Dear Senior Pastor

September 18, 2016

Dear Senior Pastor,

I’ll cut to the chase, because I know your time is short you’ve got a lot on your plate. If you’d be willing to give me a few minutes, I’d love to share my heart with you about what I see as one of the problems we need to solve in the church. I want to get a position on your radar, if you haven’t been able to address it already.

Before I get any further, I want to express to you how much I appreciate what you do. My dad was a Senior Pastor for 30+ years, and I saw first hand the challenges and tole that ministry can take. I’m in ministry today because of people like you faithfully serving the mission of Jesus Christ. Thank you for what you do.

At the end of the day, I know that you want to see lives changed and people reached for the Gospel. We have the greatest message to communicate in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. You’d think that with all the new methods we have to communicate now, that it would be easier than ever to communicate that message, right? Unfortunately, that couldn’t be farther from the truth.

The church doesn’t have a message problem. We have a communications problem.

Since it’s easier than ever for anyone to communicate their message, there is more noise than ever. It’s becoming harder and harder for your message to get noticed in a noisy world.

Everything we do as a church communicates.

Every sermon, announcement, sign, handout, website, event or social media post communicates something. Everything we communicate has potential to add to or take away from your ability to communicate your message as a church. If you’re like the typical church that I speak to, you’re probably discontent with the engagement or response you’re getting and want to be more effective in reaching people in your congregation and community.

So what can you do about this communications problem?

It’s time to address the most overlooked position on a church staff. That role? Communications leader.

20 years ago, the only communications leader you needed was the person producing the weekly bulletin. Now, it’s become a critical role that helps your church effectively communicate what you’re doing as a church.

I realize you may have some questions about this position. Let’s cover a few of them.

What does a church communications leader do?

Well, they are not just bulletin person, although they may be doing that.  They’re not just someone who updates the website or runs social media accounts, although they may be doing that as well.

There are two key areas where a church communication leader can add value to what you do as a church.

1) Clarify the message

Want to communicate something you want people to sign up, show up, serve in, engage in, or give to? There is likely a who, what, when, where, how and most importantly, why, that needs to be clearly identified and communicated for people to take action.

An effective church communication leader can clarify the message, and then identify and remove barriers from people taking their next step.

2) Communicate the message

Decades ago, the communication strategy could be as simple as printing information in a bulletin and announcing it from stage. Now, because of the busyness and noise that most people experience in their lives, we have to reach people where they are during the week to effectively communicate to them.

There are tons of channels that churches can use to communicate what God is doing in and through your church. Here’s just a few of them:

Digital: Website, app, email
Print: Bulletins, newsletters, signage, invite cards, banners
Social: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat
In Service: Stage announcement, promo videos

Communication leaders can use these types of channels to expand the reach of your message further than ever before.

When should I hire this position? Should I wait till our attendance hits a certain benchmark?

This position used to be a luxury hire once you reach a certain attendance mark. Now, I believe it should be one of the earliest positions hired on a church staff. What I typically see is that many churches wait until they grow to 1,000-2,000 until they invest in a communications leader position. Then, when that communication leader comes on board, they have to go back and attempt to fix communication issues that have been deeply embedded within the culture for years.

Why hire a communications leader when I could hire a ministry position?

I’m not here to tell you that there may not be other staff positions that you need to address first.

You may be in a place where you need to hire someone in another area. What I will tell you though is that a communications leader is absolutely a ministry position. Why? Because it can add value to every ministry and every area of the church. Communication leaders aren’t there to build their own silos. They are there to take all the ministries and initiatives of the church and help them connect and communicate effectively together.

Is this primarily an administrative role?

It shouldn’t be! There certainly are administrative aspects to the role that require organization and structure. In fact, many churches are realizing that this is actually a leadership role that deserves a seat at the leadership table. The value of having someone as part of the leadership conversation is that they can be an advocate for our audience.

They can clarify the message and voice how the church can effectively communicate the message.

What should I look for in hiring a communications leader?

Hiring a communications leader can be challenging because it’s a role that can often require a wide range of skills. It’s unlikely that you’ll find anyone that has a lot of experience in writing, editing, design, web development, video, or photography.

There may be a particular area of need that you want to focus on, which is really dependent on the needs of your church.

Beyond that, I’d focus on searching for a church-first person who cares deeply about the mission of the church as a whole. I’d be looking for someone who you feel can be an advocate for your audience and has a knack for identifying things that get in the way from people taking their next step.

How can I set a communications leader up for success?

There are two key things that only you as a Senior Pastor or senior leader can provide.

1) Give them a direction
The #1 thing that will make or break the effectiveness of your communications is planning ahead. You’ll find that if you’re giving your communications leader information on Thursday expecting them to churn out great work for that Sunday, that you’ll be frustrated with the results. You’ll find that the further out you plan, the more effective the communication will be.

2) Listen
If you’ve never had a person in a communications role, there will likely be some challenges they experience early on.

They may have to come in and build some standards for what events and ministries get communicated from stage. They may need to provide some structure and deadlines in place for staff and ministry leaders to submit communication needs.

That can be an extremely challenging situation for a new person who wants to serve and make people happy, but is in a situation where they have to be able to say no to be effective in their role. Provide a platform to listen and hear the challenges and concerns they have. Give them advice or guidelines, and then give them your public support to other staff and ministry leaders.

If a communications leader position has never been on your radar, I hope you’ll consider it.

Thank you for what you do to help your congregation and community for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Phil Bowdle