With many unanswered questions about Coronavirus, the world isn’t in status-quo, and that’s helped a lot of churches, businesses, and organizations realize the importance of connecting with their followers online.
While I would emphasize the importance of getting it done rather than getting it perfect (now is not the time for perfectionism), is it true that increasing the quality of your video to a minimum standard does result in longer viewing time and more engagement (likes, comments, and shares).
Here are 7 ways to improve your next live video on Facebook, YouTube, Instagram or Twitter
Be in a quiet space
This may seem obvious, but it’s increasingly difficult from home. Sometimes your co-workers (ie. kids and pets) can’t just move to another space or know how to keep it down while you’re making a live video from the kitchen table.
Trying to address your audience while the dog barks in the background or your kids ask you to put new batteries in their favorite toy siren is just plain distracting, making your viewers switch away or keep scrolling.
It’s not always possible to be in a silent space (if an ambulance drives by with sirens, there’s nothing you can do about that), but be intentional about going live during your kids nap time, while on a walk, in the evening after bedtime, or in your own space.
The less obvious distractions are fans, vents, or wind noise if you’re outside. As much as possible, get into a quiet space where you won’t be disturbed and you can focus on connecting with people watching your video.
Use a microphone
This doesn’t mean you have to jump on Amazon and wait a few weeks before your mic arrives. Using the headset that came in the box with your phone or Bluetooth headphones with a built-in mic can reduce the ambient noise around you and make your voice clearer.
Your goal is not to sound like a radio announcer but to bring clarity to your voice so viewers can understand what you’re saying without distraction.
No shame: I’ve gone live from the kitchen with a table lamp behind my laptop with the shade off. Don’t hurt your eyes stating into a 100-watt bulb (the squinting won’t translate well on video anyway) but be in a room with ambient light from the sun, open the curtains if the window is beside you or in front of you, and turn on ALL of the lights in the room as long as they’re not behind you.
Be sure light sources are in front of you, not behind you. Light sources behind you (like open windows or lamps) will cause your camera to adjust to the brightness from the window and turn you into a silhouette.
In these 2 shots below from the webcam built into my laptop, the only difference is that the patio door’s blinds are open on the left and closed on the right. The room lighting is the same in both cases.
On the left, the camera adjusts to the brightest point on screen (the sun outside) and on the right, it adjusts to the brightest point (probably my forehead glare?)
Side note: We’re in self-isolation so I haven’t shaved for a few days… I’ll get that done once I’m done this blog post…
Ask for engagement
Every 4-5 minutes of your video, ask for engagement from your viewers. Engagement drives the organic reach of your post so more people will have a chance to see your video. Ask your viewers to like your post, or ask them a question so they can respond in the comments.
Good starter questions could be:
Leave a comment to let me know where you’re watching from today
I’m here enjoying my morning coffee. I take mine black. Leave a comment about how you like your coffee!
An A/B question that has 2 options: We’re talking about getting up early or staying up late. Are you a morning person or a night owl? Tell us in the comments.
Starter questions are purely meant to drive engagement. Don’t start out with something controversial or in-depth – just a simple question that’s easy to answer.
The longer the video, the more times you’ll want to ask for engagement. Some people will tune in late. Some people will watch later in the day, and some people will be happy to respond multiple times during your broadcast, so ask an engagement question at the beginning, and at the end, and every 4-5 minutes in the middle.
Middle engagement questions would be open-ended questions about your topic:
Do you have a question about our organization or service?
What would you like to see change with this topic moving forward?
How can we better serve you in this area?
Ending engagement questions could be about the next broadcast:
Next time we’re talking about that topic. What questions can we answer for you?
Respond to engagement as it’s happening
When someone responds to your question, read it out during the broadcast and respond back. Ask them a follow-up question. Answer a question they put in the comments about your topic. Create a conversation in your video with the comments rather than just a monologue.
Aim for longer than 10 minutes
In this article from VidYard, they notice that it takes at least 10 minutes for your online viewers to find out you’re doing a live video:
Don’t draw our a 60-second announcement to 10 minutes to hit this metric, but instead of 2 or 3 videos at 4 minutes each, for example, go longer on a single video with multiple topics.
Go live with someone else
For me, going live is about connection and conversation. Also, knowing that we want to hit a metric of 10 minutes in a best-case scenario, having a partner can really help the conversation feel more like a conversation, and less like a monologue for 10 minutes.
It’s also helpful if one person is ‘interviewing’ the other – asking questions, watching comments for more questions, and introducing the topic.
My personal favorite tool for this is Be.Live because there is no software to download so it’s always ready to go, you can ‘produce’ on the fly (meaning switching from shared screen to full-screen of you or your guest) and you can see comments in real-time and put them up on the screen like a lower third.
You can also add subtitles (like your website address) and now media to show during your broadcast.
Have an idea about going live on Social Media that didn’t make this list? Share it below so we can learn together:
Churches: Be Present online through COVID19 / Coronavirus.
At the risk of sounding like an opportunist (both in recommendations to churches and in the timing of this blog post), I hope that churches understand that while we’re not attempting to capitalize on the COVID 19 / Coronavirus situation, we can optimize how we serve people in our community while it is taking place.
This is going to take a shift in mindset for a lot of us.
Too many times we think of ‘church’ as a building. It’s not uncommon to say “See you at church,” or “We’re going to help set up at church.” I’m not refuting the thought that ‘church’ can be used to represent a building, but I am suggesting that the Church is more than a building.
If NONE of us owned buildings, we would still be the church. Not just in the sense of meeting where available – like a library or a high school – but also that church is a group of people, and THE Church is many groups of people participating in 1 central focus: Going and making disciples.
While not every person is choosing social distancing, many are. We saw more churches than ever broadcast their service online this week, and many in lieu of having an in-person gathering; AND we still had church.
Small groups gathered, families gathered, neighbors gathered, and people who were bored tuned in just to see what this thing was all about.
It was incredible to see the number of churches adapting and shifting their mindset.
AND We’re missing a massive opportunity to bring hope to our community if we stay silent until next Sunday
Yes, your Sunday morning service probably takes a fair amount of production. I saw everything from Pastors doing a quick selfie video to full-scale edited productions (in one case, I know the production team was up REALLY late on Saturday making it happen).
BUT there’s plenty of opportunities to continue to make an impact online for people who are choosing social distancing and self-quarantines.
Here are 7 ways you can continue to serve your community online over the next week (7 ways, 7 days… hmm)
1.) Have Pastor follow up the sermon from Sunday with a live devotional/prayer
Pastors often have a gold nugget leftover they didn’t have time to fit in, a topic that they wish they could have dug deeper on Sunday, a scripture that reinforces their idea, or feedback – like a question someone asked them after service – that they could clarify.
Have your Pastor go live – all that’s necessary is a phone and admin access on the Facebook page – and talk about that extra tidbit, that follow-up idea, that additional piece of clarification.
Offer to pray for anyone who would like prayer by leaving a comment in the video.
If you’re not sure about the value of Live vs Pre-Recorded, Ben Stapley talks about it here:
2.) Have your Kids Pastor do a live video to talk with the kids at your church
Kids, especially right now, are feeling bored and probably isolated. Many are used to going to school with a large classroom filled with kids their age – everything from recess to lunchtime to group activities to evening sports are grinding to a halt in their world.
Did your church put all of your efforts on Sunday into recreating your main service? Did you have a time and place for kids who were watching this week?
If you didn’t, it may be worth considering for next Sunday, but in the meantime, have your Kids Pastor do a live video (Create a Facebook event, send out an email newsletter and announce it’s coming so Parents can get ready). Read a bible story, do an object lesson, play some kids worship songs, and then offer a follow-up, like a YouTube playlist of the worship songs your kids sing in church each week, so the kids can worship at home, and have a familiar experience to what they’re used to on Sunday.
3.) Decide what you’re doing next Sunday and send out an email/text message to let everyone know
As early as possible, decide what the future holds, and for how long until you’ll make the next decision. It’s really easy for us to go stir crazy considering the possibilities for a situation. Make a decision and announce it so that your team can understand what the strategy is moving forward and announce that to your church.
A simple email like “For the remainder of the month, we’ll be having church online only. By the last Sunday in March, we’ll let you know how we’ll proceed together for April. Join us on our Facebook page (or YouTube or your website) for daily updates this week from our team.
