normalcy to exist.
In case you haven’t noticed, our culture is undergoing tremendous change right now. For evangelicals, the change is significant. Some Christians are moving right; some are moving left. A lot of others are standing where they always have, trying to make sense of it all.
A few weeks ago, I heard author Danielle Strickland say these words: “The Kingdom of God is in a season of holy disruption.” She went on to tell how He is using confusion to jolt His followers out of their comfort zones and invite them in to what He is doing.
That’s exactly what He did all through Scripture. In that regard, God was the original “rebrander.” He changed the names of people when He wanted to get their attention and use them to communicate a new purpose or tell a bigger story. He renamed Abram Abraham, Sarai Sarah. Jacob became Israel— the prevailer, overcomer—after a midnight wrestling match. Jesus created a new identity for Simon son of John when he changed his name to Peter, the Rock. Saul was rebranded from his Hebrew name to his Latin name, Paul, in order to spread the gospel more broadly. So when you think about it, rebranding is actually a way to reimagine and reengage on a higher level. That’s how we look at it.
You might ask, “What does AGRM’s rebranding mean for me?” Here’s the answer: as little or as much as you want it to. Our rebranding doesn’t change anything about your brand. You might put our new name and logo on the bottom of your homepage, but your donors and key stakeholders will not be affected. The guests you serve will not know or care that the entity providing education, training, resources, guidance, and representation for missions and kindred ministries has undergone a major makeover.
But hopefully, you will allow it to make a difference. Hopefully you will come to embrace our broader vision and new identity and consider how your own organization’s focus might need to be adjusted—maybe slightly, maybe a lot—to fit in more dynamically with what God is doing all around us these days.
The AGRM board and staff are looking at our rebranding as a minor shake-up in the bigger holy disruption that God is overseeing. We’re convinced He has a bigger and more exciting plan, and He wants us to be part of it. I pray that your soul will be stirred as you continue to contemplate the theology of rebranding.
You’ve now seen the five animated videos about AGRM’s refocusing and rebranding. (If for some reason you’ve missed those, this link will take you to them.) Toward the end of this week, you will be getting a very different video from AGRM, specifically announcing and expounding on our new name and showing some of our new identity elements.
But before you watch this soon-to-come video, we want you to hear a few things from us. First and foremost, we want you to hear that we are convinced God has clearly led this refocusing and rebranding initiative. It didn’t come about because of boredom or curiosity. It wasn’t born from an impulse to deviate and send our organization in another direction, theologically or otherwise. It isn’t rooted in a desire for monetary gain or vain recognition. It is the result of: (1) our conviction that missions collectively need to fully embrace the work of life transformation that is so central to the gospel; (2) our belief that the need for a broad network to resource, serve, and inspire those doing this kind of work with desperate and destitute people is greater than ever; (3) our confidence that if we are properly focused and aligned, our most fruitful days are ahead of us; and (4) our longing to see His Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven.
We also want to assure you that the AGRM board and other committees and teams have been part of this every step of the way. This is an organization-wide initiative that has been painted with creativity, framed with our strong tenets, backed with prayer, and will be displayed with pride.
Finally, we want you to hear again, the primary reasons why the name-change part of our rebranding needs to be done. This is always the hardest part of rebranding for a broadly owned organization because familiarity disappears for a little while, and the new name takes some getting used to. But we were told by multiple experts, plenty of outside observers, and even many of our members that AGRM was long overdue for such changes.
Here are some of the things we considered regarding our name change:
It’s Been a Real Mouthful
The Association of Gospel Rescue Missions is a 13-syllable handle. People hearing it for the first time need a mental pause to connect all of those words into a logic stream. And even then, an explanation is usually required.
Once people get to know us, they invariably shorten our name to the letters AGRM—which sounds so familiar to everyone on the inside. But we’re not as famous as IBM or CNN; to everyone on the outside—church leaders, college students, company presidents, agency heads, councilmen, congresswomen, reporters, and others—the letters AGRM mean absolutely nothing.
And then, to go one step further (in the wrong direction), some folks make AGRM a word: agg´rum—which sounds like it has more to do with farming than life-transformation. Unfortunately, our name and its derivatives are not doing anything to help us stake out a widely recognized identity. Consequently, we have to work harder and spend more time and money to position our name for recognition.
We need a name that’s more communication-friendly and cost effective.
Guilt by Association
More than 60 percent of associations out there today are experiencing flat or declining membership. Studies show that this disengagement is happening because younger generations, while they are eager to participate, are reluctant to join. The word association conveys hierarchy, bureaucracy, processes, in-crowd, and life-long careers. In stark contrast to that, they are looking for flexibility, adhocracy, collaboration, inclusion, and meaningful opportunities.
Additionally, it’s hard to raise money for associations. Trying to convince funders that dues don’t and can’t cover our full operating costs is always a major first hurdle.
