Most people have a fairly decent idea of what Church Communications Directors, AVL technicians, social media managers, graphic designers, production assistants, videographers, and photographers do...on Sundays. You'd practically have to be blind to not see us flying around the room like decapitated chickens performing last minute checks, flipping on cameras, monitors, and soundboards, running audio cables, maneuvering lighting into position, frantically typing sermon teaser copy for the livestream, booting up presentation software, double and triple-checking song and sermon media, and gulping large amounts of Starbucks between every other task.
But, the reality is that few people have even the slightest grasp on the amount of time, effort, energy, and personal sacrifice that goes into this sacred, difficult, and exhausting calling. We don't see all of the behind-the-scenes work required to launch a new ministry, brand and market that new ministry, draft and design a sermon series template all week long, update and manage a website, implement and manage a months-long social media campaign, create endless, original and high-quality graphics on a regular basis, foster digital and social media engagement, or edit several hours of audio content or video footage down to the neat little packages that you enjoy in your Newsfeeds and podcasts throughout the week. The honest truth is this: Most of us don't have a clue what it takes to lead, operate, and maintain a Church Communications ministry. All we know is that it exists and it [hopefully] works the way that it should [especially on Sunday morning.]
After 20-plus years in the Church Comms space — particularly in the small church world — I know firsthand the challenges, demands, and unseen truths that accompany this often overlooked, misunderstood, and under-appreciated role.
Here's 10 things that your Church Communicator [probably] won't ever tell you:
#1. I spend my own personal money on a lot of digital media, software, and/or equipment.
There are countless things required to produce the various forms of media you see, hear, and enjoy from your church on Sundays and online during the week. One of those things is cash. Quality design programs like the Adobe and Affinity suites don't come cheap. High-end video editing software like Final Cut Pro, Adobe Premiere Pro, and DaVinci Resolve aren't freebies. Laptops, tablets, and cameras cost an arm and a leg. And stunning graphics, visuals, and stock photography [which are needed on a daily basis] all add up over time. The average church doesn't have funds set aside for any of this. It's usually the last thing they would even think to work into the budget. Most Church Communicators are pulling out their own debit and credit cards to acquire these things, oftentimes without ever telling a soul. They're creating personal accounts with Lightstock, iStockPhoto, and a slew of others. They're buying their MacBook Pros, their software subscriptions, their iPads, and much more all on their own dime. They're making sacrifices and cutting things out of their own personal budget so that the Gospel can go forward through the use of digital and social media.
#2. I work while the rest of you are asleep.
Many Church Communicators are bi-vocational or have other personal and family responsibilities during the day. Quality graphic design takes a lot of time, drafting, and redrafting. This inevitably leads to absurd work hours (including posting social media content while on-the-go) and many long nights of graphic design, video editing, and much more. [It doesn't help when pastors send us their sermon notes on Friday or Saturday evening.] It's not uncommon for Church Comms folks to stay up until midnight or later toiling away on their latest projects. Yes, they really are sleep deprived zombies. Yes, they really do survive on coffee and other caffeinated beverages.
#3. I can't solve every technological problem or perform miracles.
If a piece of equipment dies midway through a service, there may be no reviving it. These things happen. It's called reality. Even the best technology isn't flawless 100 percent of the time. Remember that the next time your church's livestream goes down or the soundboard crashes for no reason at all. You may be complaining about missing the service because you were elsewhere that day, but your Church Communicator is enduring a barrage of criticism for failing to solve an unsolvable issue.
#4. I sometimes skip out on family time and turn down invites from friends.
Due to the nature of their work, Church Communicators practically live behind computer screens — at home, in the office, during the worship service, and all throughout the week. It's not uncommon for them to work straight through a lunch break, cancel plans with family, or reschedule with friends so that they can edit video, design graphics, send the weekly e-mail newsletter, and update social media. They take what they do seriously. They take pride in their work. They want to meet their deadlines. And, most importantly, they want the church to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the digital space and to "the uttermost ends of the earth."
#5. I battle perfectionism and grapple with being a workaholic.
