Car Keys, Coronavirus, and Church Communications

I learned a lot about car keys recently.

A few weeks ago, my car crossed the 300,000-mile threshold. It’s a 2003 Honda Pilot, if you’re curious. Several months before that, the ignition was giving me problems. The key would get stuck mid-turn and required that I jiggle it just right to get the car started. The problem kept getting worse. It got to the point where I was the only person who could start my car—I was like Biff Tannen in Back to the Future Part II. Friends couldn’t borrow the car, and mechanics had trouble working on it. Valet parking was out of the question, and not just because I’m cheap.

The problem had to do with little wafers inside the ignition system. Over the years and miles and thousands of turns of the key, those wafers became chipped and warped. Eventually, the key got stuck entirely, and so was I. Enter a locksmith. The locksmith took the whole system apart, replaced the broken wafers, and cut me a new set of keys. The car now starts like a dream.

The fact that I was the only one who could start my car for a while had some benefits. For one, I guess I didn’t have to worry about someone stealing it. It also gave me this weird sense of power: no one can start my car but me! But it also meant I couldn’t be generous with my car either. I couldn’t lend it to a friend who needed it. And when the key got stuck completely, it ended up costing more than if I had just gotten it fixed right away.

So, what does this have to do with church communications?

As a communications coordinator, I hold the keys to my church's various media channels. I send out the email newsletters, update the website, manage our social media accounts, record and upload videos, and take photos. I am indispensable.

But I shouldn’t be.

For one, being indispensable is dangerous to the body (my own) and the body (the Church). Being indispensable is unnecessarily exhausting. This probably seems obvious; if I’m the only one who can do something, it means I’m the only one who can do something. The thrill of being needed will ultimately make me singed and charred by that all-too-common church malady: burn out.

Being indispensable is also dangerous to the body of believers we call the church, and the Coronavirus is revealing this in very real ways. I used to use the "hit-by-a-bus" metaphor. For example, if I got hit by a bus, would someone still be able to update the website? I'm starting to change my metaphor. Now I think, “If the entire staff is stuck in their homes, how can we share responsibility so that we continue to serve the church well? How can the pastors maintain personal connections with the congregation while socially distancing? How do we live together, apart?” It's no longer a hypothetical situation.

For church communicators in times of crisis

I believe that right now church communicators all over the world are proving their worth and then some. But I hope they aren't totally proving their indispensability. This is a time for great creativity and experimentation when it comes to communication (video services? Zoom meetings? virtual visits?). Perhaps more than anything, this is a time to lean on each other (metaphorically, please!) and to empower one another. It's a time to share the keys. We can't have only one person who knows how to start the car.

What does this look like?

Sharing the communications keys is going to look different in each context, which means this is a critical time to think deeply about what your church needs and values. If regular email updates between the pastor and the congregation are needed, this might mean giving your pastor a lesson on using Mailchimp. If most of your church is on Facebook, it might mean setting up a group for your church and encouraging certain members of your congregation to moderate discussions. It might mean having the youth leader do a lesson on Instagram. Now is the perfect time to let others do things.

And that raises yet another issue: how about we change “let” in that last sentence to “equip”?

Now is the perfect time to equip others. My job description as my church’s communications coordinator includes a mission statement. It says that I am to “support the staff, leadership, and congregation of my church by establishing practices and providing resources for effectively communicating the church's ministries.” Fulfilling this mission statement means that I can’t—and shouldn’t—try to do it all on my own. It means equipping others to lead and to serve. It means that “providing for” is not the same as “doing for.”

It means fixing the ignition and then sharing the keys.

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