As the founder of Creative Missions, Cleve Persinger knows a thing or two about getting started. He’s helped dozens of churches jump start their communications efforts through the team efforts of Creative Missions trips. He’s also the web and external communications strategist for The Chapel in the Chicago area. And he regularly shares his insights through MediaBleep (formerly MediaSalt).
We talked with Cleve about getting started in church communication:
What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you were getting started in church communication?
Cleve Persinger: Just because I’m the “expert” doesn’t mean others and my leaders/pastors don’t have good solutions and ideas too. Not only am I wrong sometimes, but sometimes your pastor/leadership are wrong too. It’s a team effort.
If a church is just starting to get serious about communication, where should they start?
Cleve: Kem Meyer’s book, Less Clutter. Less Noise., is always a great place to start strategically.
Tactically, I would suggest building relationships either with external contractors or create a part time position to help with some of the more important areas of the church (like sermon graphics/promotions or event promotions) in order to gather processes and steps for implementing across the whole church.
What’s the biggest headache in church communications and how can newbies get over it (or get used to it)?
Cleve: “Everyone’s an expert.” This phrase crosses my mind all too often. Even though I have been working in communications for longer than I remember and specifically in church communications for more than ten years, the amount of “how to” tips I get from ministries/clients who think they are more knowledgeable than me is a little insulting.
I still haven’t gotten over it. But I’ve learned that very few things we do will ever have 100% buy-in because of this. Support your vision and strategies with stats and solid foundations of your reasoning.
If this doesn’t work, just say, “God told me to do it this way.” :-)
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Cleve: The first one that made me really proud was the launch of a new church plant in Nashville when we first moved here. I was responsible for all branding, print communication, signage, promotions, and weekend experience within a tight budget and before so many free resources were available. It was a huge success for our very small team of all volunteers.
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Cleve: It may not have been my first, but the one that still nags me is a time when I way overpaid for a homepage design for a site I was responsible for. I paid a top design firm that I respected to do the homepage. The work just wasn’t up to par with my expectations. We didn’t use the design at all. I ended up using my own design. We just had to eat that expense.
While I don’t think I could have prevented this, I learned to go with my gut and trust myself a bit more. This was a project I was so close to, and I’m not sure anyone could have articulated the design to my expectations.
I also learned that accidents happen. As a leader, I’m in a position to extend grace.
How do you deal with congregations that are stuck in a ‘That’s how we’ve always done it,’ mindset and are resistant to trying new things?
Cleve: We see this a lot with churches we serve in Creative Missions. While they think they’re ready for change, we find they often have a lot of “sacred cows” they just don’t want to give up. My approach is rotate and revisit. I don’t ask for them to abandon these practices, just put them on hold for a season. After a while, revisit and see if they were effective. Rotate the crop; you may just need a break from them and fresh eyes.
How can you best make progress when you have little or no budget?
There’s a lot of pressure and expectations on a new communications person at a church. How do you handle the stress and pressure, especially for someone just learning the ropes?
Cleve: When you hit a home run, you gain respect, trust and responsibility. Those things don’t come day one; you have to earn them.
Take a lot of deep breaths and learn to stop taking criticism personally. It’s not about you, even though it seems that way. Know that you’re going to mess up—and it won’t be the last time. Learn from it. Keep growing.
In addition, there have been numerous mornings, in my career and ministry where I have dreaded walking into work because the tasks for that day exceeded my knowledge and bandwidth. It’s amazing how different those same days ended up when I spent time with God.
Seriously, on multiple occasions I’ve asked God to pour his communications wisdom into me that day, acknowledging how much more he knew about that stuff than me. Sometimes I end up taking credit for coming up with solutions just to be reminded by his still small voice about our earlier conversation.