The Case for Church Communications Part 1: What is a Director of Communications?

I’ve been asked a lot lately about the role of a communications person in a church and actually haven’t found much out there to define what the role of communications is in the church, and to explain why the role of a communications person is important.

So, I decided to take a stab at it and write my thoughts.

This will be the first in a series of posts where I’ll plead my case for why churches need communications people, what they should be doing, and why it’s important.

Most people, when I tell them what I do, have no idea why a church needs a communications person. The most common reply I usually get is, “oh, so does that mean you make the bulletins or something?”

Well, while that is something I do… I honestly do a lot more. The role of church communications is changing… it’s no longer about a church secretary typing announcements into a pre-printed bulletin shell. Church communications now involves a lot of planning, strategy and people who are focused on directing the different communications channels of a church.

So let’s get down to the basics, what is a “Director of Communications” anyway?

Wikipedia defines a director of communications in the corporate world as being:

a position in the private and public sectors. A director of communications is responsible for managing and directing an organization’s internal and external communications. She or he supervises public relations staff, creates communication strategies, and serves as the key spokesperson and media contact for the organization.

The director of communications usually reports directly to the chief executive officer (CEO) of the organization, and advises the board of directors on all communications work.

In an organization, the director of communications directs the Communications Department, sometimes called a Public Affairs Department. The director of communications may be assisted by a deputy director, clerical staff, and communications specialists and public affairs officers.

Or, to make it more “churchy”…

The director of communications is responsible for managing and directing a church’s internal and external communications. They work to create communication strategies and (depending on their role or level of authority) serve as the key spokesperson and media contact for the organization.

The director of communications typically reports to an executive pastor and/or lead pastor and advices the board of Elders/Decaons on all communications work.

The director of communications handles all messaging in the church outside of the Sunday morning messages and works to built teams to support all facets of church communications (print, media, web, etc.).

Communications directors should be champions of the church’s vision, being a key person involved in how it’s messaged and communicated across different mediums.

While most may sit lower on the “chain of command” in the leadership structure, I’m absolutely convinced in order for them to be empowered to do their job effectively, they need to be close to the lead visionaries of the church and close to important conversations where vision is communicated. I really believe it’s key for them to be involved in upper level conversations and be “in the know” about what’s going on.

While their day-to-day routines may vary by church, size of staff, etc their essential functions will be to (in Kem Meyer’s words) oversee anything people read, touch, or click beyond the platform.

  • Read would include any written messages communicated from or about the church… be it in print or electronic form.
  • Touch would include a weekly bulletin, newsletter, brochures, mass mailings/postcards, or anything else that represents the church or has the church logo on it, in print form.
  • Click would relate to any form of web or email based technology, as well as new social networking tools like Twitter, Facebook, etc.

Directors of communications should be able to communicate clearly and succinctly, be passionate about the churches they are serving, and be up with what’s new in the world of technology. More than likely they read blogs, they should know who Seth Godin is, they understand the concept of Twitter and Twitter themselves, they either have a Blackberry or iPhone, and probably have a mild case of ADD.

Their day-to-day functions might look different depending on the size of their church staff… some do graphic design, others to video, sound or lighting. Some are techie geeks, others just have a great eye for design. Some are PC. The cool ones are Mac.

But to sum it up, I’d say that someone who serves as a director of communications is really just a brand advocate.

Every church has a brand and by a brand I don’t mean a logo.

In the book The Brand Gap, Marty Neumeier describes a brand as “a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company.”

In other words, “a brand is not what YOU say it is It’s what THEY say it is.”

Successful church communicators are attuned to the pulse of their church and the culture outside of the church and strategize ways to built bridges from their community to the church and helps people connect the dots to take their next steps toward Christ once they are there.

They are passionate about the church’s vision and care about how it translates to people inside and outside of the church. They defend it. They design it. They care about it. It keeps them awake at night and is a reason for them to get out of bed in the morning.

And now, more than ever, it’s absolutely critical to have people in a position of leadership who are listening to what your church is saying,  who are attuned to what other people inside and outside of the church are thinking and feeling, and who can create channels of communication to connect the two.

