One of my favorite things to do is get away in a coffee shop, find a corner table, order a strong, dark roast, and create. I pull up stock photo sites, I browse my fonts, I listen (and re-listen) to our Lead Pastor’s sermon, I look at our upcoming events calendar, I people watch, and I create.
Some people use services that provide social media content.
I use services that provide social media content.
I don’t like using services that provide social media content.
I like dreaming. I like creating. I like pushing boundaries. What do I do in my spare time? I study systems and processes, I play with demo versions of church management software (yes, really), and I create.
Is that what I do for fun? Yes.
Legit? Fun? Yes.
Recently I spent some time with my son at his summer job. He plays guitar at youth camp. At the beach. He’s 20 years old and he gets paid to live at the beach and play guitar 2-3 times a day.
Plus he gets some spending money for groceries.
I need a new job!
While I was with him, he seemed tired. He wakes up 15 minutes before he needs to be ready for the day. He naps whenever possible. On Friday morning, his roommate said they were getting ready to leave their room and they looked at each other and said, “I can’t.“
They did. They did with excellence.
God got them through.
But it struck me…
Even when you’re getting paid for what you’d likely do on a volunteer basis…
You can still experience burnout.
Burnout doesn’t always look like stepping down. Burnout doesn’t always look like a moral failure.
Burnout sometimes looks like getting paid to live at the beach and play your guitar… or sitting in your favorite coffee shop…creating.
Up next: how to recognize burnout and what to do when you’re there.
A few months ago I had a chance to record a video for the That Church Summit. I prepared my content and knew exactly what I wanted to say and how I wanted to say it.
Unfortunately, the day came to record the video and I had a cold. A runny nose, scratchy throat, eyes watering cold. It also happened to be a cold day. A really cold day. And we were filming in a room that had the heat turned down. Something about bright lights, camera and recording equipment, and proper temperatures. Evidently recording equipment and heat aren’t necessarily friends.
If you happened to catch my video – I apologize. I’m much better at writing than I am at video delivery.
With that being said, I thought I’d give you the written version of my one and only That CC appearance.
My topic was The Administrative Role and Communications.
Some people are surprised to know that I’m our Lead Pastor’s Executive Assistant. Some of my counterparts at other churches have expressed surprise that I’m not the Communications Director. One person said he thought I was full-time in communications.
As the Executive Assistant, I get to play a strong role in helping our Pastor with our web site, social media, graphic design, and database management.
You may have a similar official title: administrative assistant, ministry assistant, or church secretary. And you may also have been handed the responsibility of maintaining the web site, handling social media, or graphic design.
Here’s a few things that have helped me in my position and I hope they will help you as well.
The first thing to remember is that everything communicates. Whether it’s creating a web site landing page, a postcard to promote an event, or the weekly bulletin, it’s form of communication in your church. You are communicating something to someone. Even answering your church phone is a form of church communication.
DON’T DO IT ALONE
Don’t try to be an expert at everything at first – or ever. One of my favorite venn diagrams is made of three circles. The circles are labeled: affinity, ability, and affirmation. Where those three meet is your sweet spot. For example: I’ve been told that I’m good with kids (affirmation). I know I have the ability to care for children (all four of mine are still living). I don’t particularly love serving in children’s ministry (no affinity).
When it comes to communications, I love (affinity) working with the database and creating social media content. I’ve been told I’m good at both (affirmation), and I have the skill to do what I need to do (ability). Our Lead Pastor is smart (totally hope he’s reading right now…) and allows me time to stay focused in these areas.
I’m blessed to have some very high capacity volunteers that serve our church in areas of web content and development, Sunday morning production, and photography.
As you venture into communication, you’re likely to have a lot of questions (I took classes for what I do and I still found myself using Google to look up “pixels to inches converter.” You might even be searching: “what are pixels.” Know this: that is okay. There is no such thing as a bad question. Ever.
Look at what other churches in your area are doing. Reach out to their administrative and communications departments and schedule a time to pick their brains over coffee.
Find a design you like and challenge yourself to copy it.