We need a name that says involvement is a comfortable proposition and worth the investment.
Sorry, We Don’t Do Cats
We still get calls from people thinking the words rescue mission in our name—even though they are preceded by the word gospel—indicate that we have something to do with saving and protecting distressed or unwanted pets. That’s a wonderful cause, just not ours.
And then there are those who think our name signals an involvement in heroic military operations. We pray for those people, but we certainly don’t do what they do.
We need a name that’s not routinely misleading.
We Need Each Other
Rescue missions have had a long, illustrious history in North America. There is much to celebrate because much has been accomplished. But that same history has created an identity—be it perceived or actual—that to the typical outsider is more about what we (and our missions) were as opposed to what we offer today. We need to update that identity.
Our current identity is also a barrier, preventing other aligned ministries that do life-transformation work with hungry, homeless, abused, and addicted people from collaborating with us—because they never have and never will consider themselves a traditional rescue mission. But the truth is, these ministries desperately need what we provide and the connections that we have within our network. And frankly, we need them if we are going to see healthy growth. Local ordinances, political opposition, lack of sufficient funding, NIMBY, and the like are limiting the number of new full-service missions coming online these days.
But more importantly, if more like-minded and like-focused ministries from the same cities were working in partnership, it would cut back on the duplication of services and help everyone to be better stewards of the resources that are often hard to come by. Such solidarity on the faith front would send government leaders some important signals. And we would all likely see greater success in achieving our goals.
We need a name that’s a welcome mat for like-minded, like-focused ministries.
An Unsettling Word
We’re finding that the word rescue is getting more and more pushback these days from younger Christ-followers. They say it produces an uneven power dynamic between the “rescuer” and “rescuee”; they believe that such terminology is problematic because it inhibits the path to healing and survival for the person being helped—whether it be victims of human trafficking, survivors of a hurricane, or homeless addicts strung out on meth.
For certain, a lot of the people now starting to come up through the ranks in missions do not want to identify with the image of a hero in a cape swooping down to pluck desperate and destitute people out of their misery and “fix” them. (Nor do they want to deal with the questions that brings up about motives.) Instead, they prefer to be seen as journeying alongside them, in their own brokenness, making their way together toward wholeness.
We’ve had to ask ourselves if this is just semantics, if it simply stems from naivety, or if it’s an astute observation that we aren’t quick to comprehend because we are too close to the word. Regardless, it’s looking more and more like this will become the prevailing opinion of younger evangelicals in the days ahead. And for us as an organization, if we are going to successfully hand things over to “those coming behind,” we have to prepare for the changes in etymology that permanently work their way into our language and culture from time to time. We’ll still use the word rescue in all the appropriate places, it’s just that it won’t be in our name.
NOTE: This is an AGRM (corporate) issue that we need to fix if we are going to have greater receptivity in the public arena on a national (actually, continental) scale in the future. We are not saying that the approximately 40 percent of missions in our membership that have the word rescue in their name need to address it or even be concerned about it. It’s a local decision. If you have the word rescue in your name and are convinced that your brand has wide community acceptance and it works for what you are doing and where you are heading in the future, there is likely no need to address it.
We need a name that doesn’t give potential stakeholders cause to pause.
Paint Me a Picture
The brand-name category into which the Association of Gospel Rescue Missions fits is called “Descriptive.” Other descriptive names would be like Fellowship of Christian Cowboys, the Association of Christian Schools International (another long one), and Montana Log Homes. They explain who fits into the group or what the business produces, but they lack imagery or an aspirational element.
Names that creatively portray how an organization or company sees itself or what it can offer are in the “Connotative” brand-name category. They would include the campus ministry The Navigators, the Christian camp and conference center Forest Home, and the golf club company Titleist. This is the route we’ve chosen for our new name; it will be more imagery and less explanation.
Great brands also have a graphic element and a thematic tagline that accompany the name. Examples would be Compassion International’s brush-stroke image of the leaping child and the words, “Releasing Children from Poverty in Jesus’ Name”; the youth ministry organization Young Life’s set-apart artsy YL letters and the slogan, “You Were Made for This”; and Nike’s famous swoosh and the words, “Just do it.” Our new brand will have these elements, as well. We will also have what we are calling a “heritage keystone” that will go on our website and all publications and printed pieces. It talks about the “what” and “with whom” and for “how long.”
We need a name that plays with the imagination and inspires.
Be sure to watch for the video later this week. In the meantime, as we’ve said all along, if you have any questions about any of this, please don’t hesitate to contact either of us.
Thank you for what you do every day to make an eternal difference in the lives of people in need. Thanks for letting us make a difference in your ministry..
Cordially in Christ,
John Ashmen, AGRM President
on behalf of the AGRM staff
Bill Mollard, AGRM Board Chair
on behalf of the AGRM board
To capitalize on an as-yet nascent market for cat photos.
Because organic search rankings take work.