In the Last Year: Theresa Decker

In the Last Year: Theresa Decker

January 13, 2016 by

A new year is a good time to look back and assess. So we’ve launched a series to talk with church communicators and find out what they’ve done in the last year and what they’re looking forward to in the next year.

Today we talk with Theresa Decker. She’s the communications director at Grace Fellowship Church in Johnson City, Tenn.

Learning to honor my top 5 priorities gave me the margin to better resource ministry leaders to do their job better.

1. What’s the smartest change you’ve made in the last year?

The end of January will be my two-year anniversary as a church communicator. I won’t lie, my first year was probably the low point of my career thus far. I operated from a near-constant state of panic. I missed deadlines and made glaringly obvious mistakes for thousands of people to see (yeah, those memories still physically hurt). I called my husband crying a few times, sputtering about things like, “Why does my Mac have a grandfather version of Photoshop?” and “Don’t they know I have no idea how to do graphic design?” I think one night I was up until 3 a.m. working on a folder design for an event that ended up drawing 50 people.

Basically, I was a hot mess.

But something clicked this year that changed literally everything for me. My position transitioned under a new supervisor who sat me down on the first day and went over my job description, line by line. He reminded me that my role is first and foremost to support church-wide communication priorities. It sounds so simple, but the truth was, I had been drinking from a fire hydrant for a year, and I was drowning. He clarified my five most important weekly church-wide deliverables and gave me permission to say a firm “no” to other requests so that the top five could be excellent.

Though it took some adjusting, it was a win-win for everyone. As a one-man band working with part-time contractors and no volunteer teams yet in place, there was no way I could do it all. Learning to honor my top five priorities gave me the margin I needed to better resource ministry leaders to do their job better. I was no longer doing the work for them, but I was able to put processes and procedures in place that standardized communications across the organization.

My top five weekly priorities, by the way? The Sunday morning platform, bulletin, website, social media accounts and our weekly e-blast—anything that hits at least 80% of our church body.

2. What was your biggest mistake or regret?

My biggest mistake was neglecting important but non-urgent long-term goals. This last year, I was eager to launch and grow several volunteer teams, write a communications manual for the staff and complete the Google Analytics Academy. None of these projects would have taken an exorbitant amount of time, but they were less urgent than the seemingly pressing needs of the day.

It’s so easy to get distracted with smaller tasks that you can cross off your to do list quickly. I’ll get to the office a few hours early to work on a big project and decide to deal with my email first. Then I think of a Facebook post that will “only take a minute” to create and schedule. A series of graphics for an upcoming event just needs to be cropped quickly. And I might as well proof that blog post before I settle in to get it out of the way. Sound familiar?

One piece of advice I heard this year is to schedule short blocks of time to respond to email two to three times per day. Keep your email closed when you’re not scheduled to check it. Block out time on your calendar for large projects, and honor those commitments like it’s a meeting with your boss. I plan to put some of that into practice this year.

3. What do you look forward to doing better in the future?

I read something the other day that resonated to my core—in many churches, “the biggest source of disunity and conflict often lies between the senior pastor and the creative team.” After explaining the two sides of this coin, here was Phil Bowdle’s advice: If you can’t support the pastor and the vision and mission of your church, go find another job.”

I know I’m guilty of this—voicing my discontentment, considering myself to be the expert in the room, grumbling when my workflow is interrupted… but with each passing season, I am more and more grateful for the heart of my church leadership and recognize that my role is to facilitate the vision God has given them for our church. It may seem counter-intuitive at times, but “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27). So what I’m looking forward to doing better in the year ahead is better understanding the heart of my pastor and asking myself, “How can I serve him better in my role?” This requires a heightened sense of humility and self-awareness.

4. Who are some voices we should be listening to in the next year?

First of all, decide now that you won’t just listen to voices in the church communications and marketing world. Go outside the industry to discover what provokes a hunger for more—whether it’s more creativity, personal discipline, risk-taking, or grace and justice through the local church. You can find inspiration in the most unexpected places, like local art, classical theology or great fiction. These voices will keep you grounded and engaged in personal as well as professional growth.

In 2016, I’m throwing it back old school and revisiting a few of the most thought-provoking writers I’ve discovered to date: Frederick Buechner, Wendell Berry and George MacDonald. These guys awaken my senses to the delicious and spiritual art of all things words. The Gospel Coalition and Q Ideas are two more resources that continually sharpen and clarify my focus on the divine.

If you’re looking for something really practical, Thinkertoys: A Handbook of Creative Thinking Techniques is filled with great exercises. And I know he’s already closely associated with Church Marketing Sucks, but Phil Bowdle has tons of practical content for newbie church communicators.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks


When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998 and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
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One Response to “In the Last Year: Theresa Decker”

  • Susannah
    January 20, 2016

    Love this! I can totally relate. I’m wondering what areas you have found to utilize volunteers? We are currently working through this as well in communications. Thanks for your post!!


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