INVEST IN YOURSELF
You may need to set aside time for training and – let’s be real – this training may need to be on your own time and your own dime.
Give up the Starbucks. Take a few classes online or at a local community college, pay to join a premium Facebook group.
If your church has it in the budget, that’s fantastic. If not, you may need to make an investment.
You’re learning a new skill – you are worth it!
WHAT ARE YOU COMMUNICATING?
Remember that everything communicates rule?
What and how you communicate is very important.
Watch your first impressions team (Your guests are probably watching you online before coming for a first visit. Make sure you’re giving an accurate representation of who you are).
Be engaging with your community. Your online presence is more than event promotion. We partnered with a local coffee shop to give teachers free coffee on the first day of school. We frequently do give-aways for $10 gift cards for coffee or pizza.
Show people who you are; not just what you do. Give glimpses into the personal lives of staff members and volunteers.
Sometimes non-professional videos are better than professional videos. We’ve gotten some of our highest engagement when I’ve taken rough cell phone video of things happening in the office.
Develop a brand/style guide. Giving volunteers clear parameters of what’s expected when it comes to brand and style will help avoid any confusion.
Use a communications form for events and announcements. A form is a good way for ministry leaders to put all of their thoughts in one place. You can make sure submitted forms are available to your team. It saves the ministry leaders’ and your valuable time. Fifteen minutes to fill out a form takes less time than fifteen back-and-forth emails, sometimes over the course of fifteen days.
Use your administrative tools to provide data and metrics. Ministry leaders love their ministry. Your children’s leaders love children’s events and think they are the most important things happening in the life of the church. Your men’s ministry leaders love men’s ministry events and think they are the most important things happening in the life of the church. Your women’s ministry leaders? Yes, them too! It’s what makes them good at and suited for what they do! With your administrative tools, you are in a unique position to provide the data that will help them best reach their target audience.
MAKE IT EASY
Structure everything you do from the outside in. Children’s check-in on Sunday morning should be easy. All event registrations should be viewed through the lens of someone who has never been to a church. Sure, it may take some extra work on your part, but it’s worth it when you begin to see those connections. Make sure your web site is clear and easy to navigate. Ask your counterparts at other churches to audit it for you every once in a while and be open to their suggestions.
THE MAIN EVENT
While all ministries and events are important, the most important thing you will do is set up your Lead Pastor for success. People may connect through another ministry or event, but all avenues lead to your main service – the auditorium or sanctuary – ‘the big room.’ Everything you do has to reflect your Pastor’s communication style.
If your Lead Pastor wears a three-piece suit, preaches from the King James Version, and your church is liturgical, your online presence should reflect that.
If your Lead Pastor is a little more relaxed, casual in his delivery, and inserts jokes into his sermons, your online presence should reflect that.
I have said it before, but it bears repeating: people are watching you online – your web site and social media channels – before visiting. Make sure your online communications accurately reflect what they will see and hear at your church.
SET UP EVERYONE ELSE FOR SUCCESS
In your administrative role, you are always setting up other people for success. This means that as your church grows, you may continue to fill an administrative role, while someone else steps into a more prominent communications role – or you may move into a more prominent communications role while someone else fills your current administrative role.
I want to stop here and ask you to read two verses:
Remember your leaders who have spoken God’s word to you. As you carefully observe the outcome of their lives, imitate their faith. – Hebrews 13:7 (CSB)
Obey your leaders[a] and submit to them, since they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account, so that they can do this with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you. – Hebrews 13:17 (CSB)
Our only call is to observe our spiritual leaders, imitate their faith, and obey them. Your Lead Pastor and your senior leadership team have a great weight on their shoulders as they lead the church. In an administrative role – even in some communications roles – you may not have the same authority of decision-making that falls on their shoulders. Your only call is to obey their instruction.
As you continue to balance your roles, make it easier for others to help you by:
Centralizing file access by using Google Drive or Dropbox.
Sharing passwords to stock photo or digital asset sites.
Saving documents as .pdf’s for easy printing (not everyone has access to or is familiar with Adobe software).
