This article is for church leaders and those who oversee church communicators. You are responsible for the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the people who create your communications. Their job is vital to the growth and success of the church, but often they do their job under very difficult circumstances.
Please consider the following suggestions to help you effectively pastor and shepherd these vital members of your church team. They do so much for the church, following is what you can do for them:
Realize the important place communications and church communicators play in the overall strategic success of your church
"What people haven't heard about they can't take action about. Uncommunicated issues DON'T EXIST." Stuart Brand
"Why is communication so vitally important to the health and vitality of the local church? Communication is the means by which we reach our ministry goals. You cannot find a healthy, growing church that is plagued by ineffective communications. Such an animal simply does not exist. If your church is going to maximize its potential, it is imperative that you understand the communication process and constantly strive to upgrade how well you and others in your church communicate."
George Barna, Marketing the Church
No matter how Bible-based, prayed over and passionate you are about your vision for the church, if it is not sequentially, clearly, consistently, and repeatedly communicated to your church, it will not happen. Today, the role of your church communicator in making your vision real has grown in importance because of two primary reasons:
- In our post-Christian world people don't have the unthinking understanding of churches that they did in the past. Church is not a part of people's lives today in the same way it was in the past and because of that, your church needs to be much more intentional about its communicators than ever before. This often requires that either a person be hired with the specific role of Church Communicator or Director of Church Communications, or in a church where the administrative assistant or church secretary has to juggle many responsibilities, where the title of Church Communicator is at least a professional part of that person's job description.
- The demands of technology and multi-channel communications make it necessary. In the past when the church had one communication tool: the church bulletin and one way to produce it: the typewriter, communication was still extremely important, but it was much easier to manage that task for the church secretary in the midst of the many other demanding tasks in the church office. Today when many kinds of communications produced through many channels: print, PowerPoint, web, social media are needed by churches, the role of the church communicator is more important than ever.
Because the role of church communicator is vital to the success of your church today, you need to support, involve, train, and encourage that person so they can serve the church most effectively. Following are some suggestions on how to do that.
Include your church communicator in strategic staff meetings
No matter what the communicators role is in the meetings—whether they can contribute to the discussion or not, whether their input is valued or not, whether they have a part in the decision making process or not, if you want your decisions clearly communicated to the congregation and your community, your church communicator needs to be in the meetings to do their job well. All of the restrictions or inclusions mentioned above will vary depending on your church beliefs and practices, but if you want your decisions carried out, they need to be there in a listening role at a minimum. However, growing, successful churches greatly value and include their church communicators and churches can benefit greatly from the input of a skilled communicator. Your church communicator can:
- Advise you on how well your congregation and community might respond to your message.
- Suggest some ways other churches market or publicize ministry events.
- Remind you of what was done in the past and the success or failure of communication methods.
- Give you an evaluation on whether or not your church has the technology and resources needed to carry out your communication goals.
- Help staff be realistic on the time needed to promote or communicate about events.
- Help your message be consistent with other ministry messages in the church.
- Suggest some communication channels that are new to the staff.
- Provide feedback of program names, slogans, and approaches if you allow them to be honest.
- Be a prayer partner to contribute to the success of the vision and ministries of the church.
There are so many things beyond this brief list that a well-trained and committed church communicator can do for your church. The rest of this article provides ways for you to help them be and do all they can for your church.
Give them authority
Communications people need authority to have the final say on editing decisions. They know how much space is available for articles and announcements and without authority they are constantly frustrated when someone demands every word is used and no changes made on what goes into the church bulletin or newsletter.
Practical ways to give them authority are:
- Make a decision on what they are in charge of and what they need to come to you for. In communications the church leadership should decide on basic themes and messages and perhaps even the overall look, but NOT on layout, or final editing of articles or announcements.
- Publicly announce and print your decision. You might say something like this. “Jenny Smith, our communications coordinator has final editing authority on the layout, deadlines and contents of materials that go into the bulletin and newsletter (and whatever else you want to list). She has posted her guidelines and submission deadlines on our website. Please support her decisions and deadlines so we can produce 1 Cor: 14:4 publications, ones done decently and in order.”
- Back up your decisions. Invariably people will test you on the rules. I am convinced as both pastor’s wife and communications trainer that inside all of our adult looking bodies is a little junior high school person who never, ever got a paper for school done ahead of its due date.
Invariably when you are instituting new guidelines various church members will come rushing in at the last minute with an article that just HAS to get into the newsletter. When your communications director tells them it is past the deadline—you know what they will do.
The little junior high person in him will bubble up and he will walk right around that person’s desk and in to your office and say something like, “She isn’t being very Christian today—she told me I missed her deadline and you need to tell her to get this article in there!”