4.) Have your band/worship leader do mid-week worship
You don’t have to go overboard on multiple camera angles, lighting production, audio remixing and lyric overlays. Take the pressure off, and just go live with a guitar or keyboard and a singer. Sing familiar songs that you’ve sung recently.
Paste your song lyrics in the live video description so viewers have the words to sing along. After the live video is done, download the video and add it to your YouTube channel so you can send out the link to that song later in an email.
Done Beats None. Don’t overthink it, just do it.
5.) Youth night live broadcast
Your youth don’t want to just sit at home and practice distancing. They’re probably on their phones more this week than they’ve been able to with classes and homework at other times.
Run through a typical youth setup – if you usually have icebreaker games, figure out a way to do an icebreaker with an Instagram story poll, or voting system. Have 2 of your key leaders on video, and have the viewers vote on who has to eat different types of food, or use a system like Kahoot to do group quizzes.
There’s no question your teens are on their phone. Meet them there.
6.) Do some online leadership or volunteer training
You know how it’s difficult to get everyone in the same room on a Saturday morning now and then to do some vision casting/leadership training/volunteer training?
Well, that hasn’t changed, and probably won’t.
BUT we’ve learned that giving people online resources that they can watch at their convenience has become really effective, and not time-sensitive. Now would be a great time to create and publish some online learning opportunities.
Masterclass, Lynda.com, and many others have proven this method.
Every now and then, I have to write a blog post that cuts deep. This may be one of those. Without using clickbait, or trying to stir the pot, I want to help you hear my heart and hear the hope in this blog post. If your church is on a path towards closing, please considering reading every word.
In this article by Thom Rainer, from Lifeway, he says that 6000-10,000 churches in America will close per year, which means that 100-200 churches that opened the doors last Sunday won’t open the doors this weekend.
It’s so sad to hear, and I wish that statistic didn’t exist. Honestly, I wish that there was only growth and not decline, but the reality is that’s not the case.
Here’s where it starts to hurt, and I’ll apologize in advance for how terrible this is going to sound: Objectively, it would be more helpful if the number of churches closing was higher.
Ugh. I don’t want that to be the case. I wish with everything in me that this didn’t make objective sense, but considering my experience with what I’ve seen and heard, first hand and through a network of people passionately hoping their church wasn’t on a decline, I know this to be the case.
Consider a business that’s in decline: profits have been down for many years, clients are decreasing, they are spending their available budget on staying afloat, taking on debt to pay salaries, or remortgaging their assets to drain their equity and pay the bills.
If this were the case for your business, it would be helpful for someone to come alongside you and say, “It may be time to sell while you still have equity in assets and find another source of income, or simply retire and enjoy your lifetime of work.”
We see this in outdated technology companies, retail stores that have lost out on a price war with big-box retailers, and restaurants that are in a ‘downtown core’ in small towns where retail is moving to the mall on the edge of town.
Where we don’t often see this strategy is with churches. Churches often hold on far too long to emotion, sentiment, and status quo beyond reason, in ways that businesses could never justify.
To be clear, I’m not talking to churches who have had a sudden upset in leadership, lost their building in a hurricane, or another catastrophic event. I’m also not talking to churches who have poor months financially or have gone through a split of some kind and your members are emotionally drained. I’m talking to churches who have a traceable track record of financial and membership decline over years or decades.
There are 2 paths for a declining church:
Keep doing what you’re doing until there’s nothing left.
Make a significant change and adapt in order to grow and make a difference in your community.
Path 1: Keep doing what you’re doing
Nothing is going to change. Insert the definition of insanity if you’ve kept doing what you’ve always done and expected different results, and then throw in a pile of other cliches.
It just seems so obvious to me that I can’t even justify boring you with the what, but I do want to dig into the ‘How.’
How is it that we can experience years or decades of decline, and still not be willing to change?
For each church, this could look different, but I believe any church can fall into this trap, either from success, indifference, or not knowing how to handle decline. This could be because:
We had a good month. A new family joined, and our finances were above our costs. Maybe this is a new trend!
We don’t want Pastor to lose his job, and he’s been doing this his whole career and he has a family, so what else would he do? We’ll continue to give a salary as long as we can.
From the Pastor: What else would I do? I don’t have a resume outside of working at my church and nobody will hire someone whose most recent track record is years of decline.
We’ve been in the community for many years, and our city just wouldn’t feel right without us here.
Maybe if we just pray more, this is just a season of difficulty we’ll pull out of.
We need to cut costs and remortgage assets, and now it looks like our cash flow is in the positive.
If we don’t reach our community, then who will? We’re here at whatever cost to be a light in our community.
Let’s just take it one step at a time. Let’s make sure that Sunday is good, then we’ll think about next Sunday.
People left the church because they saw a decline in the youth program, kids funding, social events, outreach opportunities, etc. We’re going to stick around and prove them wrong.
OR the case that I think most churches struggle with:
If we were to make a change, what would be the right change? What options actually exist? It’s easier to not make a change.
Either path means a change is coming.
Either you’re going to make a change, or you’re going to run out of people and money and a change is going to happen. You may be trying to preserve a building, or staff salaries, or your pride, but if you run out of people and money, you’re going to lose all of that anyway.
Ask yourself this question:
Based on our rate of decline (in attendance or finances) how many years do we have left at this speed?
Is holding on to hope without reason until our assets or membership hit zero the most effective way to help people in our community meet Jesus?
Path 2: Intentionally make a significant change
Often, the biggest obstacle here is knowing what a significant change could look like.
Here’s where the logic of ‘Objectively, it would be more helpful if the number of churches closing was higher,’ takes effect.
Here are some options for making a significant change:
Option 1: Merge with a growing church
You may have assets like a building, or investments, or a community center, and committed members, so what if you partnered with a church that is still meeting in a high school or renting space at a library, or trying to get the funding together to renovate a space in a strip mall, or looking to plant a campus in your city. You bring your assets to the table, and they bring a fresh system of what’s working to impact the community.
Your church’s legacy would be adding fuel to the fire of a growing church by providing a building, committed volunteers, and mentors. They’re contribution is taking your legacy and continue to reach your community.
In this case, remember that you’ll need to embrace their systems. This doesn’t turn into a “my house, my rules” situation since your way of doing things has led to a decline. You need to hand over the reins to their system.
One way to approach this option:
Give them the building, change the building to their church name, and let your members know that they can join the new church if they would like. Alternatively, there may be other churches in your area that are the same denomination or style where your current members may feel more comfortable.
It’s important to not present it as “They’re joining us” or “We’re joining together” but rather “our legacy is going to be gifting our assets to them. Consider joining their church in this building, or here is another alternative if you’d like something more in line with our style.”
In some cases, the members of the church gifting the building simply join another church altogether and hand over their keys (obviously with the proper due legal process).
Option 2: Liquidate your assets and help a new church plant or campus plant
You might have a substantial amount of equity between your building and property, but if your building is in need of renovations or a design overhaul, then it may not actually be considered an asset to a smaller, growing church or a church looking to plant a campus – it might actually be a liability to need to fix the roof, remove the wallpaper and paint from top to bottom or fix the parking lot that’s home to a few ducks and frogs and completely unusable every time it rains.
Consider liquidating everything and find a growing church to invest those assets into. Leverage your assets while they can make a difference, rather than waiting until they vaporize.
It could be tempting to “merge” with another church in your denomination, or a church of a similar style to yours, and pool your resources together. While I’m not advising against that, I would want you to consider if they are a growing church with upward momentum, or if you’re simply pooling assets to prolong their decline.
Option 3: Bring in new leadership SOONER THAN LATER
I’ll just let this one simmer.
If your current leadership (staff or volunteers) have only been able to create a track record of decline, then they need to have the self-awareness to step aside and say “I don’t know what to do, and for the sake of our church and our community, someone else needs to step in.”
Again, I’m not saying this should be the case after a few months or even a year or two of decline, but after more than a couple of years without an upside, (and in many cases, more than that) it’s time to look at the business side of things and say “Would a major corporation allow their CEO to lead for a decade of decline without making a change?”
Our mission as the church is much more significant than inventing a new gadget or turning a profit. Our commitment to reach that significance has to be reflected in our decisions, no matter how tough they may be.