You are not just setting up the next person for success, you are setting up the next generation for success. Because you get to play a small part in building the Church (notice the capital ‘C’) for generations to come.
You are not just communicating to connect people to your church, you are communicating to connect people to a relationship with Jesus.
As we’ve established, I love helping people take their next steps. Just yesterday – even after oral surgery – I was able to help someone find a small group and an area of service. It was energizing – even during the time of day that the oral surgeon told me I’d be tired!
But even with that being said, my comfort zone still falls squarely behind a computer screen. When dealing with people, I prefer email or text.
Gratefully, our Lead Pastor sometimes understands how my brain is wired and has allowed me to serve in a capacity that helps people take their next steps. At our church, we call it the “What’s Next” desk. It’s in a perfect place – out of the way, not obstructing traffic flow, and in a place where guests can stop by just before leaving the building.
For some special events, we might ask guests to stop by What’s Next and find out about our church.
For our last major event, we relocated the What’s Next desk to another part of the lobby (it’s on wheels). It was still off to the side – visible, but not obnoxiously in the way.
For Christmas Eve, we’ve had a donation of some cool coffee mugs, filled with candy and other treats. We’ll ask people to stop by What’s Next, sign our digital guestbook, and then we’ll draw names for some give-aways.
This is where it gets interesting.
I asked our Director of Worship Ministries where he’d like the What’s Next desk on Christmas Eve? His answer: Centrally located in the lobby.
Also, could you position it so that people can’t get behind it?
I’m pretty sure he hasn’t thought that through.
Or has he?
Because if people can’t get behind it…
and I’m a person…
then logic tells me that I cannot be behind it.
I came home and whined to my kids.
“People are trying to convince me that I’m a people person.”
I should also remind them that I pay their car insurance and their cell phone bills.
Would that make me a people person?
I do love helping people take their next steps.
As I pray, God is revealing that He’s using some special people (there’s that word again!) to help me take mine.
Over the last 3-4 weeks, a few very kind, friendly, and overly-excited people at our church have set out on a mission: to make me a people person.
It’s working, but don’t tell them.
I have a reputation to uphold.
Let me give a brief history. I like people. I do. I really do.
But how I show this like for people is through how I structure a database or how I lay out a web site. You’ll see my like for people in some of my designs. You’ll see it in how I design a response form. You’ll see how I like people when I get to set up a room for one of my boss’ meetings. Then I get to quietly sit in my office – working on database updates or web site updates or social media posts – while someone else stands before the people.
But one thing I do love is helping people take their next steps.
This actually started several years ago with the database. (Yes, really.)
I was setting up systems and processes in the database and watching people (there’s that word again) move through our system.
Seeing people go from first-time guest to being fully-connected at our church.
But I also got to see the part I didn’t like. Seeing people’s names remain in the first time guest category that went unchanged. The people who didn’t come back.
Where are they? Was there something our church could have done differently? Are they connected to a church – if not ours – somewhere?
I began to implement systems and processes designed to help people move from first-time guest to fully-connected. I went from data entry to developing and being part of the process.
Because it’s more than just a database. It’s people. People getting connected to church. People getting connected to Jesus.
And thus began my transition from Database Administrator to Next Steps Director.
I tried to stay focused on the database. People won. Every time.
A few years later, I now serve as our Lead Pastor’s Executive Assistant. Each week I get to serve at our What’s Next desk. I get to help introduce people to their next steps at our church. Also every week, I get to hand-write note cards to each of our first-time guests. I use the verbiage “get to” very intentionally.
You might argue that I get paid. It’s my job. I have to do it.
You’d be partially correct.
I do get paid. It’s a privilege. I get to do it.
So a few weeks ago, one of my kind, friendly, and overly-excited friends saw my stack of hand-written note cards awaiting their trip from my desk to the mailbox and asked me, “do you actually meet and know those people?“
I locked my office door, crawled under my desk, and ate carbohydrates.
“Go away.” I said it nicely and in a joking tone of voice, although I may have been serious.
“How big is your circle of friends at this church?” she asked.
