After the initial thrill of laboring in Church Comms ministry begins to fade, you might feel brutally punched in the gut by a handful of disconcerting realities. Don't get me wrong. Church Comms is still fun and, if it's your calling from God, it can be one of the most fulfilling things you choose to do with your life. Take it from me. I'm 36 and I've been in church tech since I was a nerdy high school sophomore. Fast forward to now and I've been the Comms Director for my church for over a decade and counting. And the last four years-plus as full-time Comms Director for 6.14 Ministries — a church revitalization 501(c)(3) nonprofit that my dad and I launched together here in south Alabama in 2018. I've been having a blast. (I'm still a nerd too.)
It just would've been nice if someone had given me the magic codebook on digital media ministry long before I found myself drowning in countless late-night (sometimes overnight) sermon graphic template redesigns.
But, since no such book actually exists (shocker, I know), allow me to use this post to reveal a few of the mysteries and unknowns. I'll be sure to wrap it all out with some thoughts on how to maintain your sanity and still have a blast in the process.
What No One Ever Tells You About Church Comms:
#1. It's often utterly exhausting.
I'm always tickled by the zealous newbies who come barreling headfirst into digital ministry thinking that as long as they write occasionally engaging content on Facebook, they're golden. I wish it were that simple. Good Church Comms Ministers will spend way more time personally replying to comments, direct messages, e-mails, prayer requests, etc. and will analyze and adjust things across multiple social media platforms as needed. They'll also scrutinize data in the dashboards and use it to better market the church in an effort to reach the local community and the world with the Gospel. It's a full-time, 24/7 job. The Internet and social media never sleep (which means you won't either.)
#2. Church Comms is a tough grind and graphic design is only a part of it.
For some, this might be earth-shattering news. Design is only part of the Church Communications process. Marketing, public relations, print material, digital and social media management, live event operations, personal contact/communication, conflict resolution, pastoral staff communication, audio/video/lighting, board room proposals and budget pitches, and much more are all part of this ministry niche. Also, you have to work with people from every walk of life imaginable, which keeps things interesting to say the least, especially if you're an introvert.
On a side note: Design won't always be effortless. What you envision for your pastor's sermon series theme may be completely different than what he has in mind. Be willing to go back to the drawing board as many times as it takes.
#3. Social media is fluid and things change without warning.
One of the more difficult and complex aspects of the social media landscape — particularly over the last two to five years — is that it is constantly shifting and changing. This is especially true for platforms like Instagram and Facebook, where the algorithms seemingly change on a dime. (Ever heard of the Metaverse?) As a Church Communicator working in social media management, you'll need to keep up with these developments. You can expect little things to change along the way — like page cover sizes and image resolution requirements — but algorithms are a whole different ball of wax.
#4. People can be rude, mean, and critical, even unintentionally.
You'll come to develop a thick skin working in Church Comms (and in ministry in general.) People will insult, change, modify, or even completely delete and remove things that you spent countless hours designing, planning, structuring, coordinating, and establishing. A lot of times this will happen by accident. Sometimes it will be on purpose. You can't always take it personal, even when it feels personal. Respond with Christlike love and kindness, even to those who complain about worship media font sizes being too small to read or the lighting in the sanctuary being too dark during the music. If you got into ministry looking for a pat on the back every week, then you might want to start searching for a new line of work. Just sayin.'
#5. Page likes and follows don't matter. Engagement, discipleship, and spiritual growth do.
One of the more prevalent fallacies I see amongst today's generation of Church Comms creatives is the assumption that digital fame equals more disciples. That's not always the case. In fact, it's rarely the case. You can have an incredibly entertaining, interactive, and visually stunning digital presence that attracts hoards of new followers and never see an ounce of spiritual growth, life transformation, or discipleship take place as a result. Spend less of your time and energy trying to build an impressive online appearance and more time being the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital sphere.
#6. You're not Superman/woman. You need a team.
Believe it or not, you need sleep and time to refuel like anyone else. You're not indestructible and you can't design, manage, post, write, and oversee everything yourself. Whether your Church Comms objectives are rudimentary and basic or impressive and complex, you'll need a team of people to help with everything that is required to meet the goals. Make sure that your team members feel comfortable asking questions and admitting when they're unsure of how to do something. The more you help each other and build off of one another's strengths, the better team you'll be.
#7. Even the best technology will fail.
I don't care if it's the latest, greatest Apple gizmo or gadget. I don't care how many knobs, lights, or channel controls it has. If it can shatter, explode, or burst into flames for no apparent reason and at the worst time possible, then it will. It's only a matter of when. These fun moments will force you and your team to think on your feet and maintain your cool while simultaneously solving the problem. Good luck.
#8. Theology is a part of your job.
It might be the natural impulse of many a Comms Director to have volunteers engage with and reply to visitors to the website and social media platforms. (Believe me, I'd love to do this myself.) But as a leader you have to remember that your digital audience is full of real people who have real-life situations. One thing that COVID taught us in particular is that it's more important than ever to designate someone who can pray for people online in real time, comfort them, answer their questions with theologically sound explanations, reference Scripture, and truly minister to them. (If that person has to be you, then so be it.) Working in Church Comms means that you will often be the voice of your church and there is an extremely large weight that comes with that position and the responsibility should not be taken lightly.
#9. Your ideas won't always sell.
Creatives occasionally have a tough time being told to go back to the drawing board. Whether it's lighting projects, audio production, graphic design, digital and social media management, or anything in-between, we retain a strong and deep sense of personal connection to our work. I've pitched many sermon graphic designs over the years that weren't even close to what the pastor was looking for. I have to be okay with returning to the drawing board each time. So do you. Keep the bigger picture in mind and remember that all of your work is for Christ, not men. (Colossians 3:23-24)
#10. Shortcuts are not your friend.
Not only are shortcuts in Church Comms a bad idea, they don't even really exist in the first place. Taking the easy way out on graphic design, digital and audio production, social media management, etc. will just cheapen the quality of your work and lead to oodles of problems and headaches for you, your team, and the church. There are no "hacks" in this ministry niche and to try to use or implement any just makes you look like a lazy hack yourself. Stay away from these, as tempting as they might seem.
How To Stay Sane, Have a Blast and Other Important Final Thoughts:
Church Comms is hard work. Period. So is ministry. The combination of technology and ministry is an interesting and completely different animal altogether. A few tips, thoughts, and advice from personal experience:
What do you wish someone would've told you about Church Comms early on? Is there a thought you want to share with your fellow techies and creatives? Drop a comment in the thread below or shoot me a direct message!