Jan Lynn is the communications director at Eastside Christian Church in Anaheim, Calif. She’s responsible for all the branding, print, web and social media content that Eastside creates. The church has a 50-year history and recently relocated. Jan has been at Eastside for three years and worked at several churches before that, including nearly a decade at Mariners Church in Irvine, Calif. Prior to all the church communication experience, Jan worked at an advertising agency. She also does freelance work and is a contributor to our book Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you were getting started in church communication?
Jan: Coming out of a career in advertising, it seemed to make sense to simply apply secular marketing strategies to communications about the church. In hindsight, I wish I’d been more discerning in accepting the assumption that what works for secular, for-profit business would work across the board for the church.
In some ways, I think the church has sometimes been too focused on secular business strategies. There’s certainly a place for considering best practices and we want to do things with excellence, but Christ’s message was actually quite subversive and counter-cultural for that time, and likewise we shouldn’t be afraid to deviate from traditional marketing plans. There’s potential for real conflict in communicating only from a set of business values versus Christ’s values of sacrifice and serving, and we shouldn’t be afraid to explore that.
For example, secular marketing strategies might require that every marketing tool have a way to capture a contact’s information. I would argue that sometimes as the church you just give it away. In a world that’s collecting every piece of information you provide, consumers are more sophisticated in understanding that they’re targets. They know when they’re being “sold.” We can, and should, dare to be different where it makes sense. Offer compassion, generosity, a place to belong—no strings attached.
What’s the biggest headache in church communication and how can newbies get over it (or get used to it)?
Jan: One of the biggest challenges facing someone new to church communications is trying to say everything to everyone, everywhere. Meaning, people and ministries want to use every avenue available to promote every activity. Information overload becomes just so much noise that people can’t figure out what they need to know. So it’s up to us to prioritize communications avenues and bring clarity to our audience. Kem Meyer’s book Less Clutter. Less Noise. is still the communication handbook on this subject.
It’s important to define the values for what gets communicated where: maybe every activity can go on the web site, but only things that are open to everyone (“all church” events, men’s/women’s activities, etc.) go in the bulletin, and only one or two of what’s in the bulletin gets an announcement. It’s hard, because there can be incredible pressure coming from passionate volunteers and ministry leaders who are doing great things. Work with your leadership in defining values and prioritizing channels, then communicate it thoroughly so everyone is on the same page.
One other thing I try to remember. Someone once told me: “People don’t need one more thing to do.” We can see every activity we provide as vital and life-changing, because to some extent it validates our work in ministry. But look at it from the perspective of the person in the seat: a tired mom or dad, working full time, getting kids to school and soccer practice and karate/ballet/gymnastics lessons and doctor appointments. The fact that they’re even willing to consider doing one more thing to connect with God is a miracle. Respect that. Dumping everything we have on them every week is in some ways just lazy. We have to do the hard work on our end—to wrestle with and pare down information to the two or three options that will bring our people, and our church as a whole, the most value.
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Jan: It’s sometimes hard to know which things are successful, because in church communication you don’t always get to see the end result of how God uses the things you create. But I do have one recent example of a success from just about a year ago.
For the grand opening of our new campus, we decided to do a newspaper-type neighborhood mailer. We put together a single sheet “newspaper” about Eastside—cover story about the grand opening, inside stories about NextGen programs, our recovery ministries, our compassion serving opportunities and outreach. The back was big panel ads—Party on the Plaza (a neighborhood open house), the upcoming message series, a Lincoln Brewster concert and Christmas. We held pretty rigidly to a newspaper format to help it look visually legit: mastheads, columns, etc, and lots of color pictures. It was mailed to a substantial number of homes in a 5-mile radius.
The grand opening was in early October. And we had people coming through the doors at Guest Central well into January, saying they heard about us from a newspaper they got in the mail. People not familiar with God or church were showing up in connection groups and discipleship classes and baptisms, and saying they got a newspaper awhile back, and they’ve been coming now for a few weeks or a couple months, or their first time was at Christmas. One couple told our pastor “that newspaper saved our marriage.” That paper has easily been the “stickiest” piece of my career. It was the right tool at the right time, and it’s still a little overwhelming to me to see the ways God used it.