“I like my co-workers.”
“Really…how many people do you know?”
“Five. Maybe six. Okay, four.“
“That is not enough. We need to get you out of the office.”
“I like my office. I keep carbs in here. Here – have some pretzels.”
Little did she know, God was also at work.
One of the other things I get to do: if someone is interested in serving, but isn’t quite sure where or how to start, I get to follow up with them.
Some people naturally know where they’d like to serve.
Others have no idea where to start. And it’s important to find that place where ability, affinity, and affirmation all meet.
So there I was: scheduled to meet with someone who wanted to serve, but had no idea where to start.
She came into my office and we talked about her – what led her to our church, how long she’d been coming, and what she liked about church. We talked about her family and her history, and what issues were important to her.
She wanted to serve…
In the nursery or with children?No…not really…
With our guest services team.Her brow furrowed.
We talked about some local missions opportunities.Her eyes lit up. The corners of her mouth turned up. And I knew, we’d found it.
And then I got to update the database…
This blog is about the process of progress. But I might need to edit to add a word: people.
Our area is facing a major hurricane in a few days. Stores are sold out of bottled water, bread, and canned goods.
Yet, as my daughter pointed out, there was plenty of dry shampoo.
People who would normally survive on coffee and Coca-Cola are buying enough bottled water to feed a small church plant, but they are not buying dry shampoo.
So, our only assumption is that they are using all that bottled water to wash their hair.
I’ve seen churches put their church management software to good use during times like these.
If you’re tracking gifts, talents, or abilities, and you have customized your options as needed, you could potentially run a report on all people who have the ability to board windows or use chainsaws.
I’ve seen churches use their forms feature to give people a way to communicate needs. I’ve seen them use their needs feature to organize help.
Today, though, I want to talk about what we should expect from the local church during this time.
If you’re a church member, or even if you haven’t been to church in years, you may have expectations of the church.
They should be a shelter.
They should provide food.
They should provide water.
That’s not the role of the church.
The role of the church is to connect you to Jesus.
While, many churches have great facilities to shelter people, there are just as many with no kitchens, no showers, and facilities that would make sheltering less than ideal.
What churches should do is offer prayer. They should offer to tell you about a God who will sustain you. And, if able, directions to the nearest official county shelters.
County officials are paid to monitor weather and road conditions.
Hospital employees get paid to treat your medical conditions.
Church employees get paid to help you know Jesus – and make sure there’s soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms. But mostly to help you know Jesus.
Churches should use their social media channels to provide ways for you to connect with Jesus and provide quick links to official news sources.
I have a friend who works for our city government. I’ve been told that their priorities for power restoration are official shelters, hospitals, and police and fire stations. Churches aren’t on that list.
It’s important to realize that church employees also have homes (despite popular belief, we don’t live at the church), and that they may not have power or ability to communicate.
But it’s also important to realize that church employees are probably losing sleep. Because it’s more than a job – it’s a calling. A calling to serve and love people.
Your local church may look different during a disaster. Church leaders may not be able to navigate flooded roads. Downed power lines may make it impossible to print a bulletin or follow normal communication channels. A few years ago, a hurricane hit our region and several churches were closed the following Sunday morning. The churches that were open operated with “skeleton crews” and limited resources, but it didn’t stop them from sharing The Gospel.
We’ll weather this storm. The effects won’t last forever.
God is steady and unchanging.
And the church will do what it takes to give you what you need. You need Jesus.
“You’re not hanging on a cross.” I have a friend who says that to me any time I decide to whine or complain. She reminds me that I’m not hanging on a cross and that somebody did hang on a cross. For me.
I’ve used her exact words with other people. Life sucks sometimes. Get over it. You’re not hanging on a cross.
Earlier this week, I called a friend of mine who lives in another state. It had been way too long since our last phone conversation. She reminded me of a lesson she and her husband (an Executive Pastor) learned several years ago: there’s a difference between being called to ministry and working for a ministry.
Today was a day I was grateful for these friends. And my family.
Ministry isn’t easy.