This decision has to be made sooner than later. Waiting until there’s only red in the bank account and nothing left of the membership is like setting fire to potential. If you have any desire to see the organization turn around, give “the new guy” something to work with.
I’m not pretending this is an exhaustive list, and there may be another option that is a fit for your church and community but making the decision to make a change is the first step.
Do you know of any great resources that would be helpful for a church looking to make a change? Leave it in the comments below so we can learn together!
I’ve been hearing a theme lately at conferences, podcasts, blogs, facebook groups, published books, (and in private messages and emails to me. Side note: firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to chat) and it’s been on my mind, almost to the point of concern.
It’s not a point of concern because I disagree or I think it’s misleading, but the concern is that it’s true, and relevant to enough people to come up in so many unrelated contexts.
Maybe it’s time to consider moving on from your church job.
This theme comes up in different ways like:
Working at a church can be a terrible job.
Let me guess: Your “other duties as assigned” are taking more time than your actual job description.
If you leadership (read: Pastor, Manager, Supervisor, Board of Directors) doesn’t trust you to do your work, then find somewhere that allows you to do what you know to do.
We know that often church wages are sub-par compared to wages outside the church. If that’s causing stress, there are other places you can do similar work, clock out at the end of the day, and make more money.
To be clear, none of the speakers or writers were making a suggestion, and all suggested ways to work out the details, but they all had the message that it’s ok to move on if you need to.
I wish I had a magic wand to solve all of these statements, and if you haven’t noticed yet, I don’t.
I don’t even have answers to most of them, and definitely not blanket statements that you as a leader can apply at your church, because your culture and context is unique from every other church, however what I do know is:
Leaders: The problem is your culture.
Like it or not, your culture, informed by your values, drives every decision, delegation, and experience that your church is known for, whether internally with your staff or volunteers, or externally in your community.
I won’t pretend to even make suggestions about necessary steps, but, for a moment, here are a few things to consider when adjusting or evaluating your culture so your church is a great place to work.
Why Having Clearly Articulated Values Matters:
Your culture is informed by your values. Being unclear about your values (meaning discussing, writing them down, and having them come up in every discussion where a decision is made) doesn’t mean a culture doesn’t exist. It means that your culture is a wide net, with ever-changing results where it can feel like anything goes, and then nothing goes.
Whether you realize it or not, every decision made is based on values: What you wear, how you do your hair, whether you brushed your teeth, what you ate for breakfast, what time you woke up, which brand of toothpaste you use, whether you made coffee at home or picked one up on the way to the office – all of these decisions were made this morning based on your values, even before you left your house.
When you don’t have values articulated for your church, then each person is making decisions based on their personal values, which, understandably, are going to vary from one person to another.
This is why we get church splits over how to spend money.
One person values reaching people in our community and wants to update the carpet in the entrance to improve the first impression. Another person values reaching people who haven’t been reached and wants to use that money to build a church overseas.
Neither are wrong, and both could be the best answer depending on the organization and the situation, but the head-to-head values where one person can’t understand the other’s side creates an impasse.
When you make a decision for your organization or your staff, you’re making them based on your personal values, and each staff member is making their decision based on their values, and mixed together, that’s where ideas and opinions collide – actually, it’s where culture can’t come to terms with itself and either collides or separates.
Making group decisions based on only personal values is like trying to mix oil and water. Nobody is going to win.
Having clear organizational values fixes this:
When a church (or business, or organization) has clearly articulated your values, then an interesting phenomenon happens: People will allow the organization’s values to override their values when making decisions on behalf of the organization.
The conversation when making a decision moves from “I think we should….” to “Since we value X, then we could…..”
Since we value reaching our community first, then we could spend that money getting the old carpet replaced.
Since we value family, we could have a conference focussed around parenting, rather than a business conference.
Since we value multiplication, we could build a new campus rather than expand our current building.
Unless you’ve clearly articulated your values, there’s no way these conversations can happen.
What does that have to do with church staff?
I get it. Having 3-5 values doesn’t mean that you’ll be able to pay your staff more, or that they’ll produce perfect work the first time and won’t get their feelings hurt if there needs to be a revision.
Values allow a framework for discussions, and can inform:
How staff can have a respectful conversation with a different opinion from the leadership so they feel like they’re being heard. “Would you help me understand your decision based on our values?”
How and when you evaluate compensation.
Discussions for interviewing and on-boarding new staff so they’re clear on your culture
People who thought your valued something, but realize you actually value something different can move on to create a more cohesive team.
How staff help those they manage to understand the decisions they’re making. “Since we value X, the decision is to…. – Do you have any ideas on other ways we can help people experience that value in this situation?”
If you’re looking for a more hands-on approach, I help churches use this framework to create a Community Impact Strategy where we’ll not only walk through how to discover your core values, but also how to make them practical in a 6-month marketing strategy to impact your community. Ready to learn more? Send me an email: email@example.com
What are your church’s core values? Leave a comment so we can learn together.
2019 Pastor Appreciation Day is Sunday, October 13
While these may not be the conventional “Tie and Hallmark Card” ideas (although, this tie on the right seems like $14.99 well spent) as church volunteers, leaders, board members, or staff members, here are some ways to truly show appreciation for your Pastor for an impact that will last longer than that Starbucks gift card.
Maybe it’s when emails come in marked as high priority, or letting a call go to voicemail without leaving a message, or interrupting in a conversation, or texting while he or she is preaching that buzzes the apple watch, or (my favorite) giving a piece of paper when that could have been sent by email.
Learning what makes your Pastor tick is one of the best gifts you can give – not only to show that you appreciate your Pastor but also to learn and not accidentally invoke a pet peeve.
ASK: Is there anything I can help with for this weekend?
What this can sound like: I appreciate what you do, and I know there’s a lot resting on your shoulders, so is there any way I can help shoulder the load.
Thursday or Early Friday are great times to ask this question because that’s the point in time when we often realize there’s more ‘to-do list’ left than there is ‘week’ left.
This could be as simple as
Would you double-check that the coffee supplies got picked up? We ran out of sugar last week.
I’m looking for a picture for my sermon of a dog in a car. Would you help me find that?
Can you give me your feedback on this phrase in my sermon?
Could we change the sign out front by Sunday to say….?
There are often things that your Pastor will notice that others may not, and anything you can do to help take something off his or her mind.
INVITE: Bring someone to church
Nothing says “I appreciate our church” like believing in the vision and leadership like bringing someone to church. On Pastor appreciation, Sunday, October 13, 2019, start planning to have a day when everyone brings someone.
GIFT: Give a book that you’ve enjoyed or your Pastor has mentioned
Often, a Pastor won’t take the time to buy themselves a gift, so a simple gift can be a sign that you’ve been listening when they’ve mentioned wanting to read a book, and you’re supporting them as they learn and grow.
GIFT: Give them an unplanned day, or weekend, or lunch off
This could look different for each church, but offer to preach one weekend, or go to the “Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast” as your church’s representative, or take some meetings, or plan a staff meeting, then instead of everyone showing up, it’s just your Pastor and Spouse for lunch at the restaurant (but let at least one of them know that you’re skipping out…)
GIFT: Outsource something that has been too much for your team to handle
Maybe your Pastor has wanted to have more sermon clips show up on Social Media (like through SermonClipper.com), or outsource your graphic design to Church Media Squad to give a boost to your design team and create a higher quantity of designs for your Pastor’s blog, or social media images or your email newsletter, or on screens during announcement.
If there’s something close to your Pastor’s heart, find a few people who will each commit to split the costs for a year personally and make that dream happen.
WRITE: A Hand-written note
Rather than ask your church to bring in a card, hand out a piece of cardboard where each member of your church can write a personal note to you Pastor for Pastor Appreciation Day 2019. This will mean way more than some guy in Hallmark’s office writing a card that someone from your church bought.
Not only is this cost-effective, so you can pool your resources for another type of gift, but it really makes a personal connection from each person in your church to your Pastor.
DO: ‘Steal’ your Pastor’s car, and get the oil changed, car washed and gas topped up
Ok, probably not steal, but let them know that while they’re in a meeting, you’d like to take their car for an oil change. While you’re out, top up their gas and get the deluxe-premium-super-duper car wash. Everyone loves driving a clean car and take something off the to-do list.
GIFT: An online course
Choose an online course from a person your Pastor respects, or a topic that he or she is interested in. If you’re not sure where to start, consider Hope Made Strong’s online course which talks about how to stay healthy in church leadership when you’re working regularly giving all of your energy to helping others.