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Jan: Well, one simple, basic lesson I learned the hard way is to always, always have another person proofread your card/brochure/church-wide email. It’s so obvious, but it’s amazing how easy it can be to overlook when you’re in a time crunch.
A more recent example involves effectively using Facebook. Eastside follows a simple church model, so we focus on three values: Pursuing God, Building Community and Unleashing Compassion. Our Build Community and Compassion teams asked if they could have their own Facebook pages, and it seemed to make sense to me at the time as those ministries represented our core values. What I realized was that all three of those values together represent Eastside, and that separating the pages actually divided our audience. So we decided to shut down the other two pages, and instead allow the admins for those ministries to post directly on the Eastside page. Now we have a schedule where several people regularly post about mission trips, connection groups and weekend activities, and all those things connect our audience with Eastside.
Also, if you’re older or unsure about social media strategy, don’t be afraid to find knowledgeable 20-somethings and pick their brain. While I was trying to figure out why our three separate pages weren’t working, I took the opportunity at a conference to sit down and talk the situation through with a younger social media guru who gave me great direction.
One of the challenges church communicators face is navigating different ministries and their needs. Any tips on navigating that minefield?
Jan: I talked a little about this above, but one of the biggest challenges is managing all the information and how/where it gets promoted. Structure helps a lot. Depending on your position, you’ll need support and buy-in from your ministry director, executive pastor or lead pastor. Talk through and prioritize channels.
Then if you still have to juggle print materials for multiple ministries, one suggestion is simply to find ways to group them. For example, Eastside has a Celebrate Recovery ministry, a divorce ministry, cancer support group and grief support group. We’ve combined these under an umbrella called Friday Night of Hope. Now it’s one web page or announcement instead of four, and all four ministries benefit.
If you’re a church still dealing with racks of mismatched brochures, grouping will help reduce the noise. Also, make the time and effort to create a simple design template, and apply it to everything that’s in your lobby or visitor center. Giving them a consistent look will help a lot. The same thing applies to what you post online. Take the time to give every PDF you post a consistent header/footer with your church logo and address. These solutions may be obvious, but they’re easy and inexpensive.
How can you make progress when you have little or no budget?
Jan: Sometimes this is actually a great opportunity. Eastside is a big and growing church, but we still operate under a limited and conservative budget. And what I’ve seen in brainstorming is that you’ll throw out all kinds of wild ideas that you know you just don’t have resources for. And then you have to go a few more rounds, drill down a little further to come up with other ways to communicate your message effectively in a way that works with your budget. You have to work a little harder, but sometimes you come up with a way more creative solution.
For churches with a really limited budget, I’ll share one of our regular promotion tools that’s dirt cheap. We regularly print business card-sized invites you can order online from Next Day Flyers. You can get 1,000 full-color, 2-sided cards for about $20, plus shipping. We create these for almost every event—a cool, eye-catching graphic on the front, date/time/web site/map on the back. We regularly encourage a culture of inviting, so our people take these cards and drop them at coffee shops, give them to neighbors, leave them in the break room at work, even include them in their Christmas cards.
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?
Jan: This can be a little tricky. You have to be realistic about both the people you currently have attending your church, and the people you want to reach. Definitely aim for the people you want to attract, but also consider the people you have. At Eastside, when we committed to promoting Facebook and Twitter, for a long time it was just staff talking to each other. But we kept printing it everywhere, posting on announcement slides, using Twitter handles with speakers’ names. We’ve recently seen a huge increase in engagement—and a lot of that is from new people.
Eastside is 51 years old, and to be honest, the implementation of some of our major changes is largely the result of passionate vision casting by leadership, encouraging our congregation to focus outward on reaching others. I don’t think anything is more inspiring in changing your self-focus than seeing people come to Jesus and be baptized.
- Check out the rest of our Getting Started interview series.
- The Certification Lab is coming to Nashville in October. This two-day training event includes six months of virtual mentoring and is designed for those new to church communication.
- Another resource that might be a big help is our new book, Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication. It covers a lot of the basics, from big picture strategy to practical stuff like sound and video.