5 Traits of a Successful Communications Minister

Growing up in a church, I never heard of a "communications minister". In fact, it wasn't until I started working with churches that I started to grasp the vastness and difficulties of the job. Depending on where you work, the communications minister can be a PR job, an audio/visual job, and even the person in charge of fixing the copier. It's a big job.

At the same time, there are some traits that are universal amongst successful communications ministers. These traits are something that take time to develop, and anyone can learn them with time and practice.

If you can master the traits below, you'll not only find that your communications ministry will flourish, you'll also have a better handle on the job itself—which, depending on where you work, can be a tricky thing.

Are you ready to learn what the five traits of a successful communications minister are? Okay, let's dive in.

1. Buy into the vision of the church

It's easy to form your own unique vision for your church's communications. Your vision may be a very simplistic approach with a few messages or you may want to blast every channel you have with lots of content.

Either way, your vision for communications has to align with your church's goals. For example, if your church's goal is to have 10,000 people come to Christ in 2016, your communications strategy and vision have to align with those goals.

The problem is when our personal vision for our church's communications differs from the church's overall goals. When that happens, you become frustrated and often bitter because the two are at odds. This may not occur immediately, but over time you'll get the sense that things aren't right and the work that was once a joy has now become a chore.

If you don't know what your church's vision or goals are, now is a good time to sit down with your pastor or senior leadership and get a firm grasp of where they see things going and what they want the future to look like. This will not only help you align your work with the church, but also give you an idea of what the future of your job looks like.

2. Have a clear idea of what your church is communicating as a brand.

Most communications ministers can tell you what they’re communicating on a Sunday-to-Sunday basis. They may be promoting missions, small groups, etc. However, determining what you’re communicating as an overall brand is something entirely different.

In order to understand what the church is communicating a brand, the communications minister has to know the voice of the church. It's the tone and the feel. Are you an upbeat, celebratory church like Hillsong, or are you more a somber, reflective brand like The Village Church?

When you understand the voice of church, you'll know what graphics should look and feel like. You'll have a keen sense of what social media posts feel like and when you're "off-brand".

I'll add that this is one area that is difficult without clear leadership from the pastors and senior leadership. Now keep in mind that this is not always explicitly spelled out, but it is reflected in what is celebrated, preached, and promoted.

3. Have a keen sense of what technologies may disrupt your current communications channels.

In 2006, I used a Motorola Q as my daily phone and I felt like I had the future in my hand. I could email, text, and see my calendar all from a single device. Then one year later, the iPhone appeared and everything changed.

When most of us saw the iPhone, we saw a new cell phone with a lot of possibilities, but not all of us were thinking of how the iPhone would impact our church communications (e.g. responsive websites). I think now, we could all say that it's had a huge impact on how we manage our church's communications.

It's not your job to be a futurist and predict what the next thing will be down the road. But, it is your job to be aware of what is developing that could disrupt the way your church communicates. For example, when rumors started that Google was going to penalize websites that were not mobile friendly, it's the communications minister’s job to figure out how to avoid the fallout.

Now, you don't need to go out and read the latest issue of Wired from cover to cover, but there are some websites that can help you stay on top of trends without taking too much of your time. If you're interested you should check out:

4. Learn to use the phrase "I don't know."

If you want to be comfortable with the future and your church's communications, you need to be willing to say “I don’t know” a lot. The future will depend on you trying new channels (e.g. Snapchat) with idea that “you don’t know” what the immediate benefit will be.

I'll admit at some point, you may feel like an imposter with all of these new channels appearing and people asking you what you think. But, trust me, even the experts are secretly thinking that they don’t know either.

By admitting that "you don't know" you're identifying an area that you can research and grow in, which always leads to better outcomes. For me, "I don't know" nearly as much as I would like to about Facebook and Instagram ideas.

5. Understand your role as a supporting player.

Do you remember that cool brochure you did for missions? Or the brand new website you had built? Or maybe the new logo you created for the Student Minister? You can probably list your greatest successes as a communications minister.

However, if you poll the average church member, they have no clue what you've done. For them, majority of what you do is not at the forefront of their mind. It's not because they don't care about you or what you do, it's that at the end of the day, church communications is not at the front and center of the church.

You often hear leadership experts tout the benefits of "servant leadership", the idea that real leaders serve those around them. Church communications is exactly about servant leadership. It's your job to serve ministries and the church as a whole.

Sometimes that means you'll never get credit for the work you do. Nor will people truly understand the difficulty of the job. Of course, that won't matter because that's not why you took the job. Right?

A church communications minister is very different from other ministerial positions, given how special the knowledge is that is required to do the job. However, it's a growing field that is constantly changing with each piece of technology or social media startup. Either way it's a blessing to serve and communicate for the church.

