Dave Shrein is the pastor of communications at Mountain Park Community Church in Phoenix. It’s a church of approximately 1,800 people, so Dave is busy overseeing all print design, everything online, brand integrity and the overall communication strategy. Before leading communications, Dave led worship. He has a passion to see leaders liberated to lead and you can read more about that on his blog, Permission to Lead.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known when you were getting started in church communication?
Dave Shrein: Understanding the concept of strategy as it relates to communications would have been huge. “Communication strategy” seems like such a buzz word now, but when I was starting I heard so many leaders talk about the need for one, but never knew what it was. Was a communication strategy a piece of paper? Was it a book? Was it a basic idea that was just understood? In all honesty, I still don’t know what some communication leaders mean when they say “communication strategy” because few actually define or reveal theirs.
At Mountain Park our communication strategy is based on the mission, values and measures of our church. We call these our ‘foul poles’ and consider the space between the foul poles the area where we have freedom to create messaging that tells the story of our organization. We have defined the purpose of each communication channel we use in an effort to be consistent in messaging. It helps our staff know what to expect in terms of how we will communicate their ministry’s information and it gives our people a consistency in when, where and how information is communicated.
What was the greatest help to you as a new church communicator?
Dave: Finding a professional network of church communicators who encourage me, validate my work and keep me humble. I recently returned from vacation and many staff members said something like, “We’re still not sure what you do, but we’re glad you’re back.” No one understands the unique challenges I face other than those in my shoes. Being a part of this community of professional peers has been the single greatest help I’ve experienced.
If a church is just starting to get serious about communication, where should they start?
Dave: That’s a tricky question because every situation is unique.
I would offer these guiding principles:
- Find someone passionate and gifted in the art of communication and equip them with the resources and liberty to do their job. Don’t outsource it to a graphics guy.
- Define the mission, values and measures of your church on paper. Be very clear on what the big idea is at your church.
- Embrace social media. Pick one channel (most likely Facebook) and provide valuable content based on your big idea.
What was your first great success as a church communicator? What made it work so well?
Dave: The first major success I experienced as a church communicator was launching a new brand, logo and website within several months of one another. It was the first project I felt like I was given freedom to be the decision maker. I welcomed the input of our leadership team and wanted 100% of our team on board with at least 80% of the direction we were headed. If you can get everyone at 80% in agreement you’re in good shape. We met all the needs of the ministry and have a logo and brand identity that still captures the personality of our church.
What was your first great failure? What lessons did you learn?
Dave: My biggest failure has less to do with communication and more with leadership. During a recent re-org my department was absorbed into Worship Arts. I dealt with the transition very poorly. I was a pain in the side of my superiors and made things more difficult than they needed to be.
The catalyst for a change in my attitude was a piece of advice from a trusted friend: “How much influence is actually being taken from you verses how much you perceive is being taken away?” and “There is beauty in submission. God honors submission as is demonstrated in the honor he gives Christ for his submission.”
It was a huge learning experience and I will be forever grateful for the grace my superiors gave me. I guess, I don’t know everything.
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?
Dave: Communication leaders must develop relationships with co-workers. Learn about them as a person, not just a co-worker. Ask them about themselves. Let them know you care about them and their ministry. You need relational bandwidth in order to do your job effectively and preserve the relationship. It is easy to become the “no-guy/gal.” It is essential to communicate face to face with ministry leaders to help them see that buried in every “no” is a giant “yes.”
One of the common tensions for church communicators is the tyranny of the urgent verses the need for long-term strategy. How do you balance those two to have a successful communications ministry?
Dave: One way to avoid the tyranny of the urgent verses the need for long term strategy is to establish a clear process for how the communication pipeline works. If your staff is clear on the pipeline and they have clear expectations it is easier to say yes to the long term and no to the urgent. It’s not always avoidable, especially if your boss is always last minute. If you can demonstrate how long-term strategy and processes will bring better, more effective results, you will win over staff members quickly.
- Check out the rest of our Getting Started interview series.
- The Certification Lab is coming to Nashville next week. It’s late—but not too late—to join us for this two-day training event, which 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 Facebook.