I’m continuing in my Reworking Church Communications series today, a blog series for church communications inspired by the book REWORK. If you need to catch up, check out: No One Cares About Your Church, Forget Your Mission & Vision, Stop Speaking in Tongues, Know Your Real Competition, and Constraints Are a Blessing.
One of my favorite TV shows right now is Hoarders on A&E. It’s fascinating [and sad] to watch how people can let things accumulate around them and consume their lives. On a recent episode a woman had spent away her entire life savings buying designer handbags. At risk of having her home foreclosed on, her family intervened. They hoped by cleaning and reselling the over $350,000 worth of designer purses they could help save her home. As a team of appraisers began sorting through the huge collection they began to notice something unsettling… all of the purses were fakes. While they had Gucci, Prada, and Coach all over them, they were indeed imitations. The $350,000 collection only ended up being worth about $1,200.
It’s very easy to copy in our world today.
With a few keystrokes you can copy content, images, ideas, and code and repurpose them as your own. While it’s easy to do I’m fairly convinced that in most instances it’s not the right thing to do.
When we were all infants we learned to speak by imitating our parents. They would repeatedly say “ma-ma or da-da” until we could fumble our way to saying “mom and dad.” Imitating allows us to learn but eventually we need to find our own voice and begin telling our own stories.
In the church space especially we oftentimes think that because we are “all on the same team” that we can borrow, steal, or adapt content from one another and it’s ok. Well, it’s not. Some churches like LifeChurch.tv are incredibly generous by sharing everything they create, and many churches offer videos, media, and other things they’ve created for a small price that is invested back into their ministry. Having resources available like these is incredibly valuable for churches who don’t have the ability to produce videos, media or graphics. However, when you are consistently copying, borrowing, adopting or adapting ideas from other places you can lose the true sense of who you are.
In REWORK, Jason Fried shares some great ideas on why copying is such a bad idea. He says that copying skips understanding, and understanding is how you grow.
“You have to understand why something works or why something is the way that it is. When you copy and paste, you miss just that. You just repurpose the last layer instead of understanding all the layers underneath. So much of the work an original creator puts into something is invisible. It’s buried beneath the surface. The copycat doesn’t really know why something looks the way that it looks or feels the way that it feels or reads the way that it reads. The copy is a faux finish. It delivers no substance, no understanding, and nothing to base future decisions on.”
Strong words but they are so true.
When I first started in church communications I learned by imitating. I wrote to over 100 churches that were listed in Outreach magazine’s Top 100 issue and asked them for examples of what they were doing with their printed communications. I created an idea file and pulled from it for a few years as I was learning my way. Eventually I found my own aesthetic and voice and didn’t have to rely on others to create. From there, I took a posture of being inspired.
I think there is SO MUCH we can learn from watching other churches, organizations, and businesses. We need to learn from what works, we need to take notes and we need to be students… but we also need to understand that every church has its own story to tell and its own voice that needs to be heard. God has embedded something unique in each one of our churches that we are meant to bring to bear in the life of our communities.
When we copy what worked somewhere else we can be hindering what God wants to do through us right where we are. The Church is made up of people and people are all different with unique stories, needs, and experiences. Every church is different, requiring your creativity and insight to know how to communicate most effectively. Open source is great, learning from others is invaluable, but every church has a unique audience and importing what worked somewhere else might not translate in your context. You learn the most by doing things yourself.
The heart of the matter as it relates to copying for me is this: the first sentence of the Bible tells us we serve a creative God. God’s creativity is seen in the world around us. If we are made in His image then we have that same creativity inside of each one of us. We shouldn’t have to rely on other sources but simply look to the Source and find inspiration, creativity, and wonder.
Imitate as you are learning to find your voice… be inspired as you grow and mature… but don’t copy + paste. God is more creative than that and you have better stories to tell than someone else’s.
Avoid the temptation to copy + paste and commit to doing the hard labor of creating. Ask God to let you see your congregation and your community through His eyes. Listen to the stories being shared around you. Watch for the signs of what God is doing around you. Create from a place that is inside of you as God’s Spirit leads. Let the words you speak [or type], images you create, stories you tell, and things you craft be ones that bring life and light to the world around you. You can’t imitate or fake authenticity and originality, and that is what it takes to truly connect with others.
Jason Fried offers a simple way to determine if you are copying: if someone else is doing the bulk of the work you’re copying.
Control + C and Control + V makes things much easier to lift and adapt, but just as the Hoarders team discovered, imitations are just plain cheap. Be inspired, don’t imitate.