Creating a communication strategy helps your church to be more flexible because more details are planned ahead. Do you want quality communication in your church? Of course you do! Let's talk about creating your communication strategy and team, getting buy-in from your leadership, and managing communication well—all to help you communicate more clearly and with better quality.
Seth Muse | @sethmuse
Jeanette: Most churches and their communication leaders struggle to find any sort of marketing strategy. If you're like the average church, you might be throwing stuff at a wall simply to see what sticks, but what if you could actually build a strategy for communicating well, connecting people, and advertise it to your community? And what if you could build a team to support you and the church through quality communication? Well, that's possible. And in today's episode, we're going to talk about how to make it all a reality.
Bryan: Hey, church communicator. Welcome to the Church Juice podcast. I'm Bryan Haley, the producer of Church Juice, and I'm joined, as always, by my co-host, Janette Yates. We're here, energizing church communication.
Jeanette: Yes, we are. And I am thrilled to welcome my good, good friend, the Seth [Muse 00:00:52]. Seth is the host of The Seminary of Hard Knocks podcast. And he's a communication leader. He is awesome. Hey, Seth, how are you doing?
Bryan: And so much more.
Seth: The possibilities are really endless, guys. They really are. Hey, thanks for having me on the show, guys. I've been looking forward to this for a while. I'm excited to get into all this.
Bryan: Absolutely. Well, welcome to the show again. Why don't you just take a moment, introduce yourself. I feel like a lot of people probably know who you are, but I'm sure there's some listening who have never heard your name before. So take a moment and introduce yourself.
Seth: You're right. Tens of people know who I am.
Seth: It's so amazing. I can't even walk down the street, dude. It's crazy.
Seth: Anyway, I've been in communications for a little over five years. I was in youth ministry for about 17 before that. And then just got my ministry degree and then got my seminary degree in communications, just jumped from church world to marketing world, back into church world, and just started this podcast, The Seminary of Hard Knocks, about church communications. I blog at sethmuse.com, and then recently left a job as a church communicator at a pretty decent-sized church with a lot of responsibility there. And I think we can do this for more churches.
Seth: And so my friend, Paul Fleming, and I—he and I brainstormed over Tex Mex food and decided that we could create a company that would do this for churches called Church Comm Team. And so, that's what I'm doing now, pretty much full-time. It's been pretty great. So, for less than the price of one full-time employee, you get a whole team of pros that handle your communications for pretty much everything you do, except for video and being on the ground to actually give people stuff, because we're remote.
Jeanette: So one thing I know about you, Seth, and you alluded to this in talking about what you do now, but the reason it's so important for you to have this system to help churches communicate is because quality communication is so important and so important to you. I know it's something you feel passionately about, but can you tell us what quality communication means to you, and what that actually looks like for churches?
Seth: Yeah. I think that a lot of times, when we debrief communications after we've done it and we feel like we've communicated something, we really just ask ourselves one question. It's did we do it? If the answer is yes, then it was, oh, then we succeeded. And that's not quality communications. I think when you talk about quality communications, there's so many things that go into it, and buy-in is one of those things. Saturation of the message is another thing. Did everyone get to do something that's in their wheelhouse, or did they have to do extra things?
Seth: There's so many factors for quality communication, but ultimately what you're looking for is, did the people understand what you wanted them to do and then do it? And whether that's be inspired and change, or click a link, or buy something, or attend a meeting, or sign up for something, it's what did they actually do to gauge was this successful?
Seth: And a lot of times in church world, we don't really even give them the thing to do. And so we miss that whole thing. So quality communication, I think it was George Bernard Shaw, he's the one that always gets attributed with this quote, was the single hardest thing about communication is the illusion that it's taking place. I paraphrased that, broke it up badly, but something to that effect. And that's what we deal with is that we have this illusion that we've communicated something because we put it in certain places or we said it enough times, or we sent that out in that email. And you got the email, and people still come up and go, "I didn't know about this." Well, it was in your email. Well, you did send it, yes, but you didn't communicate well. And sometimes that's their fault, but a lot of times there's stuff we can do to make that better. So quality communication, I think, is did the message land, and did they do what you wanted them to do?
