(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.
Get clear on what’s expected of you
Often, stress comes when we’re simply unclear what’s expected from us, and the moving target is hard to hit. Here’s what should be covered in a church communications job description.
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.
- Really big White board calendar. (This is a link to my favorite one.) Post it on the wall in your office and broadly track major projects, any major focus (like Christmas and Easter Promotion and timeline) and use it as a general creative scribble space for one the fly brainstorming or lists.
Have the conversations
- “I have a full week, and I was just asked to do X. I think this would be the best prioritization, which means that wouldn’t get done. What do you think?”
- “Here’s what’s on my list that has to be completed this week. May I skip “staff fun day” to get this completed, or is there something on the list that I can let go of?”
- “I hear you asking for this end result, and I think there may be a better way than the original suggestion. Here’s what I have in mind and why. What are your thoughts?”
If you’re not comfortable having conversations with your leaders that offer a different perspective than what they might currently hold, then I would recommend reading the 5 dysfunctions of a team by Patrick Lencioni, and Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute.
Learn to say ‘Instead’ as opposed to ‘No”
- 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.