More to come… what do you think so far? Agree? Disagree? Discuss…

About Tim Schraeder

Tim Schraeder is obsessed with all things social media. Having worked with some of the world’s largest churches and para-church organizations, he served as an evangelist for social media with a knack for connecting people and spreading ideas that matter. He’s been a consultant and coach as well as a sought-after speaker and author who helped write the book on communication and social media for the church. Today, Tim is passionate to help businesses and organizations connect, engage, and build loyal followers across all forms of social media. He is a die-hard Chicagoan who can be found in any neighborhood coffeeshop that has free wifi.

  • matt bortmess

    good stuff here… anxious to keep reading!

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschraeder timschraeder

      thanks, Matt! what else would you like to know? (content is still being written!) ;-)

      • matt bortmess

        obstacles in the way of getting the church/leadership to see the need for this role… that would be something I would like to read.

        The more I learn about myself in ministry, the more I see that I am wired for this kind of role…

        thanks for sharing your thoughts with us!

  • http://www.twitter.com/danieldecker Daniel Decker

    I agree 100% with everything above. Especially agree on the communications person being a part of the leadership team or at the very least very connected to the pulse of leadership and helping contribute to how the vision, message, brand, etc is delivered. Essential for success. Truly effective comm directors are engaged in the message and helping to craft how it is shared versus just responding to a task (such as designing a bulletin or putting out a newsletter alone). Lead pastors and leadership teams who glean the insight and involvement from their comm director will thrive, especially in an increasingly digital (online to offline and back again) world.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschraeder timschraeder

      Thanks, Daniel!

      Lead pastors and leadership teams who glean the insight and involvement from their comm director will thrive, especially in an increasingly digital (online to offline and back again) world.

      My thoughts exactly. It's sad to see churches that aren't doing that and missing the great opportunity they have to leverage media/technology.

    • Jhan

      Well guys, I have some concerns about being a “brand advocate.” My personal feelings are, I’m an advocate for Christ as represented by/through the church.

  • Sam Jessup

    Tim, I love the "brand advocate" concept.

    As DoC at my church, I consider myself the brand manager but since we're a church, that title doesn't really fit all that well. Maybe someday. I also co-opted Meyer's concept of "anything you touch, click or read" when describing my job to others who don't see me behind the scenes.
    Thanks for this. It's helpful.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschraeder timschraeder

      I owe everything I know to Kem :-)

      But yeah, I hear you… church and the word "brand" aren't often seen positively in the same sentence. But at least we understand what we mean. Thanks for commenting!

      • lewies

        What if we use the term Image Crusader? I mean – we HAVE to fight for the image we have in the world's eyes. We need to hear from / see from their perspective. Isn't our call first to reach the lost, then train the saved? Just a thought

  • http://www.visitoasis.org jenn collins

    totally agree w/ everyhing you wrote and can't wait to read more. everyone constantly asks me what i do and you nailed it. i'm just going to forward them to your blog now…haha. and i'm a little less cooler than you b/c unfortunately i still use a PC BUT i am getting my first Blackberry tomorrow! haha :)

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschraeder timschraeder

      hey, crackberries are cool… just not as cool as iPhones ;-)

      • http://www.visitoasis.org jenn collins

        you're right! wish i could but hubby has dibs. maybe next year.

  • http://www.twitter.com/mwmiller98 Mike Miller

    Man, this is golden. What more will you cover as it relates to DoC's next – perhaps the 'valuable internal consultant' vs. 'they know the programs (ie. Photoshop)' mentality shift?, maybe something about managing people and messages?

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschraeder timschraeder

      Thanks, Mike! We shall see… we shall see.

  • Vanessa

    Love this, Tim!

    Could you do a followup sometime describing "a day in the life of Tim Schraeder". Give us a glimpse into how a typical work day actually plays out for you…. ie… pratictical hands-on tasks, types of meetings you attend, your involvement in public (ie, do you speak at weekend services, to media), etc.

