Steve Fogg heads up communications at Crossway church in Melbourne, Australia, bringing some international flair to our Getting Started series. He has experience as a graphic designer, creative director and director, as well as doing coaching and consulting. He also shares a lot of insights on his blog, in addition to guest blogging for us.
What’s one thing you wish you had known when you were getting started in church communication?
Steve Fogg: Wow! Just one thing? There are so many things I wished I knew. Churches can be complex organisms that don’t necessarily conform to corporate structures and aren’t always neat and tidy as a result from a communications perspective. I’ve moved through trying to control and manage this complexity to learning to relax more and go with it. If I can have a second wish it would be to know that there would be a thousand voices in your ear all wanting to get the word out on what they are doing in the community, from within and outside the church. Everyone wants to be noticed.
If a church is just starting to get serious about communications, where should they start?
Steve: My first response is to say hire a communication peep. But before you do that I’d ask a very serious question, if you really want to improve your communications are you looking for someone who can lead you and provide advice, or are you looking for someone just to do what you want? If you are serious you want the former skill set. Then start looking.
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Steve: I think my first great success was to help others realize I’m an asset that is there to amplify the mission, rather than to manage it. What made it work? Lots of conversations so I could hear their heart and ideas and help them get their idea out.
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Steve: My team has had a few near misses. One was on our e-news where there was a typo which should have said ‘invite your friends’ but said ‘invite your fiends’ caught that one just in time. A more recent and very public failure was in our video news, our Sunday production team have a countdown audio channel on the news which only they are supposed to hear in the production suite, for some reason the count-back channel got mixed into the front of house channel which made for hilarious moments in our three Sunday morning services (1,100 seat auditorium. Yeah!). The video news couldn’t be re-rendered in time until the night service so the poor anchor (My Senior Pastor) had to make the same gag 3 times. In the service I was in when I first heard it as I was face-palming and going white and my Senior Pastor very graciously came over to me and had a laugh with me as I was fumbling for my phone to get hold of my video guy.
Bottom line, our mistakes are very, very public and our wins very private. No one really notices things until they go wrong. Learn from them and put a procedure into place to avoid it next time around. Check twice, cut once.
There’s a lot of work in church communication that’s, well, boring—it’s informing rather than engaging. How do you stay focused and engaged with that kind of work?
Steve: I don’t equate boring with what I do. Even if the topic isn’t particularly appealing and I know by our stats and feedback tell us that people took that step into whatever it is, I’m high fiving everywhere. If something is boring yet informative and nails our mission… win!
I’d say that creativity for creative’s sake honestly sucks. If people only ever remember the gag, or the cool effect then I haven’t done my job. I don’t know where this came from but I hold to this axiom: “Be creative. Be wild. But ensure your creativity serves a bigger cause.”
There’s a lot of pressure and expectations on a new communications person at church. How do you handle the stress and pressure, especially for someone just learning the ropes?
Steve: One piece of advice I would give to someone thinking about stepping into the role is to expect pressure, expect stress. They are part of the job. If you don’t handle this well, don’t do it. Your health is more important. The reality is that stress and pressure are part of the environment. If you are prepared for it, then I would say have someone you can talk to freely, have someone you can talk to who can help you do something about it before it gets on top of you. If I have issues that are work related I will talk to the person that is creating them or I will talk to my direct report to help me work them out.
Another piece of advice I would give is do some kind of project management training if you have never had any. Learning how to manage people and projects well will serve you well in this area.
Finally I’d say, the success or failure of your church does not rest on your shoulders. Be diligent, work hard, have fun, be focused on what matters most, learn how to say no graciously and be faithful in the small things. Oh and have a life outside of the church.
Budgets—or lack of them—are often a problem. How do you do good communication with little or no budget?
Steve: The main challenge I face with budgets are planning ahead. We start organizing our budgets in June for the next calendar year which is great, often you can’t always predict what is going to come up in the next year. Rather than having a mindset of ‘never enough’ change your mindset to ‘what can I do with what I’ve got?’ Start there, once others see success you may be surprised at the increased budget you may receive. Proof of concept is a great way to demonstrate value.
I think we all face challenges that are directly related to our size, so just because we are at a larger church doesn’t mean that we don’t feel constrained by our budget. So for smaller churches I’d say there are some really smart ways to communicate that are actually low cost. Your small size can be an asset for effectively communicating. As long as you focus on the things that really matter. I’ve sat in a smaller church setting and wondered why are they talking about this? You’ve got approximately one hour per week of face time. Maximize it with what is important to achieve your mission.
One practical example I can give is even if you have no budget you can send out an enewsletter via MailChimp as it is free up to a certain point. Resources are often there, you just have to look for them. When you find them tell others!