Communications Director is a broad title that encompasses such a wide range of responsibility in the church. It could mean graphic design, videography, creating social content, live production, office systems, database, room reservations, or website manager. I could keep going.
Because we are all uniquely gifted, it can be hard to narrow down a universal skill set for all communications directors. I think it’s because we only look for particular active skills like the ones mentioned above. Do you know Adobe Suite? Can you work a camera? Have you ever created a website before? No, I said a website, not a Wix site (High five? Anyone?).
What if we’re looking in the wrong place? What if active skills aren’t what we have in common, but passive skills instead? When I thought about it that way for a bit, I came up with at least six common passive skills that anyone working in church communications should have and develop.
My mother always told me that God gave me two ears and one mouth because he wanted me to listen twice as much as I spoke. I think that’s true of a Communications Director as well.
When we listen, we see how to serve our people right in the pain points. We may hear that they struggle to read the Bible daily and decide to create an online Bible reading plan. We may see that a certain hashtag is trending in our area. We would then be able to wade out into the conversation as a church and speak into a current issue.
Listening is a skill. It requires patience and humility to do well. Yet, since we are often pressed to get deliverables out quickly, we can forget that “playing on social media,” (as those who don’t understand social media call it) is actually the listening part of our job.
Asking Great Questions
The ability to resist giving an opinion to understand someone else’s vision is a hallmark passive trait of a quality communications director. This is demonstrated by asking great questions. Clarifying questions, probing questions, and information questions help us to passively lead those with God’s vision to communicate that vision with more clarity, purpose, and power.
You don’t have to be a veteran comms director to have been given assignments with very little information or direction. We can help them understand what we need to make it happen by asking great questions. We can also train them to provide more pertinent information as they notice that we always ask the same questions.
This passive skill comes from the desire to make what the pastor sees in his head come to life. Only when you see what he sees can you start to add your own spin and creativity to it. That’s when it goes from good to great, and I think we all want great impact.
A Sense of Humor
Comms people think differently. We have seen a lot of movies no one else on staff have seen and listen to podcasts and read blogs that no one else on staff probably does. It’s what gives us our edge.
Jon Acuff said in a blog, “I’ve long said that laughter was a gift from God and when we take it for granted it makes him want to take it back, like the unicorns.”
Many times, dealing with Comms Directors is difficult for pastors because they don’t share our experiences, knowledge of tech, or sense of humor. Don’t let that discourage you. Being an enjoyable person is better when you regularly deal with difficult things.
It’s also like being a perpetual middle child, so we have to keep our sanity somehow. The more you “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” the less others will want to be around you. Don’t be Jan. Be like the Dance Walking Guru Master.
We have to learn to say “no” to be good at our jobs. However, if we can find a way to wrap our “no” in a better “yes,” then we will find our staff relationships much more enjoyable.
“Well, we can’t drop water balloons on the crowd, but what if we dropped confetti instead?”
“Sorry, but I can’t have two bumper videos and a series graphic done for you by Sunday. I can probably get the graphic done but will have to outsource to get the videos done and it will cost us a few hundred bucks. Will that work?”
In fact, a great way to say “no” is telling them how much money it will cost. Almost an immediate shut down for unrealistic tasks and 60% of the time it works every time.
Staying positive is also tough when a church member vents to you about a problem in the church, especially if you agree with them. So staying positive is not only about attitude, but about image as well.
Positivity and unity go hand in hand, especially when church members vent to you. You may also feel that your church’s color scheme looks like a clown exploded while eating jelly beans, but you don’t have to tell them that.
If you’re website looks like it was last updated in 1998 and is riddled with U2 song lyrics, you can say “we’re not addressing the website right now as we have other, more important tasks, that require our attention.” (But seriously, if that’s the case, you have to at least replace those lyrics with Coldplay lyrics.)
We need to be positively supportive in public. Save your criticisms for those who can do something about it. Agreeing with a churchgoer’s negative spew only encourages them to do more, as they feel justified by a staff person agreeing with them.
You don’t need thick skin to do this job; you need iron skin. Often you are overworked, underpaid, and you have eight different bosses, Bob. No one likes to live in a constant barrage of criticism, but since comms is also a creative job that means everyone has an opinion…and for some reason, they all seem to matter to your actual boss.
A passive skill to take into consideration here is realizing that these criticisms aren’t intended to be personal. At least you can’t afford to take them that way (because sometimes they are personal). When we keep the vision and goals of what we do out in front of us, we are able to be professional, allowing criticism to become constructive, even if it was offered in a mean spirit.
I’ve always thought that a major difference between a professional anything and an amateur was the ability to take criticism, even if it’s harsh.
For all the tools and tricks available to a tech-wizard such as yourself, they are still no replacement for actual face time with real people. Relationships are the grease for the communications engine.
One of the most disappointing things about social media are the trolls. Trolls not only plague Middle-Earth, they plague all social channels. Trolls are those who comment or reply to your tweets with the sole purpose of getting a rise out of you. Don’t feed them. Don’t engage them. Just let them talk until the sun comes up.
Trolls exist online because somewhere, these people forgot that those they are talking to online are real people. The humanity of their online presence was forgotten and therefore, they feel no responsibility for what they say to others online.
It can get that way in an office too. If you don’t spend time with pastoral staff, they could forget that you are a human being and not a ServoTron3000 robot modified to crank out graphics and videos in 30 minutes. Likewise, you can forget that pastors are people who desperately want to see others believe in Jesus and who just don’t think like a communications director does.
It’s seclusion from real people that turns real people into trolls. Get out and see the sunlight sometime. Go to lunch with staff and ask to be part of meetings where decisions are made. Locking yourself in a cave with your gadgets and toys will make you crazy.
Communications directors are going to be more and more vital on church staff as this century unfolds, so be patient and humble and develop these skills in the meantime. You want to be the first name that pops up when that full time, salaried position opens up at your church!
If I missed a passive skill of a church communications director, let me know!