    Good, good stuff! :)

  • http://www.frazerumc.org Ken Roach

    When I worked as a graphic designer, I used to counsel high school students who wanted to go into design that if they were primarily interested in "expressing themselves through art," this was not the right field for them; a designer is not an artist in the expressive sense, but rather someone who uses the principles of art to function effectively as a visual translator. The keys to effective translation are understanding the mind of the message sender, understanding the language, and understanding the mind of the audience.

    I say that to set up my take on the role of the DoC. First there is the "language"–the platforms or channels we create to widen the reach and deepen the impact of the church's initial, face-to-face forms of ministry. That requires either a good technical knowledge, or a working technical knowledge combined with the ability to surround yourself with a team of great technicians. Second is the "mind of the audience." I think this is what other folks are referring to when they say "brand advocate"–someone who is constantly bringing to bear on the ministry decisions of the church, how will this look/sound/feel to the people we are trying to reach outside the church, and the people we are trying to help grow inside the church? This is harder than just creating good technical platforms. It takes being a student of culture, an observer of human nature, an intuitive learner as well as a data-collector; and, it takes a lot of negotiating skills to get other ministry and program leaders to understand the impact their actions have on the brand, the perceptions they create in the minds of people.

    The third role is "understanding the mind of the message sender," and that means having input not only into how we present what the church does, but actually having a voice in developing the vision and strategy. This enables the melding of message with presentation; clarifying the vision from the outset with the audience in mind. This requires a deep level of theology, convictions about the role of the church in the world, personal holiness and walk with Christ, and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

    I've been blessed to serve under a Sr. Pastor who really values Communication. When he came on board he restructured our staff, created a new DoC position that sits on the Lead Team giving me the opportunity to have input on crafting the strategy and vision of the church, rather than just formatting and designing messages that have already been pre-determined.

    What I've discovered is that it is a huge responsibility! It's easy to complain about the limitations of trying to communicate a message without having input on its content; when someone says, "OK, then what would you say?" and they are actually prepared to listen, you realize the enormity of the leadership burden.

    I guess what I'm saying is, be careful what you wish for. I do believe the church can be greatly served if we elevate the role of DoC from technician to brand advocate to internal consultant and co-creator of vision. But if you get that role, get on your knees! As James says, "not many of us should be teachers, for we know that as teachers we will incur a greater judgment."

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/timschraeder timschraeder

      Ken!

      Wow. You want to write part 2 for me?! Seriously. Thanks for your input and thoughts on this …

      Totally got ahead of me there and thanks for saying what you did… I completely agree while there's a functional/technical aspect to this, one of the most vital places we need to find ourselves is at the feet of God… listening for His voice, His direction and moving and acting as His Spirit leads. I really believe innovation is less and less about good ideas as much as it is about (forgive the Christianese) a "God idea"… God inspiring us, God leading us…

      In really wanting to provide a solid theology behind all of this, so it's not just a set of business ideas or principles adapted for the church, I've come to find that the role we play in the church can be a very prophetic role in nature. In many instances God is helping us to see and envision the future, and calling us to translate and communicate that to move people to action. That's a high calling and something we all need to take incredibly seriously, humbly, and cautiously.

      Really appreciate your heart and insights… I think there's a lot we could all learn from you!

  • Vanessa

    Yes, Ken…thanks for that!

  • http://livingcanvas.wordpress.com AnnieLaurie Walters

    Thanks Tim for an excellent post and thanks all for the follow up comments. While I have 10 years of experience communicating in the corporate and political world, I just started working in the church communications world almost two years ago. I am the first DoC my church has ever had. This has been unbelievably challenging because when I started the church of 15k just went multi site and had no idenitiy/brand standards, a logo that made no sense in a multi-site context, an out dated website and more internal silos than I ever saw in my government days.

    I love my job and by God's grace we have come a long way in two years thanks in large part to an incredible team I have the privilege to lead. We have a new logo, we are launching 6 new websites for our campuses in 1 month, and we executive team approved identity standards.

