As churches grow either in size or in the complexity of their communications program many are wondering if they should create a staff position for church communications. Questions asked include:
- Should they hire a professional designer specifically to do church communications?
- Should they use a professional volunteer or make communication creation part of a staff position?
- Or should it be a full-time position?
- What should a church look for in skills? Attitudes?
- Should the person do all the work, or should they train a team?
In the same way that a church would not hire a senior pastor simply based on the person's charismatic appeal as a public speaker without evaluating the spiritual maturity, shepherding skills, and godly character of the candidate, the spiritual and servant qualities of a church communications coordinator are equally important.
The job involves far more than putting pretty images and catchy phrases on the print and digital communications of the church. The job is a strategic, core, ministry position. Church communicators are responsible for expressing the message of your church and the words of eternal life. The following list of characteristics are essential and following this list, they will be discussed in detail.
You will notice that none of them say anything about technical or design skills-I am assuming those skills as a given or the person would not be applying for the job. What follows are the spiritual essentials. Someone can always be trained if their skills are not what we would like them to be. It is much more difficult to change a heart. That's why the following skills are essential for someone wanting to lead a team to produce effective church communications:
Essential characteristics for a church communication coordinator
- A church communication coordinator must have a servant's heart.
- A church communication coordinator must understand the scope of communications needed.
- A church communication coordinator must understand what he or she can personally create and what to delegate.
- A church communication coordinator must be totally committed to fully fulfilling the Great Commission.
- A church communication coordinator must be willing to continuously learn and to train others.
A ministry communicator must have a servant's heart
Any decision on hiring a person for church communications should always be looked at as part of the overall ministry of the church, with a strong emphasis on the word "ministry." To minister means to serve and I've seen churches get into huge problems when they hire someone who may be a good graphic artist or designer, but who does not have a servant's heart and who does not understand the unique challenges of communications work IN the church, as opposed to secular design work.
Communications and design work in a church setting is usually a collaboration, often with people who have no design or writing skills or understanding of the time and effort required to create spectacular graphic or Internet design work. A Sunday School teacher who needs a simple flyer, a men's ministry director who wants a brochure for the men's retreat often won't care about font choice, white space, or cutting-edge graphics-they just want their PR done. To help them do it or get one done quickly because they forgot work deadlines-these sorts of challenges will be constant and if not approached with a servant's heart, the communication coordinator's job will be constant frustration and misery.
The function of church communication is to make a message clear and to involve people in events, not wow them with great design impact. The design person will rarely if ever be thanked or acknowledged for their creative genius and they will be often attacked for seemingly petty reasons. The way in which a typo, a left-out announcement, or a change in a publication can be raised to the status of personal insult and heretical rebellion is unimaginable if you haven't personally experienced it. A servant's heart, and a very tough, yet tender one, is needed for this job.
A ministry communicator must understand the scope of communications needed
Often when a church staff considers hiring a church communications coordinator, they primarily think in terms of the overall bulletin, newsletter, website, possibly social media, and a few other assorted communication pieces for special events. In reality, these pieces represent only a small percentage of the total number of communications necessary for an effective communications ministry in any church. Unless both the church and the person doing the work understand all that is truly needed in communications for a church to function and grow, they will have problems.
PLEASE take time to look at my chart and read the article on The 5 Steps of Effective Church Communications. This will give you an idea of the volume and type of materials you need to produce for a truly effective communication ministry in your church that will get people into the church, involve them in the church, and grow them to Christian maturity. Your communication coordinator must understand this system and be committed to it for your church communication program to be an active tool in helping your church fully fulfill the Great Commission.
At the start of the hiring or volunteer recruiting process you need to clearly define all the work that needs to be done and then clearly communicate your expectations for getting it done. When you look at The 5 Steps chart, it is easy to be overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done. That is a correct assessment of the situation. There is an overwhelming amount of work-we are communicating to alter the eternal destinies of people. What is important to understand is that all the work can't be done by just one person. That is why the following characteristic is also vitally important:
A church communication coordinator must understand what he or she can personally create and what to delegate
To get all the communications work done that you need to, it's important to divide your church communication production in the following way and to recruit more people to help in the overall communication ministry. In addition, if you understand these two levels it helps to define the job description for your communication coordinator. These two levels are explained in more detail in the article, The Two Production Levels of Effective Church Communication, but a brief summary/review follows:
1. The PR Communication Level
2. The Ministry Communication Level
It is important to understand these two levels in terms of: 1) the communications produced in each one, 2) who does the communications and 3) the guidelines and standards for each one. For both of the levels described below, keep in mind the publications can be in either print or digital formats.
The PR Communication Level
- Communications produced: overall pieces that represent the church, such as the logo, stationary, business cards, primary bulletin, newsletter, major outreach pieces, primary website and social media, and major ministry brochures.
- Communications producer: usually a staff person, often the communication coordinator, whose job may or may not have other responsibilities. The larger the church, the more it is recommended that the church hire someone specifically to create and oversee communications. This could also be done by a volunteer who has the time and commitment to work closely with the church staff.
- Communications standards: usually somewhat strict, as these pieces reflect the overall vision and reputation of the church.
Ministry Communication Level
- Communications produced: everything else in the church outside the communications listed above, from very simple notices, lessons, flyers and announcements to more complex communication projects.
