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We see this in outdated technology companies, retail stores that have lost out on a price war with big-box retailers, and restaurants that are in a ‘downtown core’ in small towns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.
2021 Pastor Appreciation Day is Sunday, October 10
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.
(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.
Ever get a week out from the big day and get thrown a curveball? This FREE Planning checklist will help to get everyone on the same page with some helpful discussion questions about Promotion, Easter Weekend and Guest Follow Up.
• What are the topic and theme for Easter Weekend?
• Do we have any special presentations?
• How can we integrate our “Big Takeaway” into our kids classrooms?
In a culture dominated by media-driven communication, is your church doing its best? You have a message that’s worth sharing beautifully. We help you share the message of the Gospel via completely customized graphics that actually work.
Install the Plan Your Visit app on your website, then with easy signup forms and automatic reminder notifications you can start turning website visitors into church visitors! Get started with the Free Forever Plan.
Church Media Drop was created to help churches share what they have created. Together we can resource churches around the world with quality media to share the most important message, the good news of Jesus Christ.
“Every” church’s social media manager creates a schedule, and cast a vision for each platform, but you get busy. Things pop up. Priorities shift and often you have no control over it. Here are 88 ideas for those moments.
There is a baseline that we all feel we don’t need to communicate: The obvious. The perception is that we need to communicate just what isn’t in the ‘obvious box’, because the rest is, well, obvious.
I was at a friend’s house once where they were pouring drinks for dinner. I was offered the milk and poured my drink first; A full glass. My friends’ brother looked at me like something was REALLY wrong. In their house, they only ever poured half a glass of milk, that way, if they spilled, they only lost half of a glass. To them, this was obvious (and it’s pretty decent logic) but for me, not obvious.
The challenge comes when we convince ourselves about what is within the obvious box, and the danger with the ‘obvious box’ is that over time, it keeps growing. As we get used to the systems and processes at our church, they become more ‘obvious’ to us, but that doesn’t make them more obvious to our guests.
Consider these ideas about church. As someone who grew up in church, they seem obvious to me, but take a moment and view them from the eyes of someone who has never been to church in their life, and walks through your front doors this weekend.
We offer childcare during service.
Children have a check-in process.
We stand up when the music starts playing.
We sing out loud as a group in public.
We talk (or shout) back when a presentation is being made.
There is a time during the week that our teenagers get together.
We do this every Sunday, with the intention that everyone returns every Sunday.
I need to fill out a ‘connect card’, and stop by a booth to pick up a gift
I didn’t realize that I needed to fill out a card when it was my first time last week. Now it’s my second time, so I missed my chance to get that gift?
When they’re talking about money and passing around a bucket.
Is that coffee free?
Which way do I go when I walk in?
I want to learn more about Jesus, so I have to go buy a bible?
Recently, we visited Bay Area Community Church in Annapolis, and they gave us a magnet to take home after we checked our kids in (5 x 7 in size). Here’s a picture of the magnet:
This magnet gives us a clear understanding of our family’s faith journey could look like from now until the time our kids graduate college – It may seem obvious that at a certain age, we have a “Parent Dedication” or “Baby Dedication”, or that our kids will participate in a 4th and 5th grade retreat at that age, but this ‘map’ makes it that obvious that there is a clear plan and path for my kids to move from their current stages with intentional transitions to the next stages.
A few things I love about this idea that drives home Bay Area’s commitment to help my family’s faith journey:
There are clear stages that both parents and kids can understand and follow along with
There are resources provided along the way for parents to learn and grow
There are tokens that the kids can have a hands-on experience as part of their journey
There is a high frequency of “next steps”, not large gaps where families could fall through the cracks
It’s clear when the transition happens from “kids” to “youth” (that arrow that says BASM – Bay Area Student Ministries)
What may seem obvious to you, is an important starting point for communicating to your first-time guests. Don’t take anything for granted or make any assumptions about what they know and how they’re expected to respond.