    But my biggest struggle continues to by buy in. I feel like I spend 50% of my time getting by in from executive team, from staff, and from volunteers. And its a constant conversation. It never ends. Sometimes I feel like I am an internal lobbyist trying to pass new legislation! And at times I get frustrated because there is SO MUCH TO DO and I spend half my time talking, trying to get everyone on the same page when I'd rather be doing. I know its part of the job, and I don't mind doing it, I just wish I didn't have to spend 50% of my time doing it.

    Sorry to vent. I love this post and I am so glad you're blogging about these things. I especially love what Ken had to say to his graphic designers. Lets keep the conversation going!

    AnnieLaurie

  • Tracy

    thanks Tim!! While it may not change the way the DoC position is viewed, it helps to know others battle the same situations. I think you are spot on with your thinking and observations!

  • http://www.rayreavis.com Ray Reavis

    This is all really good stuff. But as a pastor of three small rural churches, it's one thing to know what to do and yet another to find someone to do it. I believe the communications gap is the very reason many smaller churches are stagnant and don't grow. I think of what Jesus did, and in between the healings and other miracles his ministry was focused on communications …. going from place to place to communicate the gospel. And our churches are so inside our own little boxes talking to others within this box that we don't communicate that gospel very well to the world.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/GordonMarcy GordonMarcy

    Church communications is multifaceted today. My remarks relate to communications as it pertains to the the technologies enabling the extension of ministry beyond the four walls of the church.

    This month, I celebrate my 25th year of service in Christian communication. During that time, I've had the privilege of witnessing two great events.

    1) Seeing Christian broadcasting grow into the strongest technology for supporting ministry and evangelistic outreach the world has ever known.

    2) Seeing the Church with the opportunity to build their own media platforms that, collectively, can exceed the impact of event #1…in less time and at a lower cost.

    Even a year ago, I would not have thought it possible that thousands of churches could, in the not too distant future, flood the net stream with the gospel and innovative Christian content. The movement appears to have begun.

    Some churches are building custom platforms and recruiting the necessary staff. Others are outsourcing the technical side and just managing the outreach. Some churches may work cooperatively in a city or region to build their platforms. Whatever technology infrastructure a church puts into place, it will take the right people with the right skill sets to achieve a unified and holistically integrated communication platform…inside and outside the church.

    If God is in the movement, He will call leaders, managers, administrators, directors, marketers, technicians, artists and creatives of all types into these positions. And, He will give pastors and church leaders the vision to staff, resource and empower this new ministry arm of the church.

    Your discussion about church communications and the type of individual it takes for this role is an integral part of the process, I believe. Keep it up.

    For His glory,

  • http://www.treybailey.net trey

    wow..simply amazing material here.
    I have the privlidge of working with a wonderful Communications Director..he will love this blog..and probably already subscribes to it. Thanks For the great thoughts.

  • http://www.microclesia.com John L

    Tim… the problem IS centralization. "Centralizing" communications, in light of virtual connectivity, is backwards. We're entering into an age of distributed community, with largely self-organizing (vs. centralized) coordination and control.

    The local church has its 10-20% creative class subservient to the vision of the 1-2% clergy class. This is upside down. Virtuality (the primary force behind emerging communication and new-community platforms) is changing this inherited model of centralized-institutional thinking, while releasing the greater lay-creative body to serve and participate – in ways that spontaneously -create- vision – rather that remaining subservient to a handful of stage-centric idea anchors.

    I'm sorry to be the party pooper here but I find your trajectory misaligned from way communication is unfolding in our broader communities. Religious communciation centralization (or even "coordination") perpetuates the "us/them" – "in/out" – "lay/clergy" dualities. We need to be moving towards distributed, not centralized. Participatory, not stage-centric. Creative-class, not clergy-class. Unpaid servant-ship, not salaried leader-ship.All-body participation rather than a perpetuation of 3c religious dualisms.

    Communicate love, grace, peace, charity to all, by all, for all, through all, with all, inclusive of all whether in our church, outside of our church, hostile to our church, or otherwise. Let's abandon these churchy-religious brand, strategy, technique, vision, mgmt, marketing, capitalistic leadership models and replace them with more organic ideas of Spiritual freedom. Ideas that look more like Jesus perhaps.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/klreed189 klreed189

    That was a great two part post. Funny story about church communication….