You’ll lose sleep, cry more than you thought possible, and sacrifice times with your family. Times like nights, weekends, holidays, major holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, sporting events, and Sunday afternoons.
You’ll have minor wins – like finding a way for your church to get some free custom printed mugs.
You’ll have setbacks – like forgetting to save three hours worth of work on a major graphic design project. (Ask me how I know?)
You’ll make mistakes. And you’ll realize that there are some people who equate the church with Jesus in such a way that when the church makes a mistake they think Jesus makes mistakes.
Then you’ll lose more sleep, cry more, and find something else to sacrifice – all because Jesus is perfect. And your goal is to be more like Him.
I have a great job. I have an awesome boss. I get to be a part of helping people find and follow Jesus and I get paid to do it.
My workload is heavy right now and I’ve got stuff [still] on my to-do list from last weeklast month four months ago. Take my neurotic obsession with our church management software and website content and development, combine it with my goal of perfection, and the result is my current to-do list. Make that an ‘overdue’ list.
And, yet, Sunday comes.
Every. Single. Week.
And as much as I try to get ahead, I find myself printing bulletins later in the week.
So there I was today – bulletins not printed, trying to pull information and correct image sizes for some other communications assets – and I get a call. A sick kid. My cell phone rang. My daughter’s voice on the other end, “Mom…” A. Sick. Kid.
Give me credit. I didn’t cry. I didn’t scream. I didn’t throw anything. I did read Exodus 20:13.
I did email my boss.
People over process.
People. Over. Process.
We’ve been talking a lot this week about processes and what needs to change to meet the needs of a growing church.
I wrote: we need to work on changing some processes because I don’t ever – ever – want to have to choose between a sick kid and printing bulletins.
I called my husband, who fortunately had enough margin and flexibility in his schedule to work from home.
In ministry you’ll lose sleep, cry, and make sacrifices.
But you’ll also realize how blessed you are to have a family and friends.
And at the end of a difficult dayweek four months, you’ll be thankful that you’re not hanging on a cross, and that you’ve been called to ministry to help people know the one who already did: Jesus.
Most people around me have learned that by vocal inflection, that phrase can mean different things.
It really is fine.
It’s not fine, but we’ll deal with it [later].
It’s not that great, but good enough.
And I also remind people that God is working, even when we are not.
Nowhere in the Bible are we instructed to have a fully functioning web site or award-winning social media. If a ministry doesn’t get promoted, God will still continue to work in and through that ministry.
But the Bible does instruct us to share His story, to tell others of His greatness, to do our work with excellence – as if working for Him, and to use the gifts, talents, and abilities He gave us to serve, honor, glorify, and point others to Him. (That was one sentence, folks!)
So at the end of the day, even when it isn’t really fine, it is fine. Because we serve a God that is greater than anything that’s not fine.
But what about when it isn’t fine?
Last week, I edited a response form.
I realized after a few edits that it really needed to be archived and I needed to create a new form.
Because of my knowledge oflove forneurotic obsession with our church management software, our web site, and other communication channels, creating a form is no small task.
What’s the header image?
What are the automations?
Is it connected to a group or event?
Who gets notifications?
Who are the form managers?
Is this promoted anywhere?
Is it connected to a button on the web site?
Do we need a url redirect?
Is the information correct on announcement slides? In the bulletin?
So, after the form was created, checked, double checked, and linked to our web site, I sent the final product to one of our Elders.
He asked for one update to the web site and said the form was good to go.
Good. To. Go.
On Sundays I get to serve at our “What’s Next” desk. (Your church may call it “Next Steps.”) It’s a place where our guests can register for upcoming events, connect with a small group or ministry team leader, or find out more information about something they saw or read about.
We have three tablets which display quick links to our current response and sign up forms.
The Elder who I had worked with this week walked over and began scrolling through the forms.
It wasn’t there.
A simple setting in Church Community Builder: the box next to ‘display on list of forms’ had not been checked.
I apologized. I could not believe that I had overlooked that last step.
And he looked at me and said, “it’s fine.”
No. It’s not fine.
I asked him to send a text or email to remind me to make the correction.