- Communications producers: THIS IS IMPORTANT: here a staff person, such as your communications coordinator, or perhaps a key volunteer may oversee, train, encourage and help, but that person cannot do everything needed for a complete communication ministry in the church, nor should they. Ideally, every ministry in the church (children's, youth, men's, women's, etc.) should have at least one person who can help do the communications needed for that ministry. At this level, the church communications coordinator becomes a coach and encourager.
- Communications standards: much more flexible. You do not need the same standards of design or perfection for a one-time postcard that is going to remind the guys of the men's breakfast that you do for the four-color, outreach brochure for the church. If you are too hard on volunteers, they'll quit. People do improve in communication creation skills with time, training and encouragement and the ministry communication person needs to decide what is really important in standards and what is picky personal preference. Train to bring up to important standards and let the personal preference issues slide.
The church communication coordinator must be totally committed to fully fulfilling the Great Commission
Fully fulfilling the Great Commission means to make disciples. The articles on discipleship on this site go into detail on why this is so important, but this core characteristic cannot be overlooked.
I have seen so much in the over twenty years I have traveled and taught church communications, but one thing that continuously amazes me is how obvious it is when church communications are created with the glory of God, obedience to the Great Commission, and the fulfillment of God's purposes as the primary goals and how God blesses that church. What is also often amazing to me is that the person responsible for this kind of work varies tremendously in their formal training or skills. Some have training in writing, design, and advertising; some have no formal training at all. Some are young and new at their job; some have worked in the church office from the days of typing blue stencils. The one thing that unites all these men and women, that comes out clearly as we chat is for each of them, no matter what it takes in time, training, discovering skills, tools, or tips, the primary goal of their communications work is they want people to find Jesus and to grow as his disciple. They are truly the Great Ones. Their churches are growing. Though challenging, there is often joy in the church office and the challenges of their jobs.
Sadly, I also meet a smaller number who bring me what on the surface appear as beautiful church communications: often glossy printing, impeccable design, clever writing. However, the person presenting these items is often angry or frustrated because:
- People at the church don't appreciate them.
- They can't get all the rest of the church communications to match up to their standards.
- They had no idea that working in a church would be this hard.
- They are astounded that people are not responding and want to know who to blame, because the problem is certainly not with their design.
I'm never certain what to say because I usually sense the person asking really doesn't want an answer but an ally to agree with their anger. But I can't. When I suggest perhaps a spiritual solution-time spent in humble prayer to discern the Lord's will and answer and a reminder that God can't bless our work when we are fighting with those with whom we work and serve-sometimes it makes sense. Sometimes tears appear and the person says, "I never realized this was a ministry." There is hope for that communication ministry.
Sometimes, my suggestions are dismissed with barely concealed contempt and my advice relegated to the, "What does she know about it?" category. In this situation there is also an often unspoken, "what does prayer have to do with people not appreciating me?" Things probably won't get better at that church and often the person finds work in a secular setting where their skills can be used without the spiritual baggage.
Please don't dismiss this characteristic as unrealistically spiritual. God does not need anyone, no matter how talented, but he can use anyone if their heart is right. The Bible is filled with stories of ordinary people who God used to do extraordinary tasks. People can be trained for any skill if willing, but training a heart to care about the Great Commission is more challenging. Find a person with a good and godly heart who cares passionately that people come to know Jesus-that is what is most important in a church communication coordinator.
A church communication coordinator must be willing to continuously learn
Though a good heart with a proper focus on fully fulfilling the Great Commission is essential, it is irresponsible to not train the person with the good heart in the practical skills they need to be a proficient church communicator. In this area, we ought not lie to ourselves or to our communications coordinator by thinking that skills training in church communications is easy, quick, or once done, taken care of. On the contrary, to be a skilled church communicator you must:
- Master many complex skills: writing, design, layout, typography, media, marketing
- Learn new and ever upgrading and changing software
- Master production using the computer and other church office equipment
- Learn how to integrate and create communications in print, online, and in whatever new channel appears
- Manage people, pray for wisdom and peace in leading and organizing a team
- Constantly be open to new ideas, skills, tips, insights
- Do it all with an impossibly low budget and crushing deadlines
Though the challenges are constant, the church must attempt to provide the time, money, and encouragement for needed training. The church communication coordinator must be open to continuously learning, but the opportunities for it must be available. Don't even think about hiring or designating a church communication coordinator if you do not commit to support, train, pray for, and encourage that person.
Effective Church Communications has many resources, links, and recommendations to enable you to do this. Much is free, many excellent resources and the membership subscription cost for our training videos is very little.In addition, a membership in Effective Church Communications is for the entire church, so any of the resources, templates, ebooks, and training videos can be freely shared with other staff members and communication volunteers.
Probably the most important training gift you can give to any church communication coordinator is the gift of time. As part of their job description, block out time, several hours each week, where that person is assured of completely uninterrupted time to read articles, take an online class, try things to improve their skills and help equip volunteers. If you do that, your church communications will be more effective and your church will grow.
Finally, it isn't easy to hire a church communication coordinator, but it is worth it
It isn't easy to find a person with all the spiritual and practical skills to do an effective job. Most likely you will have to help train and mold someone into the position. A significant amount of prayer and time is required, but essential because your ministry communicator and their team will be the ones who will literally incarnate the message of your church to your community.