I am so thankful to work for a church that allows me to take time away and learn about how to be more effective at my job! Last week I attended the Center For Church Communication's Certification Lab in Dallas, TX. The lab is a 2-day intensive study into the latest trends and strategies in the field of Church Communications.
This year's speakers included (in no particular order):
- Gerry True - Communications Arts Leader, Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, TX
- Kelley Hartnett - Director of Culture & Connection, The Way in St. Louis, MO
- Stephen Brewster - Creative Arts Pastor, Cross Point Church in Nashville, TN
- Phil Bowdle - Creative Arts Director, West Ridge Church in Dallas, GA
- Mark MacDonald - Church Brand Strategist, beknownforsomething.com
So what did I learn? Here are my top 10 takeaways from the conference:
- Our ministry as communicators is to help other ministries succeed - I love this point from Brewster. As church communicators we tend to forget that what we do can and should be considered a ministry. Our job is to find ways to highlight the amazing ministries within our churches and make sure people can connect with them. Is there a better job out there? I think not...
- "Brand is the emotional aftertaste left by an experience." Shawn Wood - Brand is a word you hear A LOT in social media world, but what does it really mean? Why is it important to have a clear and consistent brand? I love thinking about our brands in terms of the quote by Shawn Wood. We have to start looking at the aftertaste of our churches. Is it a good one? Or does something need to change? Which brings me to my next takeaway...
- The Church has a massive PR problem - Sadly, Christians are not always the most 'likable' bunch. We don't always behave on social media and our attitudes may sometimes leave a bitter taste in people's mouth. Kelley Hartnett proposed three ways to fight the PR problem within the church: (1) the church must get back to the business of making DISCIPLES, (2) we have to find ways to get out of our 'Christian bubbles' and learn from the people who disagree with us, and (3) we have to find new ways to reach people other than our main worship gatherings.
- Creativity is more about muscle than magic - I'm really glad Brewster took the time to walk through a few steps on how to be more creative. It's a sad reality that the older we get, the more we lose touch with our creative side. It helps to remember that creativity isn't something we either have, or don't have. Creativity is a muscle and we must be intentional about working it out if we want it to be stronger.
- BIG change requires BIG credibility - Such an important truth from Gerry. I admit, when I see something that needs to be changed, I just want to get it done. Too often we don't stop to think about the impact change may have on our team. Some people don't like change, so in order to make big changes, we must first develop trust and build relationships with our team. In the meantime, Gerry recommends focusing on smaller changes, or 'tweeks' (HINT: success with small changes help build trust in the long run).
- We have to get over the fear of being disliked - Okay, Phil Bowdle, this is a hard one... As church communicators we have to be advocates for our audience. We have to find a balance between trying not to step on each others toes, and doing what we know is right for the congregation. Because after all, it's the congregation and potential guests in the audience that should be our first priority, even if that means saying no to the request of a particular ministry.
- 4,000 churches close their doors every year! - Mark said it best, "we have to start doing something differently." It's not enough to speak to the people who already have a church home. We have to get back to the business of reaching the lost. If we have any hope to continue growing as church communities, we have to find new ways to engage the people around us who do not know Jesus. It doesn't matter how big your congregation is. Until every last person on earth knows the love of Jesus, we are not big enough!
- 70% of Facebook users are not listening to audio while watching videos - This statistic has real implications for social media strategy. Are the videos you use on Facebook visually engaging? Posting an interview with your pastor or a sermon clip from Sunday's message may not be enough. What can we do that will entice users to listen, when all we have are visual cues?
- What is the one platform most churches are not using, that they should be? - I asked this question during a Q&A with all of the panelists. It was Brewster who gave the best suggestion: Snapchat. I will be the first to admit I am not a pro when it comes to Snapchat, but I think Brewster is right... It's time for churches to consider our place on the platform, especially as it continues to develop it's new "discovery" section.
- We have to BE KNOWN for something (I see you, Mark) - Too often our churches focus on sermons that are self-serving. We talk about everything from how to be better Christians, to dealing with sin in our lives. Let me be clear - both of those are VITAL, but there is something missing. If we really want to stand out and reach people in our communities, we have to find the thing that makes our church unique. We have to look deep within our individual communities and the real struggles they are facing. As the church, we are in a unique place to provide meaningful and lasting solutions to those problems. It's about time we start LISTENING to the people around us, so we can really help them and bring them closer to God.
I hope you are blessed as much as I was by these 10 takeaways from Cert Lab 2015. Please feel free to email me or comment blow with any questions or ideas you want to add. Also, be sure to check out #CertLab on twitter if you want to learn more about the conference and what was talked about.