One Way to Quickly Influence Your Church's Communications For Good
Want to know one of the biggest struggles in church communication? It’s pretty easy, really: communication! You may have excellent strategies, the best know-how, and be an incredible marketer. But nearly every communications leader struggles with knowing what’s happening in the ministries around them. I hear from church leaders all the time who are frustrated with not knowing about a need until the last minute, and when they do know about a communication project, the information is often incomplete.
Church communicators often have a communication problem—nobody communicates with them effectively. There’s one solution that has popped up time and time again in church communication circles: building a request form. The idea is pretty straightforward. The church communication leader makes an online form that serves as a catch-all for anything and everything happening in the church that involves communication. The communications person asks the staff and leaders to fill out the form with as much detail as possible whenever they have an upcoming event or marketing need. And once the form is submitted, the communication leader can review it and get to work.
That sounds like a good solution. It’s simple, easy to implement, and it just takes minor cultural shifts to get people to use the form. There’s one problem, though. Rarely are these request forms executed well. Here are the issues with request forms:
Forms are impersonal
A communication request form might be a great way to get the practical details in one place, making it easier for you. But a form also lacks the relational aspect of your role. While communicating an event is crucial to your position, another critical element of your responsibilities includes building relationships with ministry leaders. Relationships develop trust and empathy. A request form removes the personal interaction of the conversation, which means you could also miss out on vital nonverbal (or verbal) elements of the project.
Forms don’t change procrastination
Solving procrastination issues is often a leading factor in implementing a request form system. Ministry leaders don’t send requests or information to the communication team until the last minute, which forces the communication ministry to work on urgent needs continuously. As the thinking goes, a request form helps solve this problem because it can include a deadline for requests (i.e., we need graphic design requests a minimum of six weeks before the start date). Often, though, request forms are submitted after the deadline—partly because leaders don’t fully understand why they should turn in a request so early.
Forms contradict the way we work
Creating, building, and implementing a communication request form seems like a simple solution to a complex problem—and I’m all about simple solutions! But one of the issues I’ve seen with implementing a request form system is that it’s usually contrary to how the rest of the ministry works. Some organizations have lots of red tape, bureaucracy, or processes and procedures. But for many churches, ministry operates in a much more organic style. A request form is an outlier to how much of the ministry occurs.
Ok, so if a request form system doesn’t solve your communication problems, what can you do to move beyond living amongst urgent needs and demands all the time? You can quickly make a positive influence by implementing creative meetings.
Hear me out. I’m the first to tell you I don’t love meetings. But underlying my distaste for meetings is really the dislike for unnecessary meetings. Quality, productive, targeted, and well-run meetings benefit everyone involved.
So what is a creative meeting? A creative meeting is a scheduled time for the key leaders of an event or ministry to gather and discuss its creative elements. This meeting only includes the leaders actively involved in the vision and communication elements of the program. The creative meeting is a time for the ministry leader to convey creative direction, with collective brainstorming as an added benefit. Creative meetings are not a pure brainstorming session—leaders should come with their ideas and direction already in mind. But involving a few key players could also bring more creativity and innovation to the project.
Here’s why you ought to implement creative meetings.
You take the initiative
When you start including creative meetings into the regular rhythm of ministry and communication, it moves you, the communication leader, from a reactive position to a proactive one. Creative meetings move you to the driver’s seat. You no longer wait to receive details from the ministry leader. Instead, you’ve scheduled a meeting that is timely and targeted.
You control the timeline
Because you’re taking the initiative to set the meeting, you intrinsically also set the timeline. You decide when to schedule the creative gathering, allowing you enough time to create a plan, execute it, and make adjustments as needed. By controlling the timeline, you provide the communication team with breathing room—a necessary component of caring for your volunteers or team members.
You get the information you need
As part of the creative meeting, you get input from all the key leaders, hopefully providing you with a clearer vision and understanding of the goals and expectations. Through conversation, you gain the practical details needed as well as the intangibles that are sometimes hard to describe in text alone. Since it’s your meeting, you can decide what information is necessary and relevant.
Still with me? Here are some helpful tools for implementing a creative meeting system into your everyday processes.
Start with a central calendar
Everyone in your church knows VBS happens the second week of July or that the annual Christmas Bazaar happens in early December. Certain events are known and traditions, making it easy to schedule creative meetings because it’s nearly certain to occur. But a lot more ministry may change over time, so having a centralized calendar can help.
Here’s what I’ve found to be most helpful: Each spring or early summer, schedule a day for the staff or leaders to spend time together and make a master plan for the next ministry year’s calendar. Talking through the calendar forces everyone to think about the big picture and how events, programs, and ministries align with one other. It also helps the team collectively make improvements and critical decisions about the upcoming ministry season. Use the calendar as your guide for setting creative meetings. Then put another all-staff meeting on the schedule toward the end of the calendar year to review the master calendar, make necessary changes, and extend their calendar planning through the next twelve months.
Use a project management tool
A quality project management tool can help you take your church communications to the next level. The right tool will help you take your calendar and put it into actionable items, like when to set a creative meeting. A project management tool can ensure you have all the deliverables created on time and provide a great space to dump all of your notes, ideas, and tasks in one place. If you need help, we recently discussed some popular project management options for church communicators. We also held a webinar to help you understand your role as a project manager. Check them out!
A creative brief
Creative briefs can be a helpful guide and guardrail for your creative meetings. A creative brief takes everything discussed and puts it in actionable, bite-sized information. A creative brief provides accountability on both sides of the project—the ministry leader has details in writing, and you have deliverables and deadlines listed. Here’s a free template you can use to get started with your creative briefs. The creative brief should include:
Purpose: What problem are we solving? What question are we answering?
Key points to be communicated
Practical details (Who, what, why, when, how)
Goals: What’s the goal or objective? How is success measured?
Voice and tone of the project
Emotions associated with the project
Colors, images, or other designs that provide graphic design inspiration
Mandatory information or brand guidelines to be included
Deliverables (what you’re creating)
Dates associated with the project or campaign (start date, campaign timeline)
Following your creative meeting, fill in the brief. Then schedule a time to meet with the ministry leader or the key person in charge of the project to go over the details and ensure everyone is on the same page.
Implementing creative meetings into your regular rhythms can help quickly influence positive change in your church’s culture by involving more people throughout the process. Creative meetings also are a great way to help you take back control of your schedule and productivity. But you may not need to ditch your communication request form altogether. The request form could be an excellent backup for those more minor, last-minute, or under-the-radar events that still require your communication skills.
Bottom line: Find a system that helps you engage communications—not as a department or service, but as a ministry—that is calling and equipping others for ministry. Implementing creative meetings could be a game-changer, helping you quickly begin making positive changes by involving people in the communication process, listening well, and taking back control of your calendar. I’d love to hear how you lead your church’s communication project planning. Head to the Church Juice Insiders Facebook group to join the conversation!