Are You New in Church Communications? The Top Advice from Experts
It’s a tough job to present what a church has to say to the rest of the world and as a communicator it’s both a responsibility and a challenge. When you’re new to this kind of work, it takes a lot of time to take it all in and step up your game for the role – whether it be creating content or coming up with a branding strategy. Let’s hear what the experts have to say!
“Don’t assume everyone understands or agrees with what you’re trying to communicate.”
– Shanon Snyder, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary
“Many people assume that their ministry takes precedence over others: keep your boundaries with your communication strategies, but also still be clear that all of the church ministries are important.”
– Rachel Shanower, Middlebranch Grace Brethren Church
“Your ministry is incarnational. Don’t let people get lost in the plans, strategies, and processes of church communications.”
– Greg Shore, St. Andrews Church – Mt. Pleasant, SC
“Don’t walk in and try to change things. Observe each ministry and put in the time to cultivate those relationships before assessing them for changes.”
– Jillian Phifer, Christ Chapel Life
“1. Don’t lose sight of your “why”—Jesus.
2. Stick to the basics: purpose, audience, clarity, action
3. People resist change because they fear what they will lose when the change occurs. Address those fears – not the change itself.
4. People over program – always.”
– Nicole Perreault, Wintonbury Church
“Keep it simple and make sure your communications speak to multiple generations with clarity and purpose.”
– Terrin Ramsey, Cross Church Inc.
“Make sure to not use church jargon! Many people you interact with at the church will speak like it’s second nature. Remember newcomers don’t know what a narthex is, for example, so refer to it as the back of the church. Be the guardian against insider language.”
– Caroline Carithers Close, St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Jacksonville
“None of us have it all figured out. Because of the ever-growing and ever-changing world that we work in, we are always going to be learning. It’s okay to fail. In fact, it’s more than okay to fail. Find freedom in the failures because every failure means you have the opportunity for more growth and success.”
– Morgan Comer, Brentwood Baptist Church
“Don’t take ANYTHING personally.”
– Wes Holbrook, Cedar Creek Church
“Returning emails gives you credibility. No idea how many “communications professionals” in the church world I’ve known or heard of that let days pass before responding to emails (if they ever do). The quickest way to become a joke to your congregation is to be the “communications” person that doesn’t communicate.”
– Joe Garrison, Castleton United Methodist Church
“It’s ok if others help you. Church staffs are generally small and we always wear multiple hats. You don’t have to control everything. Being advisory on a lot of projects can ease workload and build team unity.”
– Dale Wilkerson Jr., Lovers Lane United Methodist Church
“You will not make everyone happy. Work hard to communicate value for every ministry opportunity while maintaining the structure and guidelines you put in place. Always consider the needs of those in the seats above everyone else. Get support for your guidelines from the top. Be gracious in saying no when requests are outside your stated guidelines and try to come up with alternative way to promote their event/ministry.”
– Angela Buchanan, Grace Covenant Church
“Make time for research and practice. Don’t get stuck in a rut!”
– Tim Arndt, Allendale Baptist Church
“Know your audience/context. Just because something is cool and works for another church, doesn’t mean it will work for yours. Know your people and speak their language!”
– Brelin Schubert, Putnam City Baptist Church
“HAVE BOUNDARIES! Saying yes to one thing is always saying no to something else.”
– Jessica Nicole Berens, Central Wesleyan Church
“Don’t assume everyone understands your insider lingo. Communicate as if you are addressing new people, and you’ll be much closer to answering everyone’s questions before they are asked.”
– David Russell, River Park Church of Christ
“The first step of effective communication is hearing the other person. Not only their words, but the things they don’t know how to articulate. Words are your gift, but others are gifted differently and we have the privilege of helping others to speak effectively.”
– Michaela Lorraine, First Presbytarian Church of Bonita Springs
“Find joy in celebrating your own or your team’s project wins.”
– Leintz Belony, Indiana United Methodist Conference
“1. Build relationships with your stakeholders (staff members, ministry leaders, etc.). People need to feel ‘heard’, so early on sit down with them and listen to them. Ask more questions than you give answers.
Ask them about their concerns/challenges with communicating their events/ides; don’t assume YOU know how to communicate best for them. Ask them about their ‘best attended’ or ‘most successfully communicated’ event / project and ask why they think people responded so well to the publicity / communications surrounding it. Then, ask the opposite re: their ‘worst attended’ or least received event/project and find out why they think people didn’t respond well or attend.
Work hard to understand what’s important to them and WHY its important to them. Then use that information to build trust with them.
For instance: “You mentioned that in the past, when your event isn’t highlighted on the home page, it makes you feel like your ministry isn’t that important. Although I can’t always guarantee your event will be there, I’m curious: as we continue to improve how we communicate, would you be open to some ideas that might even create BETTER awareness than having your events on the home page?”
Simple dialog like that in the early stages of the relationship will pay huge dividends long term. It shows them you care about their ministry, and that you will work hard at helping them succeed.
2. Be “The Problem Solver” not the “Expert”. A lot newbie communicators have a tool box full of tools and knowledge – and tend to use that knowledge to position themselves as the experts. “I know how to communicate this because I’m trained, and you’re not – that’s why they hired ME”. While that may be true, it won’t get you very far thinking like that. Instead, think of your self as a servant who is there to help solve their communication challenges.
Solving problems will eventually help you become known as the expert, but let them discover that over time as you help them win time and time again. For instance – when you hear a staff member talk about how “NObody” is registering for camp on time (or whatever)…offer to sit down with them and brainstorm ways we can improve that. Maybe its as simple as a more user friendly intake form, or some different comms channels. If you can solve that problem, you’ll be their new hero.
3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Mistakes happen…learn to laugh at yourself when they do, and make sure you don’t penalize everyone else too much for the ones they make (like asking you to use dumb font, etc.)”
– Paul Fleming, Churchink.com
“Never underestimate the power of friendliness and relationship among staff who lead other departments and yourself.”
– Seth Muse, Hope Fellowship Church
“Build relationships instead of policies. It gets you much farther.
There are very few tactics or practices you MUST do. Instead, look to principles first.
Be willing to go against church trends and look to big businesses instead. See how they communicate. Follow them on social. Reverse engineer their marketing plans. They spend millions a year to get it right.”
– Wes Gay, Wayfinder
With all this great advice from experts, it seems pretty easy to apply it to your own communication strategies but every plan should be delivered with extra thought – to minimize mistakes and maximize results. Never be too reliant on what is already there, as most these experts say, because it is important for you to always keep on learning. There will always be constant change on how a message is delivered and more ways on how to present that message.
Now you’re ready to be a church communicator! Let the games begin.