When I was in college earning my Communications degree in Broadcast Journalism and taking a myriad of marketing, advertising, digital media, and public relations courses, one thing was drilled into my brain on a regular basis: Well-designed [and well-written or well-presented] content would always win the audience. You see this in news media all the time, right? No matter how empty, vacuous, or — let's just be honest — awful the story itself actually is, it can always be dressed up with elaborate videography, fancy lighting, special graphics, embellished language, and so on. And sadly, most folks will still watch, read, or listen to this sort of dribble, er, I mean, content as long as it holds their attention.
As the old business and marketing sayings go: "Eye appeal is buy appeal" and "Content is king."
But these statements are no longer true in the sphere of Church Communications, particularly in a post-COVID world. For too many decades now, we've been operating under the assumption that high-quality and well-designed content will generate or result in higher attendance and church growth/expansion. And this might've been true for a few years in the 90's and early 2000's. Plenty of companies, organizations, conferences, live events, summits, megachurches, and media franchises exploded in those days by successfully generating phenomenal content.
But not lately. Something has shifted. Something has changed. Blame it on the pandemic. Blame it on Hollywood. Blame it on Silicon Valley. Whatever the culprit, we — particularly in the Church — have been on content overload for far too long. And we've had our fill.
Of course, we still need solid content in the Church. Don't misunderstand. We need insightful and biblically-sound sermons, engaging media, livestream technology, stirring music, excellent writing, etc. It's all still necessary. Don't worry. You're not out of a job. Not yet anyway.
But these elements, and even the quality of these elements, will not be what ultimately draws people to your physical location. Simply put, folks won't show up just because you're a superb orator or because your church has a killer Instagram. Why? Because plenty of other pastors (both locally and online) are gifted speakers and plenty of churches across the country boast eye-popping social media pages. They can get that anytime they want, anywhere they are, just by whipping out their smartphone or tablet. That might be hard to swallow, but it's just reality.
What will draw people to your church, and keep them there, are personal relationships and a family/community atmosphere where they have a sense of belonging. And that will only happen if you a) pray for God to bring it about and b) work to make it happen.
So where do you fit into this as a Communications Minister? For starters, you can use digital and social media to foster relationships. In fact, you should. But it's going to mean caring more about engagement and interaction than design and perfection. If you're anything like me, that can be hard to do, but it's often necessary. It's going to mean responding to comments, direct messages, and e-mails. It's going to mean encouraging online conversations to eventually become in-person conversations. It's going to mean following up with online prayer request submissions and checking in with those folks the next time you see them at church. This sends a clear message. It tells that person: You're not just a random avatar floating in the endless vacuum of social media cyberspace. We see you and we genuinely care about you.
Bottom line? Yes, content is still important and necessary. And we should always exhibit excellence in our work and do it for the glory of God. (Colossians 3:23) But now it's up to us as Communications Ministers to use good content for the purpose of cultivating relationships and healthy community within our churches. That is indeed both the challenge and the exciting opportunity as we move into 2021.
I'm sure I left something out. What're your thoughts on how content is trending within the sphere of Church Communications in a post-COVID world? Leave a comment or shoot me and e-mail!
Remember in grade school when the teacher warned you not to plagiarize another student's work and attempt to pass it off as your own? There was actually good reason for that. Besides the ever-present possibility of being dragged kicking and screaming into the principal's office, there were other potential consequences and ramifications. (Not that I would know.)
Where am I going with all of this? Well, the COVID pandemic — and resulting shutdown of many churches — left a lot of communication ministers scrambling for digital media content that they didn’t need before (or at least didn’t view as necessary or worth the effort.) Maybe you can empathize. In fact, countless small churches had to embrace the digital world in ways they never would have predicted, some for the first time. And in the midst of the pressure and chaos, it was probably easy to seek out those really convenient “free graphic” websites and look to the mega churches as examples of “what to do.”
Yes, churches were copying one another long before COVID was ever a household term. But I think the trend accelerated all the more during — and arguably even because of — the pandemic.