Bryan: I think that's a great definition.
Bryan: So I think for many of our churches, a defined strategy or an actual communication plan is really just a pipe dream. They don't have the resources, maybe not the experience, because a lot of communication leaders that I know are just thrown into this position, or they can do social media, so now they're the communications director. So they don't really have any defined plan. So what can a communications leader do to not be overwhelmed but easily create a plan and a strategy for their church?
Seth: Yeah. I think the hardest thing about doing that is that you have to do something first that feels very counterintuitive, and that is you have to slow down to go faster. And when you slow down to actually make the plan and think through the plan, then you actually are able to do exponentially more with your team, with your resources, with your abilities, whatever you've got. It feels like you're doing something you shouldn't do. It feels like you're not doing communications, but actually, you learn how to lead, you learn how to delegate. Paul Fleming, my partner, has this big talk he gives on delegation all the time, and he's good at it.
Seth: That's something many communicators really struggle with is that part of us, I think, wants to feel so useful and needed because we often don't feel needed or appreciated, at least. And so we want to be able to say, "I did these 50 things. I almost died, but I did them. And now you can't do without me."
Seth: And I think there's part of that in us that we want to defend ourselves through the work we do. But when we actually slow down and make the plan, we start to do more and become more valuable by spreading out, delegating, getting the people in the right spots, getting information to people, and becoming this hub for communication rather than the one doing the communicating. And I think when you manage communication teams, or if you're by yourself, managing freelancers or managing volunteers or building volunteers even, it's all about doing work that doesn't feel like communications because that's you slowing down to actually make the Loom video that explains how you want something done, or stop to actually plan an hour a month on what social media is going to be next month.
Seth: Stopping to do those things feels wrong to us because we have this incorrect understanding of what work is. And if we're not busy, we're not worth our paycheck. And that's just not true. So I feel like there's a stigma there that if we're going to sit down and have a communications plan, you got to stop and actually make a plan. And we often, if we do that, we might stop 15%, 20% into it and then say, "Okay, that's good. Let's go. We'll build the rest as we go." And that really ends up shooting yourself in the foot later.
Jeanette: So you're already talking about this next question that I have, but I want to pull some more out of it because you're talking about from a communicator's standpoint, you need a plan because you can do more by having a plan. But why does a church, and this is something that when I was working with my church, I struggled to be able to communicate to them for a while, but why is it so important that we know what is going to go on social media next month or the month after? Why is it so important for us to know what type of content we're going to be putting in our email for the next few months, or plan out our big event that comes up twice a year? Why is that so important, not only for the communicator to do, but for the church as a whole? Why is that so important to do?
Seth: Well, it's like this example of I've heard. When you're a small team, maybe you're by yourself or just one other person, it's like riding a motorcycle. You're quick to make decisions and move, and you're flexible, and you can do lots of things fast, and you don't really need a lot of plans. But then your team grows, your church grows, you're in the car, and you're still together, but you're still pretty flexible, but it's not like a bike. Then you can upgrade to a van, and then you can upgrade to a charter bus, and then you can have an airplane. And when you get to those levels, it's a lot of moving parts just to change lanes, much less make a turn or deciding where you're going.
Seth: So the more moving parts you get, the more structure around you, you have to build, in order to move that giant machine into the right places. And I think that's one of the reasons it's most important to have a vertical communication strategy or a unified communication strategy that your whole church staff understands, is because you have these examples of, you might show up to a service and find out, "Oh, the pastor just announced we're doing a new marriage class at one of our campuses. I'm the marriage pastor. I didn't know that."
Bryan: Which happens.