If you answer by saying, “She is being very Christian. I have given her authority over that area and to do her job in a way that honors God and the church. I’m very sorry your article can’t go into the bulletin this month. We’ll make copies and have it in the church office, but Jenny’s deadlines are firm.”
Any other answer, or taking back authority or vacillating on this point will not only make the publication creation process a mess, but it will greatly harm your relationship with your communications director.
This approach benefits everyone
In delegating authority and holding your people to it, you are helping them grow up in their ministry responsibilities. Usually the article the tardy person wants in at the last minute is about something he has known about and been planning for six months, but was not enough of a priority to get the information about it written up in time for the church. That sort of behavior would not be tolerated at the person’s regular job and should not be encouraged at the church either.
Exceptions of course can always be made for genuine emergencies, a family illness or something similar, but these are far less seldom the case than a lack of respect.
Give them protection
Giving your people authority gives them protection from disorganized people, but physical protection is also needed at times.
This doesn’t mean protection against robbery or whatever, but a church secretary with an arm brace because of carpel tunnel is the sign of a pastor failing to properly shepherd his or her sheep in the fields of technology.
Talk to some of your secular business leaders in the church and find out what is needed to make your church office ergonomically correct. Your communications people need proper chairs, wrist rests, and the right kind of mouse or trackball, the computer monitor at a proper height. They need to be protected from doing repetitive data entry; they need to get up and stretch if they have been working at the computer for hours without a break.
Care for their eyesight
Another area that needs to be looked at is the condition of their eyes. Because working with the computer requires the eyes to focus on a mid-range target instead of either distance or close reading, many people cannot adequately see both their screen and the text of a page they are typing from.
In practical terms this means they may need to get trifocals instead of working with bifocals (or no glasses at all). They may need special glasses for the computer work. Without proper eyewear your people will get eyestrain, headaches, neck pain and have a host of problems in creating publications.
I can speak from personal experience in this area. I recently got properly fitted with graduated, no-line trifocals. I can see better now than I have in 20 years. I had no idea that my problems with seeing the computer screen (glasses on, glasses off, focus, out of focus, headaches, etc.) could be fixed so easily.
You must be proactive in this area, because many people who work in the church office suffer in silence. In addition, the church should be financially responsible for decent chairs, wrist rests, and help in the cost of good eyewear, which can be very expensive.
Being a good shepherd means more than simply having devotions with your staff. A good shepherd also cares for the physical needs of the sheep.
Give them training
Training can take many forms. A membership to this site is a great gift if you are not reading this as a member. The books from Effective Church Communications available through this website's RESOURCE Section and the printed resources available at http://www.amazon.com (just do a search for Yvon Prehn) will help in detail in many areas of church communication.
For training in software programs and website creation, http://www.lynda.com/ is fantastic. Best of all, free up a few hours each week where they can practice or explore new skills without interruption.
Give them adequate tools
Decent tools in terms of an up-to-date and well equipped computer are not a luxury for your church communicator—they are essential for the good stewardship of the person’s time. I’m not going to give specific recommendations here because what is adequate changes so often, but again, this is an area where a board member who has wisdom in the technology area may be able to advise you on what is necessary today to do the communications work needed by your church. For highly technical areas such as video creation and editing, a few hours of a consultant’s time would be wise to help you make adequate purchases.
Be sure that the advice you get matches the communication needs of your church. A small church that creates simple communications (that can still be incredibly effective) does not need the hardware of a larger church doing complex color work and website creation. Be sure your communication person has the equipment and software needed to get the quality of work done that you need.
Give them awards and encouragement
It seems in most churches that the only time the person who does communications is publicly acknowledged is when they make a typo that makes someone really mad. They know their name then, they make everyone aware of it
Don’t let that happen in your church. Award your communications people regularly and publicly acknowledge them. Honor and thank them in front of the church. When a ministry event has been successful, acknowledge their part in it. Know them well enough to know what kind of monetary reward would be proper for them. For some it might be a gift certificate to Starbucks, to someone else a Christian book store gift certificate.
Pay them decently
Find out what the going rate is for graphic designers and webmasters in your area. People know that working in the church they will probably make far less than in the secular world, but if your communications person has become highly skilled in both print and website design they are worth paying decently. If you know your church is paying your church communicator far below what they are worth, at least acknowledge it.
Remind them that what they are doing matters for eternity
Regardless of your ability to pay, remind your church communication creators of the value of their work. It is so easy to forget that value in the midst of doing information cards for 20 small groups, while updating the brochures for all the ministries in the church, and keeping the website updated. In the midst of all their work, take time to remind them (and yourself) that Heaven will be different because of the work they are doing.
All the work of church communicators connects people with eternal realities, helps people meet Jesus and grow as a disciple—though it won't be until eternity that we'll see their true worth.
But until then, it is the responsibility of shepherd, pastors, office managers, to make their work as pleasant and productive as possible.