An online course might not be something they would buy for themselves, but they can go through it with the leadership at your church and see a definite difference.
ASK: What is one thing you would like to see our church accomplish in the next 6 months?
This is one of the six questions that I ask churches when I help them develop a 6-12 month community-impact strategy.
This could be an outreach event, seeing a certain number of visitors show up at church, setting up a church follow up process using Text In Church or to build a volunteer parking lot team.
You may be surprised at what the answer is to this question – it may be something fairly obvious, or it may be something you’ve never considered before, but mark in on the calendar, loop in all of your key staff and volunteers, and work backward to figure out how to get from here to there – what steps will it take? Who needs to be involved? How can we track progress along the way? How will we celebrate when we hit our goal?
GIFT: Bring in someone to help build a community-impact strategy
When I work with churches, we take 3 days on site and create a 6-month community impact strategy. We start with 6 questions that every organization needs to answer and end with clear branding, a marketing strategy to evaluate your guest’s experience at your church and follow up process, and an outreach strategy to help you become known in your community.
Your Pastor leads your church because he or she wants to impact your community and introduce more people to Jesus. Show your appreciation for his or her passion by helping align your whole church (Staff, key leaders, volunteers, and attenders) around a common goal of reaching your community, and create a written 6-month strategy to do that!
As much as a staff member or church member you’ll appreciate the focus and clarity it creates, your Lead Pastor will thank you for helping put words, actions and checkpoints to his vision for reaching your community.
We all have bad days, but is it time to quit your job?
I have regular conversations with people who are considering quitting their church job (side note: firstname.lastname@example.org if you want to talk). I’m glad that I’m trusted to be a sounding board for people who, in many cases, want me to talk them out of quitting.
(For clarification, this situation looks very different if everything is good and you’re taking a new job or moving to a new city, but this post is for someone who is at the end of their rope and ready to throw in the towel.)
In most cases, the people who contact me thinking they’re ready to quit really love their church, and they really love some major components of what they get to do – the people they work with, or the work they get to do, or the results they’re seeing – but something has come up along the way and they’re not sure how else to address it besides quit.
Often something has changed:
‘Part-time’ requirements and salary have started to creep into full-time hours
They took the job at a lower pay structure because that’s what their church could afford, they wanted to help, and suddenly their spouse has been downsized at work and lost their accompanying income
They were promised a decision-making seat at the table, but restructuring the organization leaves them reporting to someone who doesn’t understand their work
“Other work as assigned” has become so broad and inclusive that they no longer have time to do the things they love and were hired to do.
This list has infinite possibilities, but usually boils down to X (expectation) has turned into Y (reality) and now you’re not sure you’re still a fit.
5 conversations, Adam? I’m ready to give my notice today.
Hold up. In most cases, you took your job at your church because you love serving your church, wanted to help make a difference in your community, and had an excitement unlike any other job you’ve taken before – you saw this as way more than a job – so, before you jump to a decision, let’s see what conversations can be had to bring that excitement back for you and your church.
When I was getting ready to move on from my church communications job, it came with about 6 months of conversations and I gave 10 weeks’ notice. I wanted to do everything possible to position our church to succeed as we were transitioning, rather than create a void.
After a culmination of discussions with many people in many positions at many churches, I’ve discovered 5 conversations that need to be had before you quit your church job.
A conversation with your spouse / close friend
Someone who has known you for a while can help you see where you have repeating patterns in your life. Maybe the conversation looks like,
“You change jobs every 3 years. It’s been 2 and a half years. Is this something you need to mature out of?”
“You had the same complaints in your last two jobs. If you decide to move on, make sure you ask questions during the next interview process to find out if you’re going to run into this same complaint again.”
It’s possible – more than possible – that the problem isn’t the job, but that you’re the one who needs to learn and grow through this situation. If the problem is “My managers always have their thumb on me,” or “I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off,” then maybe it’s time to evaluate whether or not the job, or the manager, or the co-workers are really the problem.
Your spouse or friend will also help you recognize if the stressor looks like A, but may actually be B. Is it possible…
The issue is not your salary, but an issue of not having a budget at home.
The issue is not that you’ve got too much to do at work, but you’re distracted because a family member is sick.
The issue is not that your manager is putting too much on your plate, but that he or she has an idea and you’re not willing to have a conversation about saying no, or asking what could be dropped in order to take on that new piece.
A conversation with a mentor
Hopefully, you have a mentor in your life who is not your boss. Use this framework for a conversation with them: “I’m feeling __________, and I think it’s because of ____________. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
Here are some examples:
“I’m feeling overwhelmed and I think it’s because our staff’s expectation is that any project they come up with should be completed “By this Sunday.” Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
“I’m feeling frustrated, and I think it’s because the volunteer team I lead was built without clear expectations by the last person, so they don’t feel a need to show up on time, or sometimes at all. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
“I’m feeling distracted at work and I think it’s because when I took this job we agreed to part-time hours and salary, but the workload is more like full-time hours. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
“I’m feeling exhausted, and I think it’s because I want every sermon to be perfect and I’m staying up late, getting up early, and losing sleep that my sermon isn’t perfect. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
“I’m feeling undervalued because I have creative ideas on how to do my work, but my manager is telling me what to do and how to do it, which isn’t what I was expecting when I was hired. Would you help me think through ways to make a change?”
Often, there’s a solution that’s right in front of your nose: a change in perspective or a new piece of software to help you with your tasks or a conversation worth having with your team or the person you report to.
Set a clear action and a “by when?” date.
“By next Thursday, I will find a piece of software to help me get organized.” or “By our volunteer meeting, I will prepare notes to help our volunteers understand the impact we’re making and the importance of showing up on time.”
An exploration conversation with the person you report to
Hopefully, you’re having regular conversations with the person you report to – maybe weekly or monthly – and this is the first of 3 conversations you’ll start with them during this process. The conversation may take multiple sessions, involve other people, and at times leave you with more questions to come back and discuss later.
This exploration conversation is about my expectations and your expectations.
The framework for this conversation looks like “When I started, I was expecting _________, and it seems like your expectation is _______________. Could we evaluate and clarify the expectations for my position in writing?”
Let me jump in and say that most of this confusion is often caused by not having a job description. How is this possible? I’m not exactly sure, but it seems to be a common trend in churches. It starts with “We’d like to bring someone on to do X. Would you be interested?” and the X turns into X & Y, and then eventually X, Y & Z, and the kitchen sink, and the dishes, and then… well, you get the picture.
It could look like:
When I started, I was expecting to run digital marketing – social media, website, email newsletter, and it seems like your expection is that I’ll be doing all marketing, like printing, graphic design, and video editting. Could we evaluate amd clarify the expectations for my position in writing?
When I started, I was expecting part time hours, and it seems like your expecation is full-time hours in order to accomplish X, Y, Z, kitchen sink. Could we evaluate and clarify the expectations for my position in writing?
This conversation could also happen in the context of something you took on in a pinch.
When I was asked to take on running the nursery, I was expecting that it would be temporary for 3-6 months until we found someone who is passionate about doing that, and it seems like there hasn’t been any progress in finding someone to do that. Could we evaluate and clarify the expectations for my involvement in leading the nursery?
The follow up to this conversation could be that the expectations are reduced to match your hours, or your salary is increased to match your workload, or part of the expectations are outsourced to someone who specializes in that area.
Again, I’m saying this purely for the sake of redundancy: Expectations are way better addressed BEFORE you accept a job. If you’re about to start working at a church or haven’t created a job description, here’s a post I wrote about creating a church communications job description.
A conversation with God
This isn’t just thrown in for the sake of saying it. It’s actually really important to pray about this decision at THIS POINT in the conversation.
Take the conversation you’ve had with your spouse, mentor, and the person you report to, and pray about those conversations. Pray, listen, trust God.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God;
A ‘To-The-Point’ conversation with the person you report to
This has the risk of coming across as an ultimatum, so you need to be very clear that’s not how it comes across to the person you report to.
It could look like “This isn’t an ultimatum, and I want to be sure that I’m clear with you that after our last conversation, I’m still wrestling with ___________ (my salary, my hours, my workload, my temporary project that seems to have turned permanent, my relationship with a co-worker, etc) and I may have to make a different decision about where I work if we can’t find a way to resolve that. Can we discuss how to resolve that?”