Seth: That happens a lot, and you're like, "We're doing an event. You should come." And you're like, "Great. The pastor is talking about..." I'm picking on pastors here a little bit... "The pastor's talking about my event. Great." "And we're going to give you a free tee shirt." What? We're giving a what away? I didn't know that. So now we got scramble to get a tee shirt. So having an understanding of what's coming, so that you can talk about that tee shirt or that marriage class weeks before then, makes it go, "Hey, we're having a class." And now there's a signup. And now there's a teacher. And now there's a website to go to. And now there's social media that goes out to remind people of that announcement. There's just so many things that work together for the goal, so you actually have a more successful attainment of that goal than getting maybe 20% of what you wanted from this thing you've started versus getting 80 to 90%.
Seth: So I think having that vertical strategy gets everybody literally on the same page, which is... I'm going to talk at the social media church conference coming up soon, and I'm just talking about this as well. Getting everybody on the same page is literally, for us, getting everyone on the same page. That's what we do at Church Comm Teams, one of the first things we do.
Bryan: When you have the plan, it also allows you to be more flexible, too. So if something does happen, hopefully it doesn't. But when it does, you have a plan, so you can be more flexible and adjust to those things that are needed.
Jeanette: I do want to also think about, because you talked about quality communication and that your definition of that was, did they understand what we want them to do, and did they do it? And I think when we don't have a plan, and every ministry is trying to communicate over each other, sometimes you double book the building, sometimes you're promoting five events at once. And the person sitting in the congregation or watching on social media or reading the email is like, "What am I supposed to do? Which one of these buttons am I supposed to click?"
Jeanette: And I think if you don't have an understanding as a church staff, right now, we're focusing on getting volunteers for VBS, which is a different audience than our participants to VBS. And so, the communications plan for each one of those things is different. I think for me, that was the biggest breath of fresh air, when we all got on the same page as a staff. Right now, X ministry is not the priority. This other one is. That's going to be the message. All the ministries are going to lift that up. Then we're all going to focus on this next call to action that we want our members or our community to take. And I think once we all got on the same page and we're able to support each other instead of compete, it was a game-changer for our communications in our church.
Seth: Absolutely. We have a client right now that actually, every month, focuses on some topic or ministry, like men or women's ministry or kids or tough questions or whatever it is. And they have that on their... what we call it a major messaging calendar, and that's where everything lives. And so each month, they have each of those things defined. So when I'm thinking of email ideas for what am I going to write for their newsletter, or what are we going to put out on social, and I just want to put engaging posts when I'm planning social, I have no idea what that's going to be. Now I know what that can be. That can be about men's ministry. So engaging posts, that's a question. What kind of question do I want to ask? Well, let's ask the question to men about men's ministry, or to women about their husbands. Let's focus on men with this content.
Seth: And so it helps drive a unified clear message, which is what Jeanette's really saying, in everything we do from top to bottom. And when you can define that, put that out there for your whole staff to see, missions knows that this ain't their month to come and ask for extra special care. We'll do things with them, but your month is February. Not to say we can't talk about missions whenever, but if we have to bump something, we understand this thing takes priority this month, because this is our focus.
Bryan: Another thing that I think a lot of churches struggle with is creating a team. You talked earlier, and I completely agree, I think the role of staff, as a staff member, my job is actually to build and equip people, not to do the work of ministry myself. In building and creating a team, what are some simple steps that a leader can take to build a communications team? What does that look like?
Seth: Yeah. And I think first, when you're a small church or you're by yourself, the tendency is to say, "Well, I don't have anybody." And I'm sorry, that's not true. We live in a digital world. It's not true. What you're really saying is I don't really know who to ask, or I really don't know how to go about building this team. And that's okay to say, but that's first step to realizing you have a problem, to saying you have a problem, to fixing a problem. In this day and age, first of all, you have us. Call Church Comm Team. We are basically a communications team for hire, and you can delegate everything to us if you want to, except video and being there, printing. We meet with our clients once a week to do strategy. And then we have tons of people who are creators and project managers, managing things. We give you a system. We work that for you.
