Danielle Hartland is the creative director at Grace Church in Erie, Penn. She’s attended since 1996 and been on staff since 1999. She started off in youth ministry and found her way to communications. Today she’s the champion of the global church calendar, handling monthly themes and sermon series concepts.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you were getting started in church communication?
Danielle: People are very sensitive about how things are communicated—and if it’s something they’re passionate about, it can get personal. People perceive the value of what they do through the lens of how your organization promotes it.
If a church is just starting to get serious about communication, where should they start?
Danielle: Start right here! CFCC saved my life. I’d also suggest getting a high-level volunteer or staff member a copy of Less Clutter. Less Noise. by Kem Meyer. Also a life saver. Better yet? Get into a coaching network with Kem herself!
What’s the biggest headache in church communications and how can newbies get over it (or get used to it)?
Danielle: The biggest “headache” is probably going to be managing peoples’ expectations. You will perceive it as a headache because it’s a lot of conversations, misunderstandings, clarifications and arguments. When all is said and done: it’s about doing the relational groundwork that will build trust over time. It’s important. Maybe the most important work you can do.
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Danielle: My first success happened when the leader of our EQUIP (adult education) ministry came to me in tears to talk about how she feels that we are bombarding people with our message. The biggest success is when my senior pastor said, “We need to simplify.” That was like, last week… no joke. It’s been a long and lonely road!
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Danielle: I jumped on the “create a communications standards manual” bandwagon. Communications guidelines are important, but they aren’t more important than laying relational groundwork. Relationship trumps “rules.”
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?
Danielle: Suggest an experiment. Identify a lower-risk event, class, etc. and try something new. See if it works.
How can you best make progress when you have little or no budget?
Danielle: You don’t need a budget to communicate well. You need to work hard, work smart, talk to people and implement change one decision at a time. Information is free—do research with churches and professionals you admire online. Also, it’s really important to identify a “win” for yourself. It will be your filter. Here’s mine: “Develop and use communication strategies that cut through without cutting in.”
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?
Danielle: Here’s how not to handle it: by setting up hoops for people to jump through and “protecting yourself” from people interaction. Stop making forms and rules and start having lunches and coffee. When in doubt, serve someone.