This isn’t the time to express your feelings about the situation, but to give factual information: Basically, my ability to continue to work here is based on _________. Not “Here is the emotional reason why I’m a victim or under-appreciated or so mad that I’m justifying this decision.”
If your part-time salary isn’t sufficient for the full-time expectations, then that’s the fact. Being angry, or annoyed, or sad, or disappointed doesn’t change the fact that your salary is insufficient, so do your best to leave your emotion out of the conversation.
Don’t leave any facts out of this conversation. If your concerns are your hours AND a specific co-worker, then don’t just mention hours. You’ll put yourself in a predicament if your hours get address, but in 2 months you need to start these conversations over about that co-worker.
As careful as you may be in this conversation, it’s possible that this is the last conversation you’ll have. It may simply be perceived as an ultimatum, which leads to the person you report to saying “It’s not going to change, so I guess you’ll be moving on.”
To be as careful as possible to avoid this, be sure to frame your conversation as above with “Can we discuss how to resolve that?”
A conversation with yourself
Yep, I’m that guy who talks to himself. Late night walks are my friend, both for praying, and also for self-reflection.
This is where you’ll need to make your decision based on all of your other conversations. If your “To The Point” the conversation ends with, “Sorry, nothing can change right now,” then you need to decide what your priorities need to be, or are there external ways for you to continue to make this work.
A conversation where you give your notice
In my case, I gave 10-weeks notice. This not only showed goodwill toward the organization, but also positioned them to find a replacement, decide how they were going to address the decision with the staff, my volunteer team and the church (depending on your position, this may not be necessary), and gave me the time necessary to organize my passwords, put some pending systems in writing, make a list of services, clear up pending expense reports, etc.
Make sure you request a meeting with whoever you think needs to hear this conversation at the same time. This may be the person you report to and your Lead Pastor, or you and your spouse might meet with your Pastor, or it may be one-on-one.
This may be a difficult conversation to keep emotion away from but try your best – not that we deny the emotions that God has given us, but don’t treat emotion as the reason for your decision.
This needs to be a factual conversation, not driven by disappointments, blaming or a flippant attitude.
“We’ve had conversations about X. I understand that’s not going to change, so I need to make a personal change that includes finding somewhere else to work. My last day will be X. I want to thank you for the opportunity to be part of this team and learn here.”
There will typically be a few follow up questions, and it’s important to answer those as clearly and factually as possible.
Just to be clear: I did this wrong
I wasn’t emotional, and I wasn’t mad, and we didn’t have a blowup, but I was so unclear in what could have been a clear conversation that someone had to ask “Are you saying you’re leaving?”
Yeah, that’s embarrassing, and I shake my head just thinking about it, and even more so I basically had to resign twice, once without clarity, and once with clarity in the same meeting.
I started with “I love this team, and we’ve been learning about growing into our calling, and I would love to continue to be part of the team, and I want to maintain our friendship, and I think my next season is in business, and ….”
After I was asked, “Are you saying you’re leaving?” then I was able to create a helpful conversation.
For your benefit, the benefit or your church, and what they could learn for when they hire the next person to replace you, clarity is the best approach.
These aren’t always easy conversations, but you started working at your church for a reason. Don’t let a bad day, or a conversation left unsaid be your tipping point to walk away from something you love.
The 2 categories of your church’s social media content:
We’re past the point of needing to have a discussion about the value of using Social Media to reach your community. Hey, if your church is still having that discussion, that’s cool, but most of us are on social media so much that we’re using it like skip button on our PVR.
For most of us, it would be like discussing whether or not to have the name of your church on your building or signage outside your portable church to let people know where to find you. Social Media has become second nature to most of us, and with the simplicity of setting up an managing an account, it should be taken for granted that your church is using Social Media to connect and engage with people in your community.
That being said, we’re now moving into a world where Social Media is getting noisy – there are facebook ads, pop-ups, event reminders, notification, friend request, DMs and way more than I can handle listing here, so like social media has evolved, your strategy around social media has to evolve as well.
There are 2 categories to consider when posting on your church’s social media accounts.
Internal or External:
Think of a big brand – Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Hilton, Disney – imagine they used Facebook on Tuesday to let their customers know about a new product, then used their facebook page on Wednesday to remind their staff that there’s a mandatory staff meeting on Monday morning.
Whatever engagement they garnered from their new product promotion would be crushed by very few people in their followers finding any value in a reminder about a staff meeting on Monday.
Consider your church members like the front line of your church making it all happen – the cashiers, shelf stockers, maintenance, customer service, guest relations, chefs in the kitchen.
Too many times when I’m stalking a church’s social media channel (side note: Yes, I do this in my spare time) I see an all-too-familiar mix of internal memos and external promotions which is taking your audience on a confusing roller coaster of “Cool, I’ll like and share this” to “What does that have to do with me?”
I’ve been guilty of this myself, both in business and with churches I’ve worked with. It’s possible for all of us to fall into this trap.
Ultimately, too many posts that are irrelevant to the end-user is going to cause them to unfollow your account – Maybe not the first or second time, but eventually seeing what could be considered “ads” for irrelevant products is going to find it’s limit.
The litmus test for internal and external content:
If I don’t yet go to your church, do I care or could it affect me?
Pretty simple: If I know nothing about your church, other than it’s in the same city as me, do I care about what you’re going to post.
We have to move away from using our facebook page, twitter account, snap chat and Instagram (or whatever else you’re on this week) to communicate things to our church members and focus that content on content for our community to engage with.
Men’s Breakfast Invitation: External. We need people to bring eggs to the Men’s breakfast: Internal.
Family circus day: External. We need someone to work in the nursery this Sunday since our teacher is sick: Internal.
Here is a sermon clip with some tips from Pastor Bob on parenting: External. In future services, we’re asking parents to please take your kids to the foyer to watch service if they’re causing a distraction: Internal.
We’re looking for community volunteers to help with our Christmas Dinner for our city. External. Sister so and so just got home from the hospital. Click this link to volunteer to bring her a meal. Internal.
Just imagine for a second a billboard in a city that says “Mary is sick this weekend. Please call the office if you know someone who can fill in the nursery on Sunday.”
BUT, what about the children?!
Ok, maybe not “the children” but what about the people in our church? This is the pushback I get all the time as if your facebook page is the only way to communicate with your church during the week.
(side note: if announcements are the “Holy Grail” of communication at church, then a social media post is perceived as the “Holy Grail” during the week.)
Tools that are perfect for internal communication:
Email Newsletter segmented to specific audiences (ie. men/women, parents of kids/parents of youth, singles, young married couples, middle-aged couples, retired couples – you get the idea. Many people will fall into more than one category).
Facebook Group – Build facebook groups for your small groups, or demographics of people at your church, or areas of the city where they live, etc. Groups are perfect for connecting and having conversations, plus great for mentioning a need or encouraging an internal effort without promoting it to your community audience.
Text message services, like Text In Church, allow you to build multiple segmented lists so you can get the right information to the right people. Text beats out an email for urgent needs, or reminders (ie. Thanks for volunteering to help at the family fun day tomorrow. Setup starts at 4 pm! See you there!)
Provide a 2-3 sentence announcement for your small group leaders to announce to their groups. Be sure the information matches the people represented in the small group.
Internal Communication goal: Right information to the right people at the right time.
Forget telling your retired couples about the singles night, or your young parents about youth retreat, or your campus 1 families about a campus 2 event in another town. Get the right information to the right people at the right time – including information you provide to your community.
To sum it up; Tools for Internal or External communication
Signage in your church
Social Media pages
External Advertising – billboards, radio ads, mailers
How have you seen this working for your church? Leave a comment below so we can all learn together!
More and more, our churches are looking for strategies to cut through the noise of Social Media (and life in general) and reach our community. We know that a large part of our community using Social Media, and so it stands to reason that this is a practical way that we can take the hope of Jesus to them.
The question remains: How?
We’ve made great strides on Social Media in the last few years. Many (hopefully most) churches recognize it’s importance in their communications and outreach strategy (compared to 5 years ago for instance when churches were having discussions about whether or not to have a Facebook presence).
Now a social media presence is understood as a necessity. We’ve moved from conversations about whether or not to have social media accounts, and moved toward asking the question:
What do we post on our Social Media accounts to be most effective?