Seth: You could get volunteers to do that as well, but you have to ask people. A lot of times, when you put out this, "Hey, we need people that can help with design," or "Hey, we need help, people that can manage projects." They don't really know what you mean. You find somebody who's like, you've got a great attention to detail and you pick up technology quick, come talk to me. Let's talk about possibly volunteering two, three hours a week as a project manager for our church or for our communications. And they can do that remotely too, in this day and age.
Seth: And speaking of remotely, this is the third thing I would say about building a team, is have you heard of Upwork? Of 99designs? Fiverr? All these places. For some reason, we have this idea that in order to create a graphic that is good for church, that it has to be done by someone who is onsite and a believer. And I'm telling you, that's just not the case. There's designers out there that make good money, just designing whatever they're asked to design. They design things for plumbing companies and law firms, and they don't know anything about that, but they can do good work. So you can find these freelancers to pay with some extra budget that you probably do have if you want to move it from somewhere else. And this is where you got to get creative a little bit, but you can pay for some high quality people to be on your team, bring them into your project management tool and assign work every week. And they're there, doing what you ask them to do.
Seth: And they might even be on the other side of the world, helping you out. But that's great. It's part of the ways that we get so much done for our clients is that we have so many people that we can call on to do some of that creative work. And I think there's options for you.
Seth: I've also thought starting a Facebook group for just volunteers for communications is a great way to build community around that, to bring people in, to let people invite their friends. So there's other ways you can do that. But I think directly asking people for help and then using remote freelancers is a huge one, two punch for creating a team, if you don't have anybody.
Jeanette: Well, I just want to chime in here because there's even some churches that are listening right now that are like, "No, we are really small." And one of the easiest ways that I got volunteers for social media... So I needed two things. I needed quality photos. We had no budget for me to go even hire somebody for a day to come in on a Sunday, but I needed quality photos. And I needed people to comment on the post, on social, to get that algorithm going.
Jeanette: And so what I did was I paid attention at the fall festival and on the Easter egg hunt Sundays or whatever, and I saw who was already walking around, taking a bunch of pictures. And then I said, "Hey, can you shoot me five of those so that I can use them for the church page?" They were like, "Of course." And then I got some photos. Were they professional photos? No, but were they pretty close? Absolutely. And I didn't have to be running around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to do that.
Jeanette: And then, I paid attention to who was on social media all the time anyway. And I'm like, they're already on here. All I have to do... So I would reach out to them and say, "Hey, I've noticed that you engage with our posts, or I see you on social media sharing about your life. That's great. I would love to talk to you more." And I might even ask them to even contribute as a content creator, but really I could also just say, "Hey, can you make sure to share this post or like it or comment on it?" And that was just a basic 101 way of getting started. And then you could get them more involved and train them a little bit more. But that was a great way for us to get started.
Jeanette: But since we're talking about getting people on board to help you out, I want to talk about something that I've already mentioned, that I struggled with a little bit, although if any of my church people are listening, y'all have done a great job. But getting the buy-in from other staff to understand that we needed a plan, then actually help me make a plan because you can't make a plan in a vacuum because you need people to tell you what is important in their ministries, and then actually implement the plan, that all requires buy-in. Because I can have all the tools, I can go to all the church marketing conferences, I can join all the Facebook groups, but if I don't have buy-in from my team, it's like when you go to the youth camp and you get high on Jesus and everything is wonderful, you're on the mountaintop. And then you come home, and you've got all these great ideas and all the world's going to be different and it's not. And so, how can we win over the staff or the board or the leadership team or whoever we're having to get to make that paradigm shift?
