A Letter to Pastors: Is Communication PR or DNA?

A Letter to Pastors: Is Communication PR or DNA?

June 20, 2011 by

Dear Pastor,

Before I begin, I should probably offer a disclaimer. I have strong—really strong—opinions around what I’m about to write. Since you can’t hear or see me, I’m concerned you’ll read obnoxious into this message. Please read impassioned instead. Here goes.

It seems there are two approaches to church communications. The first, which I gather is more prevalent, is Communications Staff = Information Sharer, whereby the communications director returns from lunch to find a hastily scrawled sticky note on his computer screen: “Stewardship campaign title is Giving: Up Yours! Please order envelopes.”

The second approach is Communications Staff = Culture Shaper. In this model, communications directors are considered high-level leadership. They’re key players whose voices are invaluable in long-range planning. Their ideas are sought-after, trusted, and implemented. They weigh in on message series planning and they feel the heartbeat of your people—both inside the church and those you’re hoping to reach. (For a great example of how the difference plays out, check out Roland Gilbert’s thoughts.)

I bet some of you are thinking, “Nah. Our communications director just does the bulletin and stuff.” Well… why? Who else on your team is reading books like Church Marketing 101, Surprising Insights, and Church Unique? Who else lives and breathes the church calendar and can speak into how the decision you’re making might affect what’s already in play? Who else is paying attention to Barna research and feels personally responsible for protecting the church’s brand—the brand beyond the logo, I mean?

Two of you just crossed your arms, raised an eyebrow and offered a smirkish, “As a matter of fact, yes. We have all of that under control.” Gold star for you!

The rest of you, though? I wonder if you’re thinking something like, “Well, not really. But our communication director’s too busy for all that.” Well, what do you expect? Are you looking at church communication as PR or as DNA? Is your director task- or strategy-driven? Have you given him or her permission to lean in and actually direct? Have you allowed the margin required?

Yes, I went there. I used the m-word. If your communications staff is going to shift from Sharer to Shaper, priorities will necessarily change. Reading takes time, analyzing and interpreting data takes energy, and important conversations take both. Protect the space they’re creating. They, like you, are deeply committed to connecting people to the life-giving love of our creator.

I’ve been in the thick of ministry, and fortunately I was led by a pastor who truly gets it. Your communications staff needs that same support and permission from you. Please. It’ll make a world of difference; your church and community will benefit, and your staff will be immeasurably grateful. And impassioned.

Kelley Hartnett
Former Director of Communications at Morning Star Church

Photo by Andy Leppard
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Kelley Hartnett

Kelley Hartnett spent a decade working in established churches and helping to launch new ones. Currently, she’s focused on writing, volunteering for organizations that care for vulnerable populations and making progress on her journey toward minimalism. Kelley is also the membership director for our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site.
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13 Responses to “A Letter to Pastors: Is Communication PR or DNA?”

  • Matt Carlisle
    June 20, 2011

    Well said, Kelley. While all ministry areas should work together as a fine-tuned machine, the reality is they often don’t. Silos are created in churches just as easily any secular business. As storytellers, Communications ministry touches every area of the church. Communications can’t spread and thrive in a church with walls. As you said, it must come from the DNA.

  • Eric Peters
    June 20, 2011

    Good post. Giving a communication director the ability to really shine is important. I know it is hard for people to give up some power, but giving people authority to do great things is important for leadership.

  • Matt Powell
    June 20, 2011

    Wow… this is great. You made me thing deeply about the power of communication. Sure as it applies to staff…. but even at the most basic levels. Every part of communication shapes vision and it is so hard to remember that day in and day out. Thanks!

  • Danielle
    June 21, 2011

    Kelly – This is great. Awesome job!

  • Debi Debanto
    June 27, 2011

    Amen, sister! My predecessor was a typist, but I have been able to manage sideways and up to make the position much more strategic (but still have a long way to go). I have read all those books, studies and more. For those that inherit a tactical job, be courageous about sharing what you are learning and work within your organization to become an influencer regardless of what your job description says. Every church and every organization needs someone to think full time about what is being said. Thanks for the great post.

    • Kelley
      June 27, 2011

      Thanks for your responses, everyone. It’s so great to hear from people who care so much about this church communications tilt-a-whirl as I do. Y’all rock!

  • Murray
    July 12, 2011

    Great Post, I too am blessed to have an understanding pastor who acknowledges the importance of church communication.

  • Kelly Vincent
    July 12, 2011

    I agree 100%. Well written article. Churches that understand how to communicate effectively with their church family take intentionality and a strategic leader! I am so blessed to be on staff at a church that has invested in communications. I’m sure that Morning Star misses you. What are you up to these days?

  • Chantalle
    July 13, 2011

    WOW! Well said. I was one of those cases where I stepped into a purely creative communication department filled with lots of graphic designers and multi-media staff. Transforming the communication focus from CREATIVE to STRATEGIC was my first task at hand! I was really pleased with the support I received from my leaders as they truly listened and understood the value of strategic communication. Let me tell you, without leadership support communication cannot be practiced on a strategic level! It takes brave leaders to support and value a shift from creative to strategic communication. Thank you for an extremely insightful article!

    • Kelley
      July 13, 2011

      Chantelle, thanks for your kind words. Sounds like you have the best of both worlds: leadership who supports strategic communications and a great creative team to make it all happen. That’s fabulous!

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