There are 2 concepts when it comes to social media: Content and Format.
Content is WHAT we post and format is HOW we post it, so follow my thought process here for a moment to realize that the intersection of engaging content and engaging format is a sweet spot for Social Media.
How can we be effective? We’re going to give our community the content they’re looking for in their preferred format.
Great content without a great format: Imagine your favorite dessert (warm cherry pie with vanilla ice cream – just for example) and then serve it on a dirty plate. You’re serving content someone wants, but in a format that would make them turn the other way.
Great format without great content: Imagine a perfectly clean plate with a beautiful dessert that you put in salt instead of sugar, and the first bite is repelling. Your format is great, but your content isn’t enjoyable.
NOW, what if we could serve a delicious warm cherry pie with vanilla ice cream, beautifully set on a perfectly clean plate. Bingo.
The question is where is that intersection. We’ll look at content and format individually, then talk about where they intersect.
What type of CONTENT is our community looking for?
“About half of U.S. adults have looked for a new religious congregation at some point in their lives, most commonly because they have moved. And when they search for a new house of worship, a new Pew Research Center study shows, Americans look first and foremost for a place where they like the preaching and the tone set by the congregation’s leaders.”
This is from a Pew Research article here (from 2016) that later goes on to say that those numbers are 83% of people are considering the quality of the sermons and 79% are looking to feel welcomed by, and a connection to the leaders.
In this Pew Research article, (also 2016) it shows that the younger someone’s age group, the more connected they are to the quality of sermons – Quality of sermons matters to 77% of ages 65 and older, but matters 87% to ages 18-29, and both age groups are highly interested in feeling welcomed by leaders.
Younger people are also more likely to take a recommendation from a friend or family member about their church – a recommendation like a shared post on Social media, perhaps?
An overwhelming majority of people want to find a connection to the leader – through the quality of their sermons and feeling welcomed by their leaders.
The people who are looking for a church like yours want to experience your sermon and get to know your leaders: These are both key factors in their decision about where to go to church.
It’s also a growing trend that people are checking out your church’s website and social media channels to aid in their decision about visiting.
We can help in someone’s decision by featuring our leaders and sermons on Social Media to help people get to know our leaders and hear their sermons to build a level of comfort and trust before visiting.
Answer: Sermons are the type of content our community is looking for!
Which FORMAT is most engaging on Social Media?
You probably don’t even need to keep reading to recognize that the answer is VIDEO, but for fun, let’s drive it home like a rental car.
Social video generates 1200% more shares than text and image content combined.
By posting video, you’re more likely to have people in your church sharing and posting with their friends – and a recommendation from friends or family is a key reason people will check out a church.
6 out of 10 people would rather watch online videos than TV.
By 2022, online videos will make up more than 82% of all consumer internet traffic — 15 times higher than it was in 2017.
78% of people watch online videos every week, and 55% view online videos every day.
59% of executives say they would rather watch a video than read text.
Viewers retain 95% of a message when they watch it in a video, compared to 10% when reading it in text.
Social media posts with video have 48% more views.
Good News For Churches: The intersection is SERMON VIDEOS!
The good news for churches is that the intersection for us between content and format is SERMON VIDEOS – a content and format combination that many of us are already creating, but underutilizing on Social Media.
How to make the most of your sermon videos on Social Media:
Now that we know where the intersection is, here are a few tips to maximize your impact.
Post sermon clips with links rather than full-length messages. Maybe your Pastor’s sweet spot is in the middle of the message from last week, or maybe there’s a great story that clipped away from a Christmas Message is actually a great lesson to be learned year-round. Create clips to help people cut to the meat, really learn what a sermon is like at your church, and create an “evergreen” or “year-round” content library that you can pull from.
The sweet spot for videos is around 60-90 seconds. People will watch longer sometimes, but this is where most engagement happens according to Animoto.
Post sermon clips that aren’t just teaching, but also stories that help people make a personal connection to your leaders. This could be a story from your pastor’s sermon about their life growing up, a recent conversation with their kids, a friend that came to Jesus, or a funny joke that really shows off his or her personality.
Format the clips for each Social Media channel specifically. Instagram timeline is best suited to a square video and has a max running time of 60 seconds. Instagram Stories are vertical video and are cut into 15-second clips. Facebook allows for a longer format and is best in widescreen, so if someone wants to, they can turn their phone sideways and the video fills their screen.
Add Subtitles: 95% of users watch video on mute. Think about when you’re lying in bed, hanging out in the break room scrolling social media, at the doctor’s office or “indisposed.” While your Pastor may be a very expressive communicator, someone waving their hands on stage isn’t enough for viewers to get the message or stick around for 3 minutes. Use a service like Rev.com to have your videos transcribed for $1/minute, then they’ll send you a file that you upload with your facebook video so a users sees the captions if they’re muted, and the captions go away if they turn on the audio.
Be consistent. Using a video strategy one week and not the next will just take your facebook reach on a rollercoaster of ups and downs. The best strategy is to pick a regular quantity of videos and stick with it.
Sermon Video Clips are the intersection of content and format for your church’s Social Media strategy to reach your community!
I’ve created a service that will help your church with editing and repurposing your sermon clips. Each week you’ll receive:
(recently, I wrote a letter to Pastors hoping to help start conversations about why communications teams are overwhelmed. This is a follow up to that letter. The letter that I wrote to pastors has gained more attention than I had imagined, with a 1400% increase in traffic to my blog on the day that I published it.
Along with the public shares, comments posts, and tweets, I also received private messages from people in that role who thanked me for helping them realize that they’re not the only one who face those pressures. As a follow-up, I write this.)
Dear Church Communications Teams,
I hope I was clear in my blog post that I wasn’t creating the list to create a justification for laziness on our communications teams, or entitlement.
Famously in church world, we have a habit of bragging about how bad we have it. Twice in recent memory, I’ve sat at a table with 4 or 5 Pastors (or Pastoring couples) I’d never met before, and they each took turns talking about how bad their latest church split was, or how their county wouldn’t approve their building permits, or a how long their church has been struggling with finances.
We have to push against this culture. We’ll never reach our communities with the compassion of Jesus if we’re so intent on making ourselves out to be victims, and the same is just as true with our communications teams.
In communications, the pressures of overwhelm are real, but we don’t have to give in or give up.
There’s a reason that some people thrive in the environment and others give in or give up. I can think of a dozen people in a blink of an eye who are thriving in that position, and here are some observations about how I see them blazing the trail that we can all learn from.
In the true spirit of the typical creative. Here are quick ideas and bullet points you can turn into a checklist.
Review this with your leader and find out if you are unclear on any of these details.
Build an online form to handle incoming design/event/promotion requests to get all of your information in one place. If you’re not sure how to do that, use a pre-built service like ChurchRequests.
Find a volunteer with an administrative gifting/project manager. You don’t have to do this alone, especially if it’s not your strong suit.
Use a project management software to track your progress where each department can see the progress without having to interrupt you to ask. My project management stack is simply Trello + Dropbox + Email. (as an alternative to email, a lot of teams use slack.)
Create timelines of how long projects take, and provide that timeline to all other departments. Maybe a sign requires 6 weeks: 2 weeks for creative and first proof, 2 weeks for revisions, 2 weeks for printing and hanging. Maybe a Facebook post is 2 days. Create the timelines so your departments know what to expect and are clear when you say you are able to or unable to fulfill a request.
The worst answer you can give someone when they make a request is “no”. I know we hear all the time that we need to learn to say more no often, but in our role, we need to try and find a way to make things happen.
Instead of No, you left it too late,” or “No, I’m too busy right now,” aim for “Instead, we could try THIS with the time we have left,” or “Instead, I do have a file from last year. Could we make it work if we just change the details?”
Take care of yourself
This is for sure the most obvious, and the least likely to actually happen. You might be getting overwhelmed because you’re in a fog from not taking care of yourself, or personal situations are occupying your focus at work.
Pray and read your bible.
Instead of burning an hour at night on your phone, turn it off and get an extra hour of sleep.
Eat properly and intentionally.
Stand up from your desk and go for a 5-minute walk a few times a day.
Turn off your phone either Saturday or Sunday after church, and let your team know you won’t be accessible.
Have phone-free / work-free conversations with friends and family over lunch or dinner.