Seth: Yeah. I can tell you what we do at Church Comm Team that I think churches can do as well. Part of Paul's function is to come in... He's been a senior pastor, church planter. And so I handle day-to-day with the communications team. He actually coaches leadership to understand how to delegate, how to use the comms team, how to think digitally. So he works with the executive pastor or the pastor, whoever the direct report is for the comms team. And we work together on coaching them to bridge that gap.
Seth: Because I felt the same thing. I'd go to the conferences, and I'd come back with these great ideas, and nobody would know what I'm talking about. And so, it was how do we bridge that gap, not just with leadership, but also with the staff? But I think it starts with the leadership because if the leadership are not on board, the staff are going to continue to ignore, go around.
Seth: So there's this element of, we lead through relationships. Yeah. Kind of. But also, we're middle men, so we need support from authority. For one half of that is you have to get your leadership on board with your process, with why you're doing that. And they need to be the one to come to your staff and go, "Hey guys, here's the process that Jeanette or Seth is going to lay out, or Bryan, and you're expected to follow this. And if you don't have that, good luck. Honestly, good luck. They may give you some help. They may throw you a bone. They may do the request form halfway correct most of the time, and you're still you're chasing down info, but it's never going to be what it needs to be.
Seth: Because what really is the problem here, and this is what we always come in with, is we meet with the whole staff after we've gotten that written, verbal commitment signed on a contract from leadership, that this is okay to do. We come before their staff, and we say, "Really guys, here's what we're doing. But really what this is about is empathy. It's about understanding that when you don't fill out a request, when you wait till the last minute, when you don't think ahead, you're not only screwing over the comms team doing good work and giving you what you need, but in order to give you what you need, we often have to bump something from everybody else in the room. So you're screwing them too. And it's just not right to do that way. Your actions affect other people's lives."
Seth: And so we have to lead with empathy when we're thinking about communications, because there's so many moving parts. It's just not fair, and it's just not right for you to assume that we're going to drop everything for you, every time you need something, because you didn't plan ahead. We have the backing of your leadership to say that to you, and the leadership have committed to doing that same thing. And often, the leaders are the ones who are the biggest offenders of not doing what we're talking about here.
Seth: So there's a constant struggle there. And that's why bringing Paul in as a coach, "Hey, are you doing this?" Because often, it's not really pastors and executive pastors don't care, but they don't know how to delegate. They don't know how to think ahead. It's just not part of their DNA. And they need coaching to learn how to do that too, because communications today to do it well, like you and I all know, there's so many parts that it has to be done ahead of time. And this is whether you're a church of 20 or a church of 100,000. We all start in the same square one. We need social media, we need a website, we need email. We need all those things to communicate with people, and it takes a lot of time and effort content to do it.
Seth: And so, in order to plan all that stuff and make it make sense and actually help you instead of spending money on things that are just waste of time, we need a strategy. And everybody needs to be on board with it. Because in 2021, it's a digital world. And so, if you're not getting on board with that, you're going to see some success, but probably that's a discussion between not what's bad and what's good, but between what's good and what's better. And what you can do better in reaching people.
Seth: So I think that getting that major messaging calendar, where you know here's the sermon for every week, here's the topic. Gere's the thing we're talking about for announcements. Here's the posters that are going to be up. Here's what we're handing out the kiosk. Here's what we're handing out at the door. Here's the announcements we're making. So that when people come to you and they go, "You haven't talked about my stuff enough," you can go "Here, here, here, and here. We did." Or you can go, "You're right. We didn't. Let's put that in and do that somewhere."
Seth: So having that plan where we know what we're talking about in the email this week, we know what we've announced this week, and what's important because we see these little events coming up, and we know we should probably talk about that, or here's our big theme for the month. All that in one place that, at a glance, you can look at it, so that you know what everybody's doing as a communicator. So when I go and play on social media for a month, I've got that sheet open as well as my calendar in Monday, where we create all the content ideas. Because I know, okay, here's a Sunday. This is what we're talking about. Let's make the engaging post about that. Let's make the inspiration posts about this. Let's do a story that has to do with this, and I can plan that ahead. And if I want to change it, I can, but it's better than making it up as I go.