The balance between work life and personal life is a hard one to find. It's different for everyone. Church Communicators are constantly thinking about how they can better serve and care for their congregation, their local community, and the world through the use of digital and social media. They never stop striving to improve their skills and abilities. They draft and redraft until designs are perfect. They edit and edit again. They possess a strong urge and desire to see the local church fulfill its mission and reach more people for the Kingdom. Yes, this is a high calling. Yes, these passions are virtuous. But when the emotional, physical, spiritual, and social worlds collide, it can wreak havoc. It's often difficult for Church Communicators to "turn off" creative-perfectionism-work-mode in order to focus on rest or family time.
#6. Being a Church Communicator can be lonely.
Earlier I mentioned that Church Communicators often miss out on family and/or friend time. Moreover, it can be overwhelmingly challenging for them to find anyone outside of the church world who can relate to or understand what they do. And sometimes it can be difficult to befriend anyone inside of the church itself. There's also the occasional difficulty associated with being both a Church Comms Director over a team, while still being a close friend to fellow staff members and other techies. In an ethical quandary, you may find your strong, assertive, and decisive leadership traits completely at odds with your empathetic, supportive, and compassionate tendencies. In other words, your role as a leader may battle and jockey against your position as a friend. Some Church Communicators tend to isolate themselves in these situations.
#7. I'd like to participate in prayer times or altar calls, but often can't.
In many live worship service settings, a Church Communicator cannot just up and abandon his or her post. This is particularly true for camera operators, videographers, sound and audio technicians, and livestream managers, but applies just as much to content creators, photographers, and engagement leaders as well. Many small and midsize churches are understaffed and/or completely volunteer-based, particularly the digital media and communications teams. When the pastor opens the altar for prayer, it's often the Church Communicator who cannot participate because he or she is manning a piece of important equipment that requires their full attention. In fact, it's not uncommon for social media managers and livestream operators to be praying with and for online viewers in realtime as they submit prayer requests in the digital space during these moments. To do this, they have to remain at their screens.
#8. Yes, believe it or not, sometimes I want to talk about subjects outside of ministry and technology.
In case you're unaware, Church Communicators are people too. Contrary to popular belief, they're not aliens from outer space. Yes, they are weird. But they have other interests. They have likes and dislikes and hobbies. They even have favorite foods, music, movies, and sports teams. (Shocking, I know.) While they may wrestle with working too much or being perfectionists, they also find great relief from stress in having conversations about their most recent fishing adventure, the new restaurant or coffee shop they just discovered, the TV drama they can't stop watching, or the captivating book that they haven't been able to put down.
#9. I miss Sunday School hour or small groups because I'm in pre-service prep.
Most Church Communicators arrive an hour or more before the main worship service starts in order to launch digital media, boot up presenter software, test microphones, check band instruments, mix audio levels during worship band warm-up, run cables, double and triple-check livestream platforms, and perform a half dozen other tasks that will ensure a smooth and error-free morning for everyone in attendance. When a mistake, error, or problem is discovered before the service, they scramble to resolve it to the best of their abilities. They arrive early enough to account for the possibility that on any given Sunday this could occur. (See #3 above: No piece of technology is perfect 100 percent of the time.)
#10. Sunday is not my only work day.
Those in the Church Comms ministry world have a saying. It goes like this: "Social media never sleeps." — Just like most other full-time staff positions, Church Communicators work every day of the week, whether from the office, from home, or the local coffee shop. They have an abundance of complex and demanding responsibilities. They juggle a wide assortment of tasks and projects. And they shoulder an immensely heavy, stressful, and often utterly exhausting workload. Graphics, videos, photos, sermon audio, regular social media posts, website updates, marketing materials, logo designs, ministry branding: These things don't magically appear on their own out of thin air. Someone has to spend exhaustive hours behind a screen creating, crafting, customizing, and designing them. Videographers and photographers will work on large projects for weeks or months at a time. In addition to all of this, a good Church Communicator will also spend Monday through Saturday prepping for the next Sunday (and don't forget Midweek service), while remaining in regular contact with pastors and fellow staff members. Last minute digital media design and implementation is the stuff of nightmares and they avoid this as often as humanly possible.
If there's one thing you can take from this list, it's this: Church Communicators are not perfect people. They're just as broken as the rest of us. But they're called by God to use their gifts, talents, and abilities to lead and minister to other broken people; to show the love and grace of Jesus to their church, community, and the world; and to trumpet the Gospel forth through every visual and auditory medium possible. This is the passion and the calling that keeps them going during those long nights and even in the midst of criticisms.
And remember: they're doing the very best they know how.