While he’s the communications manager at Long Hollow Baptist Church near Nashville, Tenn, Eric Murrell’s work has a much larger impact. He’s on the vision team for Creative Missions, leading trips to help churches communicate better in New York, Missouri and next year Alaska. He’s shares his communication insights with the web world at MediaBLEEP and further helps churches with his WordPress plugins, Prayer Engine and Series Engine (we talked Eric about Series Engine earlier this year).
We picked Eric’s brain for tips on helping your church get started with communication:
What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you were getting started in church communication?
Eric Murrell: That working under pressure is the norm, not the exception. I’m a perfectionist by nature, so I love to plan things out and work on projects far in advance. In my experience, working in a dynamic church environment doesn’t allow for that nearly as much as I expected, so I had to learn to be as flexible as possible. It’s definitely been a good learning experience for me.
If a church is just starting to get serious about communication, where should they start?
Eric: I would recommend really polishing and perfecting one communication medium, and then working outward from there; for most ministries, that’s their website (although Facebook is a good option as well). It will gives you a dependable communication medium where you can gain your audience’s trust, and will help you develop the internal processes necessary to create content that will work in other mediums as well. That sounds really boring, but it’s important to create a solid foundation to build on.
What’s the biggest headache in church communication and how can newbies get over it (or get used to it)?
Eric: Again, with my personality (mentioned above), it’s having to work under unusually tight deadlines and last minute changes. It’s a fact of life for our team, and can be especially frustrating for projects with creative elements.
I think it’s important to learn to focus on solutions rather than the situation at hand. It’s much easier to grow bitter and negative than it is to put your nose to the grindstone and push through some tough projects.
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Eric: When I first came on staff here, we still treated our bulletin as our primary communications tool. One of my first projects was to revamp our communication strategy with our website at the center instead, which allowed us to get information out to our audience a lot faster (and in a medium that they were more engaged with). It opened us up to a lot of new possibilities, and was foundational to building the communication structure that’s so important to us now.
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Eric: That would probably be HomeLink, an intense, well-thought out project that just ended up being a dud.
The project was to create a central location where our church could come to get information and help about common life issues (divorce, parenting, caring for an aging loved one, etc). Long story short, we created a room on campus that was decorated like a home with iPad’s mounted throughout the room. I built a custom web app that allowed visitors to quickly browse the info sheets by life stage and topic, and print them on demand.
The branding, execution and everything about the project seemed perfect, but our audience just didn’t respond to it. It was a great answer to a question no one was asking.
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?
Eric: I think the key is to explain your reasoning to whomever you’re working with. When the folks you work with understand the “why,” the “how” becomes a lot more negotiable. It also helps you set reasonable expectations, which certainly helps with the stress.
How can you make progress when you have little or no budget?
Eric: Honestly, sometimes budget limitations can be kind of a fun challenge; they force you to think outside of the box, and many times the solutions you come up with are more compelling than the expensive “standards” (mailers, newspaper ads, etc).
A good example is Long Hollow’s Phillip Randoll campaign from earlier this year. We had half the budget as the Easter before, but spent it in some very creative ways, which added a lot of new energy to our Easter promotions.
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?
Eric: I think it comes back to the “why” again; I’m very blessed to work at a church that always views “why” as the most important factor. They’re very gracious in letting our staff just get out there and “go for it.”
It also helps to ease people into change as much as possible. An intentional, well-planned transition goes over a lot better than a spur of the moment, abrupt change. It’s all about the approach.