My wife and I (with our 3 boys) left our hometown in Canada in August 2018 to travel North America and visit churches along the way. So far, as of the end of October 2018, we’ve visited 8 churches, and less than half have utilized this simple follow up strategy.
I think you’d agree that following up with your guests after they’ve visited your church for the first time is a helpful way to increase the likelihood that they’ll visit a second time.
After all, there’s only so much information you can expect them to retain from their time at your service, and we can’t expect everyone to read all of the “more about us” paperwork we send home with them after church, so providing guests with bite-sized, relevant information is a helpful way to increase their awareness of what your church offers and how they can get connected.
While this is the case, the flip side is “How can we get more first-time guests to complete the connection card?” and the question is relevant, but maybe there’s a way they’re already giving you contact information that you’re not yet utilizing.
At 8 out of 8 churches, we’ve checked our kids in to their classes, meaning that 100% of the time, we’ve given our personal contact information (at least phone, email, name, and address) so that if we were to lose our kid’s pickup tag, there would be a way to verify we are who we say we are BUT in only 2 cases (25%) was this information used for follow up purposes.
How do we know that the check-in information wasn’t being used, even if the connection card information is?
Simple: My wife’s information goes into Kids check-in, and my information goes on the connection card – that way we can see who follows up in which way.
What do we know about someone who checks in their kids for the first time?
With a fair amount of certainty, we know that:
They are new, or relatively new to the church (even if they kept their kids in service with them the first few times they visited).
They have one or more kids (and we know the kids’ ages)
If the kid is a newborn (maybe the family has been coming for a while and just had their first child)
We know the age of the person checking them in (most times, our birthday information is collected to cross-reference against a drivers license if we lose our pickup tags and need to provide photo id.)
The parent’s first name, email address and phone number
The area where they live (if an address is collected)
Which service they attended (if you have multiple services)
What can we do with this information?
Put their information into your automated follow-up email and text service (Text In Church for instance) in the same way as you would treat someone who completed a connection card.
Provide information to that family about small groups, midweek activities, and events coming up that are relevant to the kids and parents ages.
Congratulate the parents on the birth of their first child, and provide information about baby dedications.
Create a reminder system for when that child reaches the right age to attend Youth Group.
Welcome them as a guest and offer to answer their questions. (for bonus points, send the email from the person who leads your kids’ department)
Introduce them to someone in the church of a similar age who lives in their area
Would it be best if everyone always completed the new visitor connection card? Sure, but if they’re providing their information another way, don’t miss the opportunity to follow up.
My father-in-law, John Power was an important voice in my life. He knew how to motivate teams to buy in and feel connected to where we needed to move as a whole. He was an innovator ahead of his time. He would write blog posts, print them out and distribute them at team meetings before blogging and Social Media were a thing.
He passed away in 2008, and recently I found this ‘blog post’ that he created and printed for a leaders meeting. It’s nearly point-form, so I’m sure he had much more to say about each of these, but I wanted to share what I had.
10 ways to maintain momentum with your team:
1. You Are Here:
Continually paint pictures of where you are going and show them where they are in them.
2. How’s It Going?
Regularly ask about their dreams, not just their obstacles
3. Encourage Encouragement
Purposefully look for something to encourage in your team members. Not flattery, but encouragement.
4. Fresh Fruit
Do what it takes to respond positively and immediately to good results/actions no matter how small.
5. Dream Along With Me
Regularly hold ‘dream meetings” where people can dream out loud without any restriction or price.
6. Credit Where Credit Is Due
Publically acknowledge by name the input or achievements of your team members.
7. You Have Mail
Use and encourage the use of email among your key leaders to promote up and down communication.
8. You Say It’s Your Birthday
Log and acknowledge the birthdays of your team members.
9. Handwriting Analysis
Occasionally send personal hand-written notes for no reason whatsoever.
10. Fix Forward
Teach your teams by example, not to solve problems of “what could have been,” but rather fix in advance “what will be.”