I decided then and there to stop saying, “it’s fine” when it really isn’t.
It’s time to tackle issues, address problems, fix things that are broken, and work better, smarter, and harder today than we did yesterday.
The next time you hear me say, “it’s fine,” it really will be.
Yesterday I was talking with a friend. Her church had recently implemented a First Time Guest tent – outside the building. At their church, it’s a place where first time guests go, receive a gift, and meet someone who can answer questions and take them to another destination – the worship center, children’s check-in, etc.
They moved their Next Steps desk inside the building to a corner that’s quiet – which lends itself to easier conversation.
The changes they made are nothing new. Many churches across the country have similar designs.
However, her executive team gave her an argument, “we want our volunteers to be comfortable.”
I gave her a counter argument: was Jesus comfortable when he was hanging on a cross?
What we really want to do is equip our volunteers to do the job they’ve been called to do.
So, let’s take a step back and look at volunteer recruitment and WHY we volunteer.
I love our church. I’m grateful to be where I am. Most aspects of my job I get paid to do. There are other things I willingly do as a volunteer. Among my counterparts at other churches, this is common.
I volunteer in these areas out of obedience to God. I don’t do it out of guilt, or to fill a void. I do it because God has called me to do it. God has never promised His calling will be easy. He did promise it would be worth it.
If I were to volunteer in any other area, that area would suffer. (Ask me sometime about my brief stint in pre-school and children’s ministry.)
As part of serving God, there have been sacrifices and discomfort. I’ve sacrificed financially, I’ve sacrificed time with my family, I’ve been cold, hot, hungry, wet, and uncaffeinated.
Last night I got to watch my son play guitar in a band that was leading worship for about 1,000 people – mostly teenagers.
But what struck me the most wasn’t his talent. And it wasn’t the deafening roar of the crowd responding to the band. It also was not the fact that teenage girls were asking for his autograph.
What struck me the most were the times he pulled back. The times when he stepped up to the mic, sang a few words of a line, and backed up as the lead singers continued. The times he took his hands off his guitar and raised them in worship.
My son’s been playing guitar for about 7 years. He started playing in his church’s worship band around 5 years ago. Recently he’s assumed the role of Worship Leader for the youth group.
Just after high school, someone asked him what he wanted to do. He said he wants to be a worship leader. Someone said, “you already are a worship leader. You just want to get paid for it; have it be your job.”
This summer he’s part of the band leading worship at a beach camp operated by our state’s Baptist convention. The Baptist convention also organizes the band, and the drama teams. Over the years, I have heard people say they don’t like “denominational politics.” I am not even sure I have enough knowledge of the subject of denominational politics to form an opinion. But what I saw this weekend – all operated by our state’s denomination – was well-organized and pointed to Jesus.
My son loves to play (with) his guitar. He’s loved music since he was a baby and from the first time he had a guitar in his hands, he couldn’t keep his hands off of it. When he wasn’t learning how to play, he was fiddling with the strings or just tapping it.
Over the years, we’ve heard noise from that guitar at inappropriate times.
“Be quiet. We’re trying to sleep.” Guitar.
The Pastor is praying. Guitar.
The Pastor is preaching. Guitar.
The sound booth asks all musicians to be silent while they check the mic of a singer. Guitar.
The worship leader actually asked him to stop once. I don’t think he did.
He strummed unconsciously. And even strummed air guitar when his guitar wasn’t in his hands.
So last night, I saw him consciously and deliberately pull back and worship. And I saw growth. I saw a teachable spirit. And I saw someone willing to give up – even for a brief moment – what he loves – for Jesus.
And later that evening, one of the people serving with him said, “I love serving with your son. Matt has defined passion for me.”
What does this have to do about progress? And processes?
Tomorrow morning people will walk into your church for the first time. Some will have preconceived notions of what church is – organized religion, denominational politics.
What will you do to show them that you’re different?
How will you teach them? How will you tell your story? And His story?
How will you move them from the “I want,” to the “you are?”
What will you give up – even for a brief second – to help someone see Jesus?