How to Develop a Communications Playbook for Your Church

How to Develop a Communications Playbook for Your Church

September 6, 2017 by

Let me tell you a story. When I started my job at First MB Church four years ago, the church didn’t have an official communication request process. If a staff member wanted to advertise a retreat, a sweet old congregation member had a prayer request for her ailing Mini Schnauzer, or the pastor decided his Sunday sermon warranted a special handout on Friday morning (Can I get an amen?), our admin did her best to squeeze everything into the bulletin.

Our bulletin, by the way, was an 11-by-17-inch piece of paper folded into thirds. That equates to 374 square inches of utter chaos. And, please, don’t get me started on the barrage of clip art posters, the clunky (outdated) website, or the kids ministry volunteers’ insistence on using Comic Sansfor everything.

The Dark Night… of Church Communications

It was a dark, dark time in my church’s history. But let me be clear: It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Our staff members and volunteers were really good, but busy, people who were super passionate about their thing. No one on staff had the authority or the time, though, to control the pandemonium. As a consequence, everyone did their best to keep everyone else happy.

Sound familiar? If it doesn’t and you work in church communications? Count your lucky stars, my friend, and may the odds be ever in your favor. (Cue Hunger Games music.)

A Light Begins to Shine

A few months into my employment, my team launched a communication process and accompanying document called “The Playbook.” Along with outlining some branding guidelines and style consistency (A fancy way to say “no” to Comic Sans and Google Images.), it also began a process aimed to dial down the crazy.

Since then, we’ve evolved “The Playbook” based on previous successes and weak points. Today’s version is much stronger and features more realistic expectations than what we started with. Today our document is almost 40 pages long (!!), but here’s the gist.

  • Any event that a staff member wants to be promoted to our congregation has to be on our calendar six weeks prior to the event. Yes, I said six weeks.
  • We only promote an event if (1) it is relevant to the entire church or (2) all kids, all students, or all adults are invited. If the event is intended for a smaller audience, the individual ministries have to use their own communication channels.
  • If the event meets the above criteria, they receive three weeks of promotion leading up to the event. During those three weeks, my team makes all graphics, video content, et cetera that the event requires.
  • At our church, that means a kids ministry pool party would be in our bulletin (It’s 8.5-by-11 inches and folded in half, thank you very much.), weekly email, the website’s Events page, the PowerPoint loop of announcements before service, and the “Connect Table” in the lobby. For most events, that is plenty of promotion.
  • By the way, we make one graphic for simple events like the example cited in the previous point. The graphic is sized and formatted in a way to be used across our communications mediums without edits or resizing.

Three Steps to Share the Light

Two statements of total and unbiased transparency about “The Playbook”:

  1. It is incredibly awesome and revolutionized everything we do.
  2. Some people absolutely hated it.

Our church has been around for about 75 years, so some of our dedicated volunteers (Think, decades or more.) viewed the level of organization demanded by “The Playbook” as a slap in the face. Luckily, I received some great advice from my supervisor about how to roll the thing out. In order to soften the blow, we did three things.

  1. We Brought Bacon. When we met to go over the new processes for the first time, our conference room smelled glorious. People munched on crispy, salty goodness and left with full bellies. Now, whenever we need to amend or add to the booklet, we invite people to a Bacon Meeting. I mean, if you received a Google calendar invite for a Bacon Meeting, wouldn’t you go? Don’t underestimate the power of a good bribe—er, “mid-afternoon snack.”
  2. We Made it Funny. We gave people a small reward for reading our rules by sprinkling funny jabs at interns, quotes from our lead pastor, and references to The Office throughout “The Playbook.” For several weeks following the original Bacon Meeting, people would come up to me, and say, “Matt, your booklet is so funny!” The sentence proved two things: 1) they read our rules, and 2) they had an overall positive feeling towards them. Don’t undervalue the power of laughter. It makes a difference to not only reception but also recall.
  3. We Phrased the Document for Them. Instead of wording “The Playbook” as my rules to follow, I did my best to write everything with the staff members and volunteers in mind. Instead of telling them they had to use certain fonts, colors, and graphics, I provided several templates for everyday collateral (reminder postcards, Sunday announcement slides, et cetera) to make their jobs easier. That is, I explained “The Playbook” in benefits to and for them. You should do the same. People are much more likely to follow your lead if they understand what’s in it for them.