Bryan: So what is one piece of advice that you'd like to give to church leaders that are listening today?
Seth: Slow down to go faster. Slow down, go faster, make a plan. Slowing down to go faster is the issue because we feel in the church world this tyranny of the urgent. There's always a fire to put out, but we are not firemen. We are pastors and leaders and communicators, and it is our job to make sure something gets done well, gets done correctly, gets done in a timely way. And we're managing a lot of different things. So we need the scaffolding to build a good building. You've got to have the structure and the bones of a system and a plan. And you're not Chick-fil-A. You're not a corporation. You're not just rigidly married to everything you do. You're still a church. Things happen. But like we've said before, changing the plan, whole lot easier than creating the plan on the fly.
Bryan: Absolutely. And I think empathy is another word that I would throw in there too.
Jeanette: That is so good.
Bryan: And I was just thinking that part of the shift in mentality is going from thinking of communications as a department or some support agency, to really seeing it as a ministry. And when that happens, I think you see a lot more empathy. You see a lot more of this buy-in from people too.
Seth: When pastors also realize that... when everybody realizes that communication is really everyone's job. You don't have a department for that. You're right. It's not just a department. We source you. And communicators see themselves as a coach for their teams and for their leaders, for their pastors, how can I help you win? So you really want buy-in, that's the answer. You got to have authority, you got to have a system, you got to look like you know what you're talking about, but at the end of the day, if you're not helping them win in the things that they care about, they are not going to care at all what you have to say.
Jeanette: Yes, yes, and yes, all of those things. You're so good, Seth. You dropped the truth bombs for sure. If someone wants to reach out to you for more questions, or if they want to learn more value or just follow you on the socials, how's the best way to get in contact with you?
Seth: Probably at sethmuse.com for me personally, but for Church Comm Team, churchcommteam.com would be the best place to get in touch with our company. We have different size deals where, whatever size church you are, at whatever you need, whatever your budget. But let me tell you, even at our most pricey tier, you're still clocking in probably at, I don't know, 75% of what you would pay a full-time comms director, and that's not including insurance benefits or office time or computers or lunches or anything like that.
Bryan: That's awesome.
Jeanette: Well, and I do want to jump in here, and just, I know we talked about communications being a ministry, but I think too, whether you're doing this on your own with your own plan and building your own strategy or using something like Church Comm Teams, that's not trying to take away the ministry work from the people who God has called to do it. It's getting all the other stuff out of the way so that you can do your ministry. So if you're creating your own plan and your own stuff at your church and doing that, that's making sure that you're not on Sunday in the copy room, making copies. You're actually out doing the things you need to do. If you work with something like Church Comm Team, they're doing all of those other things. They might post for you, but you're engaging in the comments. You're doing the ministry, you're doing the work. And so I think that's something to remember, whatever tools we talk about, the tools are just to get all the other stuff out of the way so that you can focus on ministry.
Bryan: Absolutely. Well, thank you, Seth. Really enjoyed our conversation today. It's awesome to talk to you. I haven't actually seen you or talked to you in a couple of years, so thanks for joining us.
Seth: My pleasure. Thank you.
Bryan: Well, we love being able to talk with church communicators from across the globe, and we believe that every church and every communicator story is unique and valuable. This week, we'll be continuing today's discussion on Church Juice's Insider Facebook group. You can join the Insiders group as well as today's show notes and a discussion guide for leading your own team talk by going to churchjuice.com/podcast.
Jeanette: Church Juice's podcast is a listener supported production of ReFrame Ministries, a family of programs designed to help you see your whole life reframed by God's gospel story. Church Juice is produced by Bryan Haley with post-production by audio engineer Nate Morris in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information about Church Juice, visit churchjuice.com. For more information on ReFrame Ministries and our family of programs, visit reframeministries.org.