5 Tools Church Designers Need: Boundaries

April 12, 2010 by

This is part five in a six-part series exploring the tools graphic designers who work for churches need to succeed. You can go back and start with part one.

“Hey, I know this is last minute, but we need to get a self-mailer to announce the upcoming Sunday, so if you can whip something up really quick, we need it to the printer by the end of today. Thanks.”

Has this ever happened to you? I’ll go out on a limb and say “Yes,” mostly because I know it’s happened to me on more than one occasion. There are different reasons that might happen, and sometimes it’s a legitimate reason (and in those cases sometimes you just bear down, place your creative values on a shelf, cover your eyes and just get something done), but more often than not this happens because there are no clear boundaries.

What? Boundaries? Isn’t that something for parents and children or couples and married people? Nope. Boundaries are a necessity in any relationship—especially where you work. Without defined roles, clear guidelines and a unified mission, you will never succeed as an individual or a team. How can you know if you’ve succeeded if you have no idea what you want to achieve?

Therefore it’s very important that you have written goals, responsibilities, milestones and guidelines so that everyone in your organization and team has proper expectations.

If you don’t have a job description, stop what you’re doing right now and write one; because everything we’ve discussed to this point will be fruitless if you have no written guidelines for your job. Your duties need to be clearly outlined:

  • What communication and design are you responsible for?
  • What format does content need to be provided to you in?
  • What reasonable revision schedule is allotted to each project?
  • What time line is reasonable from start to completion for each project?

Without a clearly stated job description you will be required to do whatever is asked, in whatever time is asked, without any reasonable outcome based on your skills and talents.

There are many variables for any given project and without clearly set boundaries (set through your job description) you’ll be pushed beyond your limits–working late, missing deadlines, compromising on creativity and soon find yourself exhausted and dreading your job.

Your boundaries need to include rules for what you are to do, what you are asked to do, how long you are given to do it and what things cannot be expected for you to do. Develop a project pipeline that covers the various types of projects you typically do and includes an understood method of delivery, execution and finalization. Time will have to be allowed for incubation of ideas, for concept presentation, a reasonable set of revisions and final approvals before anything is completed. That timeline will vary given the scope of the project (for instance: a sermon series should be complete 30 days before the date, giving at least 3 weeks from concepts to completion given all it’s iterations of backdrops, inserts, mailers and slides).

No. This is the most important word you will learn to use when setting appropriate boundaries. You will be able to say “No” because you have a written job description that states what is required in your job (seems pretty self-explanatory doesn’t it?). This isn’t to say that sometimes you won’t do some projects on tight turnarounds; but if you constantly and consistently allow for people to bulldoze your boundaries your job will consist of doing whatever is asked, no matter how unreasonable.

You must set a solid boundary of what is expected or you simply won’t be allowed to say no. Your goal isn’t to make life difficult for your clients, but simply to give value what you do. Solid boundaries help solidify your confidence (and others confidence in you, if you’re allowing yourself to be used as a doormat, you won’t be respected, and if you’re not respected, there is no confidence in you), enables you to have determination in approaching ideas and fosters clear and honest communication.

Post By:

Paul Armstrong


Paul Armstrong is a photographer, a designer, a husband, a father, a writer, a reader, a wandered, a daydreamer, a procrastinator, a stone thrower, a collaborator, a consumer, a follower and seeker. Paul has over 15 years of experience in the graphic design, web development and programming; 9 of which have been operating his own studio, Wiseacre Design.
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6 Responses to “5 Tools Church Designers Need: Boundaries”

  • clint
    April 12, 2010

    Another excellent post! The power of “No” is a wonderful boundary setting tool, especially in ministry.


  • Micah
    April 12, 2010

    I am just curious but if your boss comes to you and ask you to do something shouldnt you do it. No matter what your job description says they are still your boss and you should respect that authority even if that means we cannot meet our full creative potential. For someone to say “No, I dont have enough time to do it the way I would want to” just doesnt cut it.


  • Pau
    April 12, 2010

    Then your boss must not have much respect for what you do if he cannot objectively allow you to tell him their projected timeline or deadline is out of your capabilities or just not feasible.
    It’s not about “the way I want”, but the way “they” want. Only you know what you are capable of, in what time you can do something, and do it to your bosses or clients satisfaction. If your boss won’t allow you speak freely (and respectfully, I would help it’s understood that you have to be professional and not be a jerkface) then perhaps it’s time to move to someplace where your profession or position respected.
    If your boss says, I need a 15 page brochure, full color, by tomorrow (and its 5pm that day), can you honestly say that it’s reasonable for him to ask that, and for you just accept that? No. You have communicate (see previous section) your role and your abilities say “no, that’s just not possible”. If he expects that continually, then there is something terribly wrong with your process and either it needs to be corrected or you need to leave that job.


  • Paul
    April 12, 2010

    Sorry, that should be “Paul” not “Pau” …


  • Mac
    April 15, 2010

    The biggest and best boundary of all: do NOT, under ANY circumstances, work for the church you worship in. Otherwise you will find that you can’t worship there, because members of your church family will interrupt your worship to discuss administrative matters.


  • Seth
    April 20, 2010

    Another effective way of saying ‘no’ is to express what is reasonable within the client’s timeline or budget. If they’re asking for A,B,C,D, and E, then respond, “Within this timeframe, I can do A. But not B,C,D, or E.” Often clients don’t realize all the components required to complete their request. State everything required to do the job well, then say you can only do one of those things. They begin to understand they’re losing value when they shortchange your resources.



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