4 Mistakes From My First 3 Years As Communications Director

March 2013 marked my 3 year anniversary as Communications Director at West Ridge Church. It has been an incredible blessing to to work for a church that I love, respect and would choose to attend.

These three years have been filled with some triumphs, challenges, loss, and lessons. I still have a long way to go, but I’ve learned a lot about myself and the role of communications in the church. Looking back specifically on my role as Communications Director, here are 4 mistakes from my first 3 years in this role along with some lessons I’ve learned along the way.

I didn’t have a focused volunteer strategy

  • Getting qualified and consistent volunteers engaged in a church communications team can be very challenging. At first, if anyone was interested in getting involved, no matter the time commitment or talent level, I would attempt to get them plugged in. I didn’t spend the time up front building solid job descriptions for each position with qualifications and time-commitment required. Because there weren’t proper expectations communicated, people got lost in the shuffle. In the second year, I refocused my volunteer strategy with higher expectations for time and qualifications, and then dedicated more time in investing and equipping them.
  • Lesson: Start with simple volunteer job descriptions with qualifications and expectations for each volunteer position. It’s ok to have high expectations for talent and time commitment as long as it is communicated upfront. 

I didn’t set a healthy and sustainable pace

  • Coming into my role as Communications Director, I knew that I was building something from the ground up. There wasn’t an established team or systems in place to build from. I was doing the building. Luckily, that’s exactly what I love to do! The challenge was that the needs and demands exceeded what I could do in a 40hr work week. I’d find myself almost every day waking up early or staying up late working extra to try and get “caught up”, only to find myself never getting there. This was by no means coming from pressure to over-work from my boss (quite the opposite), but more from how I’m wired. I’m wired to be always thinking about what’s next and how can we take what we’re doing to the next level. The pace that I was going at was not healthy or sustainable for me. To be honest, I still struggle with this. This is a constant tension to manage.
  • Lesson: Focus from the beginning on creating a healthy and sustainable pace for what you’re doing. You can’t do everything overnight. Focus on the critical needs, identify the non-critical needs, and attack them over the year strategically so that you and your team are being healthy and sustainable. Schedule in vacation time at the beginning of the year. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.

I was too slow to move our site mobile

  • In the first year, we rebuilt WestRidge.com from the ground up with brand new content and a new CMS (Expression Engine). Our web traffic has grown steadily since then as we’ve built a trust with our audience that our site is the #1 place to find the information they need. What I underestimated in the first two years is how quickly mobile traffic was growing. Just last year, over 1/3 of our traffic (almost 80,000 visits) came from mobile. So at the end of 2012, we rebuilt our site with responsive design so that it now mobile friendly and works well on all desktop and mobile platforms. The results and traffic growth have been fantastic. I just wish we had done it sooner.
  • Lesson: If you’re redesigning your website, make sure it is responsive and mobile friendly. If your site is not currently mobile friendly, start making plans now to make that change.

I let long-term vision get lost in short-term tasks

  • Too many times in my first three years I would get caught in a reactionary workflow and spend much of my time answering emails, putting out fires and responding to short-term tasks. My mistake was that I didn’t block out time to dream and evaluate where we were as a team and build a vision for where we needed to go. Without realizing it, I was sacrificing the long-term vision for the short-term needs.
  • Lesson: Schedule time at least once a month to sit back and evaluate where you are and where you and your team needs to be. It’s always going to be busy, but this time is crucial for your leadership. Block off some time monthly to build a plan and vision for the future.

What are some of your do-over moments and lessons learned? Leave a comment below so I and others can learn from you!

  • I’ve also made mistakes when it comes to having a volunteer strategy. As you mentioned in this article, I did not clearly define the job description for them. I’m sure that this was slightly frustrating for the volunteer. It also made me feel unprepared everytime they came to volunteer. Even though it was a positive experience, I think that having a clearer job description would have been more beneficial.

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks for sharing, Caleb. I’ve definitely seen improvements with volunteers after getting more clarity for me and them on what the job descriptions and roles looked like. I didn’t mention this in the post, but also typically just communicate a few on-ramp roles for volunteering with Communications. Instead of overwhelming people with a ton of different positions, I’ve found it more beneficial to start simple and get them plugged in somewhere. After they get their feet wet and get an idea of the other roles, it’s easier to move them around to a role that’s a perfect fit for them.

  • Rob Webster

    You’re such a disappointment to me, Phil. 😉 So, I saw your post about social media volunteers. How else do you use volunteers? How else are you staffed in Communications?

    • Hey Rob 🙂 Key on-ramp volunteer positions are:

      •Video production: Camera operators, propresenter operators, sunday production prep
      •Photography: photographers, photo editors, photo librarians
      •Writing: Social media, blogger, proofer/editor
      •Support Team: Worship Guide folder/stuffer, administrative support
      •Design: Production Designer

      This is usually where we get people started. There are a couple leadership positions and roles that we recruit and don’t open up to everybody.

  • Vicki Gray

    Great article! Almost everything you’ve listed I’ve experienced and am learning the same lessons, so this is great confirmation 🙂 It’s a marathon, not a sprint has been a continual repeatable phrase to help me navigate the constant pull towards “getting it done.” Thanks for sharing!

  • Excelente Phil! Since 2012 I have been volunteering as Technology Coordinator for our church in Puerto Rico. This position has required me to look for experiences and knowledge from other christian servants. One question: In these 3 years, what you have learned about maintaining good communication with the church’s top leaders? I appreciate your words, talent and sharing. Keep it up! Blessings!

    • Hey Jose! For a Communications Leader to be able to do the job effectively, it’s crucial to have access and good communication with your pastor and leaders. Every church and team is different, but here’s a couple tips to maintain good communication:

      1) Have consistent check-in points where you can ask questions and get everyone on the same page. Sometimes, this is with the Senior Pastor. Other times, that may be with the person you report to.
      2) Honor their time.
      3) Be a man of your word and follow through with promises.
      4) Be an advocate for them and their ministries. Understand their goals and partner with them to help make them happen. There’s no room for ministry/team silos. We’re all on the same team.

  • Ron Woodbine

    HI Phil

    Great post, gives me plenty to think about. In terms of volunteers, what are your thoughts on creative Interns. do you or would you have them?

    • Hey Ron! I do have 2 communications interns. Honestly, it’s one of my favorite parts of my job in working with them. Interns for creative teams can be a huge win, as long as expectations are clear from both sides. You can check out what the scope of our internship program looks like at http://westridge.com/internships/

      At West Ridge, each of my interns have a focus area (one in video and another in content management/creation). While tasks and ownership areas have helped them grow, I think the #1 takeaway for them has been to be immersed in a creative church environment and to see services and big events happen from idea to execution. In my role leading them is less about production from them and more about helping them learn their strengths, learn where they need to grow, and discover where God is leading them.

  • Leah

    Hi Phil,

    Thanks for the post and the blog in general! I’ve really appreciated the scope of your writing. You mentioned having clear job descriptions for your volunteers – is there any way I could see the job descriptions? We also have a lack of direction for the different members of our team and I would love some ideas of what other people put in their job descriptions. Thanks!

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  • Bruce Herwig

    Phil,

    I’ve recently stumbled on your blog posts and love what you have to say about Church Communications. I also have a blog “What The Wig” regarding church communcations and looking at word cloud of my posting, I’ve found the largest number of posts come from “Lessons I’ve Learned the Hard Way. Thought you might enjoy these. Be encouraged…you’re on the right path : ) http://bruceherwig.wordpress.com/category/lessons-i-learned-the-hard-way/

    • Thanks for sharing, Bruce. Great stuff on your blog!