    The church I attend just hired a new Senior Pastor (the church runs about 3,000 to give a little context). He has been there a month and decided to send out an all church email. He talked about strategy and moving forward, ways to get involved and then a renewed vision of communicating and technology. It was a good email and he outlined things well, there was just one problem that went unnoticed.
    In the "from" category of the email it said his name "John Smith" (not his actual name) but next to his name there was an email address, but it had nothing to do with him or his name. The email address was from a past minister who was fired by the church in a pretty big ordeal. This email went out to thousands of people, trying to communicate the vision of the church, but the only thing I took away from it was that they sent it from a past minister and how the heck did that happen.

    I think this story goes to show the importance of someone who can use communication to advance the vision and mission of the church in a professional and strategic way. The church missed out on an o

  • lewies

    First off… I think it is an amazing concept and important position to consider for a ministry – if the ministery can afford it. I hear you John, to a degree. I think we need to constantly challenge the lay people to get more involved, but I also know from experience that it is easier said and done. You have one of two choices:

  • lewies

    1 – A church that at first glance say "though we are many, we are one" because of the 'image' it portrays. That doesn't mean the youth does exactly what the music does in terms of communications, design etc., but rather that there are binding factors and guidelines.

    Speaking of which – can someone PLEASE write a manual and make it available so that our comm. passionate guys can go to the 'could-care-less' or 'don't-have-a-clue' people and use it to help establish basics?

    2 – Have a church that looks like the goverment. Oh, we say it's one… but it's silos everywhere. Just look at some church websites – go from page to page and you'll see what i mean.

    Imaging isn't everything, but boy, if the corporate world get's it, why can't we get it? I don't say we need to look and act like the world. Nope – we need to do it BETTER than them, because our 'product' deserves the best advertisement it can get!

    Just my thoughts…

  • http://twitter.com/korykredit @korykredit

    Good stuff Tim. This conversation has been happening in the secular business/marketing world for a while & it is finally reaching churches. Marketing & communication has changed & evolved dramatically and churches need to redefine how they communicate, through what mediums they communicate through and the new skill sets their communications staff nee to successfully reach their audience/congregation.

  • http://www.microclesia.com John L

    "if the corporate world get's it, why can't we get it?"

    The problem is that we're (favorably) comparing Kingdom to corporatism and/or empire. The Way is a Spiritual -alternative- to man-made idealism. Excellence and achievement in Spirit looks vastly different than excellence and achievement in the commercial or political realms. If we were living like Jesus, our communities would be subverting, not emulating, the dominant power paradigms of our era.

  • John L

    BTW, David Hayward has a short, relevant post up today. It speaks to the centralized vs.distributed models of community and communication. I encourage you to check it out.

    http://www.nakedpastor.com/archives/3862

  • Terry Cunningham

    A director of communications is an interpreter – taking inner culture and inner language and sharing what's useable and relevant, while remaining faithful to the originals, with those outside.

  • http://twitter.com/seeburd @seeburd

    Thanks for your thoughts Tim. As I'm studying communications at Moody, I get a lot of questions like "why are you studying communications at a Bible college" or "what does communications have to do with ministry?". I am learning a lot about what it had to do with ministry and have been working with some of my peers and classmates to discover and define what communications does look like in ministry. This post is certainly helpful to inform our discussion and to see a "real-life" example of communications in ministry.

  • http://twitter.com/JHaskellTweets Jonathan Haskell

    Love it! So how does one go about finding such a position?  

  • http://www.facebook.com/mstephens268 Matt Stephens

    I’ve heard that Communications Director is a “non-productive” position, meaning it doesn’t directly expand a church’s potential to “reach” people.  Have you ever heard this?  Is there any truth to this?  I.e., is a Director of Communications a luxury only megachurches can afford, or is it a viable option for a church (like ours) of 700?  In plain terms, how big would a church have to be in order for such a person to be worth the investment?

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