A Work (and Church) in Progress

Our system still has hiccups (and sometimes straight-up vomit), and I still run into people who don’t get the process or struggle to work within “The Playbook” framework. It’s normal. More to the point, it can actually be healthy.

When a new staff member comes on board or we find kinks in the system, we make adjustments. (We provide more bacon when necessary, too.) Remember, too, that your church might need a different set of standards and deadlines than mine. Again, that’s normal. But I promise if you try out a documented process with your church, you will see progress. I know my church did.

Your job is to be a servant.

If you currently are or plan to debut a communications playbook at your church, let me leave you with a final point of advice. Remember your job is to be a servant. Serve the leaders who are out in the trenches trying to encourage spiritual growth in the community. Don’t make ridiculous standards that are impossible or impractical to live up to.

But with that in mind, don’t be afraid to stand your ground. (Like with Comic Sans, for instance.) Our world is loud and noisy and busy and complicated. Stand up for your congregation and set up practices that make it as easy as possible for them to engage with the church.

Just remember to do so with a spoon full of sugar.

Or bacon.

More:

“The Playbook” sounds like a pretty great document. Want to get your hands on it? Matt has graciously shared “The Playbook.”

  • First, he has a shortened version called “Playbook Jr.” that condenses the 40-page document down to the barest of essentials. Download the two-page Playbook Jr now.
  • Second, Matt shared the full playbook and more about the process of creating it in a video webinar for our Courageous Storytellers members. If you’re not already a member, join now to get the full playbook and learn more about creating your own communications playbook.
Image: Ann Larie Valentine (Creative Commons)
Post By:

Matt Ehresman


Matt Ehresman is the creative media director at First MB Church in Wichita, Kan. His wife Tillie dances in the streets and sings her sentences.
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4 Responses to “How to Develop a Communications Playbook for Your Church”

  • Cheryl
    September 12, 2017

    Can I just gush a moment? Matt. Just Matt. THE BEST of everything. He’s so great you want to smack his mama. Like….how did this guy happen? AND…how lucky (read BLESSED!) is his church?? I love you Matt. Thanks for guiding us. May God’s hand ALWAYS be upon you. (That’s a paraphrase from the Hunger Games, I think.) wink.


    • Matt
      September 27, 2017

      Thank you, my BFF Cheryl! :)


  • Rachel T.
    September 18, 2017

    Hey Matt, this is amazing! Thank you so much for sharing and letting other comm people, like me, steal from you, haha! I do have a question – what happens when someone wants to sneak in and have an event that is in less than 6 weeks? How do you handle those cases when they come up? Does it depend on who is asking or the size and scope of the event? Thanks for any and all help! Greatly appreciated!


    • Matt
      September 27, 2017

      Hi Rachel! Sorry for my delayed response. I’m so glad this has been helpful for you! Makes my day to hear that.

      Sadly I don’t have a hard and fast “policy” on that issue, but it’s definitely an issue! Frankly, I purposely made the six week deadline (which is more time than I actually need) so that I would have a bit of “buffer” space for these kinds of requests, because at least in MY world, I’m not convinced they will ever go away completely (waa wwaaaaaaa!).

      I’m afraid you’re right that it varies instance by instance. For example, if our senior pastor asks for something important last minute and I have the time to make it possible, I do it. If a kids ministry volunteer asks for something on a Tuesday that only affects a handful of kids on that Wednesday night, I try to say no. Sadly at least in my experience it is a judgment call on how important the request is and how busy you are.

      I admit that I am a people pleaser, and I find that most church communications folks are as well. I’ve found you HAVE TO say no occasionally or your rules are worthless. Sometimes it even helps to have a “big” no to remind people of down the road as to why your policies matter (“I COULD have done that for you, but now I have to honor my word to others who followed our policies first.”). Don’t say no just to be a jerk (not that YOU ever would!), but sometimes people need a reminder why we set these things up in the first place.

      Yikes. That was a long answer. Hope that helps, and I’d also love to hear how YOU handle those requests!



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