Should You Copy Ideas from Another Church?

Posted at October 25, 2011

If “imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”, then copyright infringement lawsuits must be like love letters, right?  Not so much.  And even though churches aren’t necessarily suing each other over this issue (well actually this one came pretty darn close), it’s still prudent to think carefully before you start plagiarizing in the name of ministry.

Reasons you might consider copying ideas from another church

  1. Your church is small, and/or limited on creative talent. In this case, taking another church’s idea for a sermon series, outreach event, or logo design could really save you some time and allow you to exude excellence in areas that aren’t your core strength.
  2. Money is tight. Let’s face it; great design isn’t free. If you don’t have budget to invest in a logo designer, web designer, professional photographer, etc., then re-using elements from another source could be a viable strategy.
  3. You are in a completely different area or market, and it’s unlikely that your parishioners would notice. Nothing worse than two churches in the same town with a photo of the same people on the home page, right?
  4. The other church encourages people to copy or use their stuff. Some churches actually make their resources available free, such as Open and NewSpring in SC.  Other churches subscribe to the Creative Commons License so that others may properly use their creations.
  5. You are lazy, or waited until the last minute.

Reasons you might avoid copying ideas from another church

  1. Your church has a unique, well-defined vision for ministry, and a unique tactical plan to go along with it. Unique visions demand unique methods, so you’re better off creating your own materials in this case.
  2. You want your materials to look authentic, match your branding, and reflect your organization’s personality.  This is rarely possible when you lift ideas from others.
  3. God has blessed your team with creative gifts and talents. Use them! Give God the glory!
  4. Copying bits and pieces from someone else might be a sign that you don’t really have a coherent strategy yet.  You must first be able to articulate your vision and strategy, then find the exact tools that will get you there. In other words, don’t let a stock photo site design your sermon illustration slides for you. (If you’re choosing your church name by blindly pointing to a name on the Outreach 100 list, you probably need to spend some more time hashing out your plan first.)

At SiteOrganic, we ran into quite an epidemic a few years back. We had several clients ask us to create a custom design for their church Website, only what they really wanted was for us to copy the design from a well-known church. At the time, there were about 4 to 5 “household name” churches that kept coming up. “We love everything about [big church name]‘s Website… can you make a design like that for us?”

This made our designers uncomfortable, and for good reason. Most churches respected us when we pushed back. But some were obstinate. “What’s the big deal?” they would say. “It’s just pixels.”

Our solution was to create a form (download a copy here), so that our client would be required to approach the folks at Big Church and get explicit permission to copy their Websites.  Guess what happened? We had exactly zero of these forms returned. Not because the Big Church declined, mind you. It was because our client suddenly realized what they were asking for. In each of these cases, the client then allowed us to create something unique and special for them–better than the Big Church designs they originally wanted to copy, by the way!

Churches should be respectful and generous with their work whenever possible. Copy God’s word whenever possible. Copy each other only if God gets the glory!

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