While there’s nothing wrong with making use of great graphic and video resources (I do it myself), please don’t copy mega church design trends, content, and styles simply for the sake of copying or because you believe it will result in the same level of success. Now, just to be clear: I have adopted and adapted a ton of learning from mega churches. I’ve even been inspired by sermon graphic designs I’ve seen at mega churches. But there’s a clear distinction between adapting something to your church’s existing strategy and duplicating something from someone else entirely.
I know that it can be tempting, but here are a few reasons to avoid this trap:
#1. You'll squelch your church's unique brand and voice or its chance at ever having one.
I’ve written and spoken extensively about branding as it applies to churches, so I won't belabor this point. But the truth is that if you copy another church's digital look, strategy, model, and content, you're just setting yourself up to become a clone, at least by appearance, and a phony one at that. People may think you're an Elevation or Hillsong-style church, only to show up and realize you're a 50-member or less congregation on a dirt country road with a traditional style service. Your media needs to match your church's nature, heart, and soul. It needs to reflect who you are.
One of the best ways to accomplish this is to put some or most of the design work into the material yourself. For example, craft together your own combination of stock photography, custom fonts, and graphic design elements to create an awesome background template for your pastor's next sermon series. Don't rip off someone else's idea, or right click & save, or reproduce a mirror image. Add your own touch. Create something totally from scratch. Be original. Remember, people can smell a fake from a mile away. And nobody likes a fraud.
#2. You won't see the kind of digital and social media engagement that you desire.
Megachurch design styles rarely elicit likes, reactions, shares, or comments on social media among small or traditional style congregations. If you're trying to reach your people — and hopefully you are — then you need to design the sort of graphics and post the sort of images with which they will be inclined to engage and interact. This means knowing your audience. If you aren't intimately acquainted with your audience, you'll never be able to encourage them, inspire them, make them laugh, elicit a comment, prompt them to post prayer requests, or much of anything else.
For example, if your church is predominately senior saints [who are active on Facebook], they would probably love to respond to an engagement graphic like this:
However, they would be far less likely to engage with a post like this:
Right? Some of them have probably never even heard of the term "binge watching," or if they have, they may not understand what it actually means.
Know your audience and post the sort of designs, styles, and graphical combinations with which they'll be most likely to engage.
#3. It can make you lazy.
As I alluded to in the homework analogy, copying someone else's content just makes you plain lazy. You didn't have to work for the knowledge or work to develop the skill set. You didn't have to work to correlate your church's distinct brand and voice to your graphic design style.
Don't develop a habit of apathy when it comes to your role in Church Communications. You’re better than that.
#4. You could be fired or passed up for future job opportunities.
A longstanding habit of copying another church’s design style or content strategy could ultimately result in your being fired or the possibility of other churches not wanting to hire you. If you don’t possess any originality — or the ability to adapt successful digital design methodologies and communication strategies to your specific church — then your chances of landing that next Church Comms job will be far less likely. This isn’t meant to sound harsh, it’s just reality. And it’s also why you should work to develop your skills, even if it means reaching out to someone for some coaching.
#5. You'll create confusion about your church's model.
As a tech-savvy teen, college student, and 30-something, I've always had access to the Elevations, Hillsongs, NewSprings, and North Points of the world. But, as the Communications Minister for a small country church in south Alabama, I know that the digital design styles and strategies of those churches are not compatible with mine. Always study the models of other churches and become well acquainted with your own. Meet with your pastor for those discussions. You won't be able to adopt and adapt effective ideas and methodologies if you don't even understand your own church's model, purposes, visions, and goals.
There's a dozen more reasons you shouldn't just blindly copy megachurch design and digital media and expect it to work the same way within your small or midsize congregation. I've really only scratched the surface here.
What're your thoughts? How have you successfully adopted and adapted inspiration, practices, design styles, digital media methods, etc. from larger churches into your own? I'd love to hear from you. Drop a reply in the comment thread below or shoot me an e-mail!