The Death Of Expertise

From Tom Nichols writing in The Federalist:

I fear we are witnessing the “death of expertise”: a Google-fueled, Wikipedia-based, blog-sodden collapse of any division between professionals and laymen, students and teachers, knowers and wonderers – in other words, between those of any achievement in an area and those with none at all. By this, I do not mean the death of actual expertise, the knowledge of specific things that sets some people apart from others in various areas. There will always be doctors, lawyers, engineers, and other specialists in various fields. Rather, what I fear has died is any acknowledgement of expertise as anything that should alter our thoughts or change the way we live.

This is a very bad thing. Yes, it’s true that experts can make mistakes, as disasters from thalidomide to the Challenger explosion tragically remind us. But mostly, experts have a pretty good batting average compared to laymen: doctors, whatever their errors, seem to do better with most illnesses than faith healers or your Aunt Ginny and her special chicken gut poultice. To reject the notion of expertise, and to replace it with a sanctimonious insistence that every person has a right to his or her own opinion, is silly.

Later on in the article he states the following:

This isn’t just about politics, which would be bad enough. No, it’s worse than that: the perverse effect of the death of expertise is that without real experts, everyone is an expert on everything. To take but one horrifying example, we live today in an advanced post-industrial country that is now fighting a resurgence of whooping cough — a scourge nearly eliminated a century ago — merely because otherwise intelligent people have been second-guessing their doctors and refusing to vaccinate their kids after reading stuff written by people who know exactly zip about medicine. (Yes, I mean people like Jenny McCarthy.

I see this problem consistently appear in the Church and with people I know in church communications. It seems we have entered an age where every pastor is an expert on social issues due to the fact they oversee a congregation of people and have a sense of authority in their community.

On the church communications side, I see more people entering the conversation who are either currently not in the midst of working at a church or doling out information that lacks the depth needed to understand the issues at hand (I've been guilty of this).

My fear for the church and my profession is that we're slipping into a soundbite culture that is based on grabbing attention and touting numbers that have no true meaning. (As I write this, we're in the middle of preparing our annual report which more than likely include some of those meaningless numbers.)

NeuBible

I'm in the middle of a redesign of our church's devotional app. (I'm not going to link to it because the design is hideous.) So I've spending time researching typography and layouts for mobile reading experiences. Recently, I came across NeuBible and it has been the most enjoyable of all the Bible reading experiences I've found on mobile devices. Here's some of the reasons I believe it's a superior experience to the other offerings currently offered:

  • Typography - You only have four choices of fonts in NueBible. They've chosen Breve, Graphik, Sentinel, and Texta. I don't know if they could have made a better choice in font selection. While my current selection is Texta, I'm delighted that they've included Sentinel, which is one of my favorite typefaces to arrive in the last 10 years.

  • User Interface - One knock on this app could be it's lack of features (reading plans, share sheet, etc.). However, it's one of things that I love about this app. By removing those features, it allows the reader to focus on the text.

The only thing I would add to this app would be the ability to turn off the numbering of verses so that the text flowed in the same manner as the ESV Reader's Bible.

Now in fairness to other apps, there is a fee to download versions such as the NIV, ESV and NASB. So that is a bit of drawback if you're looking for something that is completely free. Though it does offer the HCSB for free in side the the app.

Google employees confess all the things they hated most about working at Google

One of many quotes from former Google employees:

Joe Cannella, former senior account manager: "Basically, you end up spending the majority of your life eating Google food, with Google coworkers, wearing Google gear, talking in Google acronyms, sending Google emails on Google phones, and you eventually start to lose sight of what it's like to be independent of the big G, and every corner of your life is set up to reinforce the idea that you would be absolutely insane to want to be anywhere else."

"To which the majority of folks will say 'boo-hoo, poor spoiled Googler'. But that's sort of the point. You are given everything you could ever want, but it costs you the only things that actually matter in the end."

The further I got into the article, the more I realized that the hit that Google is that they portray themselves to be different. Yet according to these employees they're creating a culture that is no different than the a lot of corporations in America.

I'll take it a step further. One could argue that they're describing sounds like a lot of church environments. Mediocre management, focusing solely on metrics and not promoting talent.

The One Question to You Need to Answer About Church Multi-Sites

Church multi-site communications can present a unique set of problems. For starters, every campus will share some of the main campus’s DNA in terms of branding, website, and central resources (i.e. financial and membership resources). Yet, tugging at the heart of each campus is the desire to make itself unique. Every campus wants to figure what makes them different from all the other campuses. Is it the location? The building? Style of worship?