Get your personal finances in order and save for emergencies.
Build your relationship with your leaders
Remind yourself that while they may not fully understand your challenges, you can’t fully understand theirs either.
Understand that their decisions may include factors that you’re not privy to.
Recognize that they may be trying to hide their own stresses to support you.
Remind them that you love them, you’re committed to them and you’re committed to the mission of your church. (do it now. Send a text or email)
Offer feedback, and recognize there may be confidential details that won’t allow them to fully explain what’s going on.
Trust them to have your best in mind.
Have real conversations, tell the truth, express your frustrations, and re-affirm your commitment to the team.
Ask for their trust with questions like “I see we have different ideas on this. May I try this my way to see what the results are?”
Talk about your role: “I think I would be a lot strong contributor to the team if I was able to focus more on X instead of Y. How could we move towards that?”
You can do this. The pressures are not impossible to handle. You’ll have to be intentional, but the results are worth the effort.
Whether your key communications and marketing person is staff or volunteer, you’ve probably run into hearing that he or she is overwhelmed from time to time.
You need to know that it’s not unusual for the position, not always something they are doing wrong, and not something that can be fixed overnight (or debatably, not something that can ever be permanently resolved).
There are some strategies that you can implement to help them address feeling overwhelmed and reduce the likeliness of it recurring.
My goal is not to defend or justify laziness, disorganization or an entitlement mentality. My goal is to give you a peek into our world – a world we can’t always articulate – with some practical tools to help so your communications department can reduce the likelihood of being overwhelmed and be as effective as possible in helping your church introduce your community to Jesus.
Why is feeling ‘Overwhelmed’ affecting your church communications department?
Before we dig into strategies to mitigate and address overwhelming situations, I wanted to dig in a bit about why they affect the communications department specifically. I know these details are different for every church, community, and culture, but generally speaking, here are some of the ideas that affect most churches.
Consideration 1) Vertical: The Communication Leader is Middle Management
The communications department is somewhere in middle management in the organization’s structure. Usually, the communications person is not the lead Pastor, and often they have someone working under them that they oversee – whether this is a graphic design contractor like Church Media Squad, or working with external software and teams like Text In Church, or a volunteer team on-site at your church.
While not making the decision, or sometimes getting input into decisions, the Church Communications person represents the decision as if it’s their own and communicates on behalf of the leadership and the church (internally or externally).
This can be taxing when we have an idea of how to best communicate something, which channel to use, or how to position an announcement, but we’re considered robots – following directions about how, when and where from someone who may not understand our tools – rather than considering us creative people who specialize understanding our tools and presenting ideas in a unique way.
Consideration 2) Horizontal: We primarily serve other departments.
Some leaders are in a solely-focussed role, while other leaders who are wearing a few hats may have to work in 2 or 3 categories. Your communications person needs to have their ears to the ground in almost every category, event and department at your church.
For example, the youth leader has a full plate getting youth services ready, preparing games, food, missions trips, weekends away, counseling students, communicating with parents and executing midweek services or small groups. While the responsibilities are diverse, all of those items fall in the category of the youth department.
A week in a communication person’s world may look like:
When is VBS?
How many new small groups are we adding this year?
What is our Social Media strategy leading up to Back to School / Back to Church?
Did the printer quit partway through printing the bulletins?
What are we including in announcements this weekend?
Did we get that email sent out about the food drive coming up this weekend?
Where did last week’s volunteer photographer leave the battery when they were done?
Is it time for us to rebuild the website? Kids ministry pictures are outdated.
Why aren’t we getting as many new likes on facebook this month as we got last month?
I need to get a quote from the printer on new banners for our parking lot.
Which graphic would best suit the upcoming series?
We often have to make decisions that are going to lead to some amount of disappointment in other departments:
We’re announcing this but not that (one person is happy and another is not.)
We only have one spot to hang a banner, so we’re hanging this banner up, but not that one (one department gets promoted, and another isn’t).
We’re not going to promote small groups in that way (now a whole group of people is disappointed because they wanted their small group to get an announcement, bulletin mention, yard signs, billboard, radio ad, a personal Instagram video from Pastor, and a parade downtown are all upset that you “don’t value their group as much as they do”)
Consideration 3) How long does that really take?
In addition to having both Vertical and Horizontal responsibilities, our “to do” list is often misunderstood or misrepresented. The question of “How long does that really take?” is an important part of the ongoing conversation that you can have with your team.
With the perception that “Posting on facebook is as quick as sending a text message” or “Creating a 2-minute video is hitting record on your phone and recording for 2 minutes,” or “I write a 3 paragraph email in 10 minutes, so writing a 3 paragraph email newsletter should only take 10 minutes,” or “Just send the bulletin to the printer and pick it up when it’s done in an hour.” (I could go on…)
In light of those perceptions, the ACTUAL time it takes to craft a Facebook post, or shoot an announcement video or write an email newsletter may seem too long and can create a sense that the communications person is unproductive or needs more on their plate to fill their work hours.
Did it really take you 20 minutes to edit a photo and create a 1-sentence caption for Instagram? Did it really take a whole afternoon to film and edit a 4-minute announcement video? You’ve been working on that email newsletter for how long?!
Keep in mind that a 40-minute sermon may take you days to craft at times, and other times, could literally take only 40 minutes, and many care and counselling roles at churches are driven by meetings: a 1-hour meeting takes one hour. A 15-minute meeting takes 15 minutes. Surprises and overruns don’t happen often when you have back-to-back meetings – you can simply schedule another meeting if needed for a future date.
The same isn’t true when creativity and technology meet at a crossroads.
While we have tools that make us more efficient, creatives often use the tools to do better work, not faster work – we may use a tool that gives us a better final outcome, but it doesn’t necessarily mean we spend less time picking a color, or choosing our words, or adding in final touches to a video.
Consideration 4) How much energy does that take?
It’s not uncommon for a creative person to be exhausted by 2 pm or 3 pm.
Sometimes we’re night owls, so our best ideas (and best work) happen late at night. It’s possible we were up until 3 am night working on graphics for church this weekend, then at the office at 9 am the next day for a staff meeting.
Maybe it’s that we’re morning people, so we’re able to knock out a creative video in an hour at 9 am, but that level of energy is going to leave us unable to put together a perfect tagline for the next series at 3 pm.
Inversely, someone who is a night owl who has a flex-schedule may work until 2 am, get into the office at 11 am and have some of their most productive time mid-afternoon with a great project to show from the night before.
Being “less productive” from mid-afternoon until the end of the day isn’t always a symptom of laziness (although, let’s be clear that sometimes it may), but it may be a symptom that we’ve given our best for the organization at other times through the day, and we need to recharge.
Just because something took 1 hour this morning, doesn’t mean we can turn around and repeat it in 1 hour this afternoon.
Consider a creative day like a boxing match. A punch is a punch, but that doesn’t mean that round 5 has the same level of sustained energy as round 1.
I’ve heard from many Pastors that they are exhausted after preaching for an hour on Sunday. It would be ridiculous to assume that one hour of replying to emails on Monday might take the same energy as presenting a one hour message on Sunday. The same is true for someone who is spending their creative energy.
The same thing may be true early in the week compared to later in the week. It’s different for every person, but there has to be some flex built into the schedule for considerations about “How much energy does that take?”
Consideration 5) Our world is always changing.
…And I don’t mean that every few years a new channel shows up. What I mean is that what you see another church doing on Instagram may not be able to reproducible the next week, or what you see someone with a large following doing on facebook may be a feature that requires 100K or more ‘likes’ on their page, and you simply aren’t there.
What you did on facebook last month to get an incredible response may fall flat this month, Instagram may add or remove a feature, and twitter may change how their timeline functions altogether.
You may not get the results you’re used to from one day to another, or your communications person might have built a strategy around a particular feature which is no longer accessible one week into a campaign.
A program they’re used to using could run an update and change the layout of the toolbar that takes them an extra half hour to get re-oriented, and Google may change what constitutes as “spam” email, and way fewer people may open the email this week compared to last week.
Unlike the worship team that turns on the same sound system each week or the kid’s team that has the same classroom space in your building, their world, tools (and the communication strategies/tools they use) are always a moving target.
Consideration 6) We execute with a strategy in mind.
While you may think that it’s only going to take a few minutes to publish a simple “last-minute” post on facebook, that may actually hurt your big-picture strategy.
