Back to the Basics: 6 Veteran Church Communicators Share Their Insights

Back to the Basics: 6 Veteran Church Communicators Share Their Insights

May 20, 2019 by

Whether you’re just starting out or you’ve been at this for a while, church communication is hard. That’s why we’re focusing on the basics this month on our Courageous Storytellers membership site (not a member? Join today).

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first started in church communication?

We asked six church communicators about getting back to the basics. Here’s what they said:

Communication Is Ministry

Beth Beaty, communication specialist for Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minn.:

That church communication is a ministry. I am forever grateful that I found Meredith Gould’s book, The Word Made Fresh, soon after I was hired at Prince of Peace. I have given a mini-lecture on Church Communication as Ministry to a lot of (sometimes unsuspecting) people. So often communicators are treated as a glorified bullhorn: expected to just amplify whatever they are given.

But church communicators are in the best position to know the entire scope of what the church is doing at any given time—from the big choir production to the AA meeting in the basement. When we see (and get others to see) our work as ministry, we can be more proactive about what gets communicated and more protective about how that gets communicated.

Worship First

Linda Hale, senior director of communications at Christ Church in Oak Brook and Downers Grove, Ill.:

Remember in all the chaos to still make worship number one.

There are so many moving parts in church communication, especially in large churches, and in places outside of the church world you are balancing it all with what is perceived as fairness and optimal output across brand partners/clients. When you step into church communication you find so many great projects and events from a plethora of ministries that it is easy to get caught in the whirlwind of it all and try to give it all at the same level of focus and attention like you have been trained to do.

It took some real chaotic moments, but I finally knew the only way to do this in some form of sanity was to go back to basics. Then it became very clear—create the worship components really, really well and let that dictate your priority list. We need to make sure we are honoring worship services with our full attention and skill set in order to provide an experience that awakens people to God’s love first and foremost. Everything else will fall into place around that.

Set Boundaries

Jeanette Yates, communications director for Hendricks Avenue Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Fla., and co-host of the Two Church Girls and a Microphone Podcast:

I wish that I knew how to set better boundaries. Social media can be especially consuming and not knowing when your daily “work” is done can affect your ability to rest and rejuvenate (or just enjoy time off!)

It Never Ends

Matt Ehresman, creative media director at First MB Church in Wichita, Kan., and membership director for Courageous Storytellers:

Church communication is one of those jobs where you’re really never finished. There doesn’t really seem to be a “down time” either. Christmas and Easter circle around quickly, and those pesky Sundays keep happening every single week! I think a lot of comm folks tend to be perfectionists, and that constant grind can really get to you.

Church communication is a marathon where your job is to chip away and improve inch by inch, day by day. Keep the long view in mind, give people grace when they don’t follow your policies, and keep your head up. Quality and beauty are important, and your job is one that the “capital C Church” needs.

Context

Jodi Tonarelli, director of weekend experience at The Ridge Community Church in Greenfield, Wis.:

I’m going to list a few in case someone else picks one of these, hopefully it will add context… basically, this is my way of saying I couldn’t pick a “top” item, so I am cheating.

  • Contextualization: So often we see other churches, bigger or more well-resourced churches, do something and we are tempted to copy it because it works. But it works for them. I wish someone would have forced me to ask this sooner—how well will that work for our church? Or, what’s our version of that idea? Asking this question allows our team to consider bandwidth, resources, staffing, volunteer, and community-based context before we decide if we want to try a new idea or tactic. It doesn’t mean we give things a ‘no’ but it does force innovation, creativity, and a better answer because we know it will better serve our community. And if we don’t have the margin to try it now, we can always come back to it later.
  • Clarity always wins: This may be my best advice to ministries looking to get help from a communication team, or for communication folks who are trying to promote something new. Simple and short sentences are best. Call things what they are. Church lingo and cute alliterations assume people have more time to give you or your idea than they do. Make it easy to understand. When you do that, you serve them well and allow them to choose to ask for more information.
  • Lead with vision: I won’t care where I should show up or when I should show up, until I care about why you want me there or how I will benefit by being there. This goes for staff, volunteer teams, and guests. Whenever you make an ask of someone, start with how it ties into your church’s overall vision. If it doesn’t tie into the vision, why are you doing it? (That’s another topic altogether.) Meaning, the vision should be easy to find and celebrate. Then tell me the details, because if I’m still paying attention to learn those details, I really do care.

Be Bold

Lucinda Ross, central team leader of communications at Life.Church:

One thing I’ve learned over the years is how to step more boldly into conversations and decisions, recognizing my unique perspective as a church communicator. I had previous experience and confidence in communication strategy outside the church. However, it took some time to make the mental shift from operating as a team that equips other ministries and teams with project-based content to really accepting the authority I’d been given to influence our big picture communication strategy and messaging. While I think I needed the time to learn lessons about myself as a leader and earn equity with other leaders, I now see the difference we can make as church communicators when we step boldly into our calling.

As church communicators, we sit in the unique position where we can see the thread of communication that spans across teams and, ultimately, how our attenders and the public perceive us. One of our Life.Church Communications Team axioms is “We look out for the one who isn’t at the table. We’re fierce advocates for the people on the other side of our work.” While it takes a lot of time, growth, and energy to get out of the weeds, gaining the kind of altitude that allows us to connect dots can be the difference between someone attending church for the first time, choosing to engage within the church, and, most importantly, growing as a follower of Christ.

More:

For more help getting back to the basics, check out this month’s resources from Courageous Storytellers. Church communication is hard. We can help.

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, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, 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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