These are the type of questions that can keep a communications team up at night. With every little difference of a campus, you find something doesn’t scale (i.e. every campus has their own bulletin). And when things aren’t scaling, serving every campus equally can be near impossible.

So how do you rectify this problem? How do you get control of the situation and get a sense how to best serve all your campuses? Well, I think it can be done, and it starts with asking this question:

What’s your campus model?

Okay, so here’s what I mean about campus model. Are you in the type of campus model where every campus is exactly like the others? Does each feel almost identical when you walk in the door? Is the worship set the same at every campus? Is video preaching coming from the video?

Or is your campus where every one has its unique look to it? Does each campus have a specific pastor that preaches the same sermon topics but in their own unique way? Does each campus have its own unique worship style?

If you’re struggling with the answer to the first question, try answering a second question. This second question may help better define your answer to the first question.

How much of your model is contextualized or continued on each campus?

For example, will you let campuses have small groups or will they call it Sunday School? Maybe the small groups language works in one environment and Sunday School works better in another environment. This is contextualization.

Will all campuses agree to a statement of faith? Will they all have the same reporting structure? If so, then this is continuity (continued).

Now clearly these are black and white questions and we know that this isn’t really a black and white situation. That’s why when you’re answering these questions, you need think of your answers like a sliding scale.

For example, you might determine that 20% of what all campuses are going to do is continuity and 80% of what they do is contextualization. So the 20% of continuity may be a statement of faith, sermon series, and overall branding. However, the rest is 80% contextualization, and we’ll let each campus figure that out.

By determining what is continuity vs. contextualization on some sort of scale, you can then have the conversations with other campuses that will help to better shape your communication processes.

If your team knows that 80% of each campus is contextualized, then they can know which branding elements need to be consistent and then which ones can be customized for each campus.

At the end of the day, if your communications team has a clear idea of what the non-negotiables (continuity) are, then it makes their goals, objectives, and tasks all that much easier. So answer these two questions and save your team a lot of work.

4 Things They Don’t Tell You When Joining a Church Staff, but You Should Know Anyway

It's been over three years now since I left corporate life to go work at a church. When I look back there are number of things that I knew were going to be different, and yet, there are some things that surprised me. Here are four things that I'd wish I knew before joining a church staff.

1. It's so easy to go on autopilot.

Here's the thing. The Sunday to Sunday cycle can be an easy thing to overlook. When you get in that cycle, it saves you from coming up with new ideas or approaches. The routine can be like comfort food. It seems good, but over the long haul it will hurt you. If all you're doing each Sunday is putting the tape in and hitting play, then you you're going to have issues.

Think of it this way, when someone hears and sees the same thing day in and day out, it begins to lose its effectiveness over time. In short, people stop paying attention.

In order to prevent this, think about setting aside once a quarter to do some deep thinking about what's really working and what can be better.

2. You have to redefine your goals.

Every new employee comes in with a set of ideas and goals. However, you have to quickly learn to align your goals with the church's goals. Now, this is a challenge for some people. Some people often think their church is going to reflect their personal goals. This is not the way it works. The church does not bend for you, you bend for the church.

If you can't rectify your personal goals with the church's goals, then you may need to rethink your position at the church. Otherwise, you'll never really embrace your work and realize your potential.

3. Perfection will never happen.

There are going to be some things you can control and some things you can't. The idea is not to let the little things get to you. Take a worship video for example. You might think that you have done the best worship video possible. The music, the visuals, everything was on target.

And then you get that one email...

The email that states how you missed this, or they didn't care for the music. The truth is, there will always be someone who tells you that it could be better. What should you do? Just reply with "thanks for the feedback", delete it and move on. Unless it something glaring that you need to apologize for, trying to make that one person happy won't help you in the long run.

Like every organization, your church will it's critics. However, if want you're doing aligns with your church's goals and your leadership has buy-in to what you're doing, you'll be fine.

4. The job is 24/7, but you're not.

This lesson is something I learned along time ago. It involves boundaries and limits. This is going to be a 24/7 job. Sorry guys, but it is.

My grandfather was a worship minister and watch him deal with this tension. Every Sunday afternoon he refused to answer the phone once he got home from church. Why? Because he knew that he needed to decompress, and the chance that the phone call on the other end of line being an emergency was pretty slim.

Boundaries are essential to ministry. So learn to say the word "no". There is going to come a time and place where you will have to say no to someone or something. For some of us that's really difficult. You may need to work on it, but regardless it's something you have learn to do to save your sanity.

These four things aren't exclusive to church's, but I found them to more prevalent in the church environment versus the corporate world. It's not to say that one is better than the other, but it does mean that you need to proceed with caution as you think about working at a church.