In this example, Facebook wants to see engagement on each individual post to determine how often to share the next. If you had just posted on facebook a few minutes ago, it can actually hurt the impact of both posts by publishing too quickly again since there wasn’t much time for people to see and engage with the first post.
If your communications team has a strategy about what gets included in Sunday announcements, it could actually hurt the impact of the 3 important things they want to share when you insist on Sunday morning that there are 4 additional things that need to be mentioned without discussion.
They love your church. They’re doing this because they love the community, your vision, and they want to communicate effectively. They’ve made decisions that lead to a certain result (and your team would probably love to have a conversation with you about that.)
I imagine that you wouldn’t randomly walk into a youth service and tell the youth leader to add in a new song that night or tell the kids teachers on a Sunday morning to change their lesson plan. A random “I need you to do this now” doesn’t reflect an appreciation for the strategy your communications person brings to the table.
Something more like “We need to communicate this urgently. How can we best do that?” shows that you trust what they’re doing and you’re trusting them to handle the details.
Consideration 7) Our work is on public display
Ask your communications person how many communications they get per month about a typo on the screens or a detail incorrect on a facebook post (that instead of commenting privately, the event co-ordinator decided to make a public comment on the post to correct the details). It’s not that your communications person is sloppy, but we’re human and mistakes happen – and ours are often public.
Worse than actual, identifiable mistakes, we also get to hear everyone’s opinion about “Why would you choose that background?” or “Can we do something a little more subtle?” or “I don’t like that font” – and often from people who are unrelated to the event being promoted.
I once had a gentleman come to me after church to tell me that he noticed a typo in someone’s name on the screen during a video I made for our building campaign. He said “If we’re raising that much money, it’s disappointing that we can’t even spell someone’s name correctly.” (this was only one of the three times the name appeared during the video.)
I asked if he would like to help and preview the videos like a “proof reader.” He said he wasn’t the one getting paid to be sure it was right, that’s my job.
Most departments may have an internal memo with a spelling error, or the youth leader has an off night during his message, or in a meeting, something is said that could have been worded differently.
Our work is getting mailed out to the community, posted on the front lawn, shared on facebook, seen on the screens, or hung in the lobby.
How would you handle it if every time you misspoke during a sermon, someone stood up and let you know like it was urgent?
A fire alarm is urgent. Misspeaking, having an unclear thought, mentioning one scripture reference but turning to another, or tripping over your words is not worth someone yelling “FIRE!”
I realize that you’ll often get a follow-up email from someone about your message, but even that person knows to distinguish between what they think is important (important enough to send an email) and urgent (like jumping up in the middle of church service).
How can you help reduce the feeling of being overwhelmed?
Consideration 1) Vertical: Middle Management.
Move towards giving your communications person a seat at the decision table and allow them to earn your trust. You don’t have to flippantly toss decisions to them or take their recommendation every time, but a simple “What do you think?” or “If this was your decision, what would you do?” along with hearing the rest of the discussion is going to be helpful in communicating the big picture.
Consideration 2) Horizontal: Serving other departments.
With the help of that toolbox, you’ll equip your team do their best in tracking projects, create incoming request forms, and work with other departments in your church as efficiently as possible.
Delegate communications decisions to the Communications person, support them as the decision-maker, and bring them into a conversation if someone comes to you to request that you veto a decision.
Consideration 3) How long does that really take?
Ask the question when you delegate the responsibility and ask it again when a project is completed.
Come to an agreement on what is a reasonable expectation, and where time consumed on one project may not provide the best return compared to that same time spent elsewhere.
Be slow to assume that making a request is so simple that it can be easily fit into the workload instantly.
Build time into the schedule for your communications person to be creative, dream and explore new ideas. Stuffing every minute of their day is going to be exhausting, and you’ll get the same recurring results… which leads us to the next point.
Consideration 4) How much energy does that really take?
Have conversations like “What is your most creative time of day?” and “When do you do your best work?” and “What would an ideal schedule look like for you to bring your best to the team?”
Push back against the tendency you may have to set office hours. When Sunday rolls around, do you want to present your best work or do you want to check the box that said someone was present at their desk from 9 am – 5 pm all week? Of course, nobody at your church cares how many hours a project took, or whether it was completed at 2 pm or 2 am.
What matters when all is said and done is the end result, not the schedule necessary to create the result.
This isn’t to say that your communications leader can miss morning meetings if they’re a night person, or miss afternoon meetings if they like to start earlier in the day. But if there’s nothing scheduled at 9 am, and they worked an extra 4 hours last night, what difference will it make on Sunday if they show up at the office at 9 am or not?
Earn the best from your communications person by having clear goals and helping them meet those goals in whatever time it takes.
Consideration 5) Our world is always changing.
Have regular conversations that start with “What strategy do you have in mind for this event?” or “How are you planning to promote this?” or “What have you seen others doing that could work here?” Understand that we can’t promise the same results since the tools we use are always changing, and those changes are outside of our control.
Avoid saying, “We’ve done it like this before. Do that again!” or “They’re doing it. Why can’t we?”
Instead, have conversations with your communications person that lean into their wisdom, experience, and hands-on knowledge of the tools they have available to them. Ask questions that start with “What would you suggest for…?”
We’ll never get away from changing social media tools, but you can reduce the stress that keeping up with those details can cause by giving us some freedom to try new things, and explore. Recognize that at any time, the answer might be “That’s not how it works any longer.”
Consideration 6) We execute with a strategy in mind.
While we can technically post something quickly on facebook, it may not be the best strategic decision based on the technology, the way we want to present that information or the timing.
The same goes for what we plan to include in announcements, (or how many announcements), what we post on facebook, twitter or Instagram, how we’ll send out text messages or our email newsletter.
By all means, have conversations with your communications person about their decisions, their strategy, pick their brain about what and why, and be clear about what you’re hoping to achieve so they can help your church get to that end goal…
…AND, remember that this is our life and focus. We don’t take the responsibility lightly, and we’re not (usually) trying to be flippant or lazy or territorial if we say that your suggestion about how we communicate something may have some better options.
Consideration 7) Our work is public.
Learn to distinguish the difference between important and urgent. Important means “That’s worth noting and talking about later so that we try to avoid that mistake next time.” Urgent means “This needs to be addressed now.”
When you walk up on stage after an announcement video and make a joke about a typo on the screen, or send off a text message about the bulletin when it’s already printed and can’t be adjusted, then that’s come across as “Urgent: This can’t wait and has to be addressed now.”
It’s a bit overwhelming to be told that “This is urgent, but you won’t be able to do anything about it until next Sunday.”
Here’s an example of the distinction between urgent and important:
Urgent: “The time was incorrect on that announcement, and we need you to be here tomorrow at 7 pm instead of 7:30 pm” – That’s worth addressing now.
Important: “There’s an extra “w” before the website address in the bulletin. I’ll send an email Monday so a correction can be made before the bulletin goes to print next week.”
Support your communications team and recognize team effort if someone else points out an imperfection.
“We’ve been working on a lot as a team. I’ll have someone take a look this week,” causes much less stress than “So and So looks after our marketing. Go point it out to them” or “Here’s some public shaming in the form of a joke because I don’t want someone to think I’m responsible for the issue.”
Learn to delegate to and trust your communications department:
This could be difficult. This may not seem ideal. They have probably made mistakes before, and they are publicly representing your church, so if you don’t feel like the person in place is the right person for the job, please correct the situation sooner than later.
It doesn’t serve anyone to keep someone around whom you don’t trust, you won’t delegate responsibilty to, and you don’t believe knows what they’re doing in their job position. However, if you trust that they know what they’re doing, then let them do it.
If the person overseeing your marekting and communications is not someone that you trust to take the reigns, either get them the training they need to become that person, have the conversations about what indicators you need to see in order to build trust with them, or release them from the position. It’s not an easy request, but neither is the veil of trust when there’s no foundation to support it.
I want to be clear that your communications person is not against you if they have different ideas.
They’re not trying to steer the public side of the church in a different direction through social media or public relations. If they want to discuss a decision further, it’s because they see an opportunity for improvement, not that they’re looking for a reason to tear down. Please give him or her an open line to have conversations about what is working and what they think could improve.
They love the church. They love your vision. They love you. They need your support when they’re feeling overwhelmed.