How To Build & Lead A Church Communications Team

How To Build & Lead A Church Communications Team

Structuring Your Church Communications Team Like an Internal Agency

By: Ryan Weiss | Communications & Marketing Habits & Culture

“What does a church communications team do?”

Building a successful church communications team can be a fun and rewarding process, with the potential to reach countless people with the good news of the gospel and make a real impact. And in today’s digital world, technology and social media have given us more opportunities to do so than ever before.

However, many church communication teams struggle with a lack of clarity around their team structure and function in order to amplify their church’s good-news message, leaving their Communications Directors feeling overwhelmed, uncertain, and full of questions:

  • What meetings should we be having?
  • What are our roles and responsibilities?
  • What systems should we be building or using?
  • How should we be resourcing ourselves regularly?
  • How should our communications team be structured?
  • What kind of tasks is the communications team supposed to do?
  • Why is our communications team needed? Are we a ministry or a support team?

In this article, we explore some practical tips and strategies for building and leading a top-notch church communications team so that you can help take your church’s communication to the next level.

But more than that, we want to help you and your team establish organization-wide clarity on why you exist, what you regularly do, and how you go about doing it. Because when you do, you’ll not only do great work for your church, but you’ll experience deep senses of effectiveness, purpose, and health.

Ok, here’s what we want to cover in this article:

  1. Culture
  2. Team Structure
  3. Team Roles
  4. Systems
  5. Meetings

Feel free to take it all in or jump to the section you’re interested in the most. Let’s dive in!

Build a Culture People Want to Join

Before getting into the tactical details of what an effective church communications team does on a daily and weekly basis, it’s important to talk about your team’s culture.

An unhealthy culture breeds tension, siloing, and burnout within your team and with other ministry teams.

A healthy culture fosters trust, collaboration, and passion, and it helps your team respond to needs and requests without defensiveness.

If you can get the culture right, you’ll build a team that people actually want to be part of.

Clarify Your Mission, Values, and Norms

Consider crafting a departmental Mission Statement that is anchored in the Great Commission. Why?

If your department views itself as an integral part of your church’s Great Commission efforts, then your church’s ministry teams will view you as co-ministers, too, which aids staff-wide unity. It will also help your team members feel engaged in ministry as Great Commission strategists, not just support staff, tacticians, or “bulletin makers.”

Here are two examples of potential Mission Statements:

  • We exist to help our church amplify the good news of Jesus to our community and help our church make disciples.
  • Our purpose is to help our church engage and connect with the community, foster relationships and opportunities for sharing the love and teachings of Jesus, and support the growth of our church and the development of new disciples.

RELATED: Dive deeper into how to craft Mission and Vision Statements for your church or ministry team.

Next, write out some high-level Core Values that define how your team operates, makes decisions, and filters out unhealthy perspectives and behaviors. Defining “how we do things” can recalibrate your team’s objectives, shifting the focus from “getting things done” to “helping our people do things well.” And valuing your team’s people over your team’s production is perhaps the most important element in avoiding burnout and division.

RELATED: If you’re looking for a place to start with Core Values,
check out our Creativity Core Values article.

Finally, establish some norms for your team around communication, work environments, expectations, and collaboration.

Questions to consider:

  • What platforms should we use for internal communication? Do we organize all communication within one platform like Slack or Microsoft Teams? Or should we use email, too?
  • What kind of work environment are we? Are we fully synchronous and in-office together all the time? Or do we allow for asynchronous or work-from-home days?
  • When are we expected to respond to work-related inquiries? Are there times when we need to be reachable after normal business hours, or do we have a hard boundary of “no messages after work”?
  • What’s our standard process for collaboration? Do we try to refine our best ideas individually before coming together? Or do we expand and contract ideas as a group?
  • Healthy Norms Tip: As an asynchronous team at ArtSpeak, we discourage any work communication from happening via personal communication methods like texts or phone calls. We channel all our internal communication through Slack and treat it as the authoritative location for official communication. Everyone knows they can leave their feedback or direction at any time via Slack, know that it’s in the right place, and expect that it will be followed up on while honoring each person’s communication boundaries outside of work.

Clear norms elevate team morale and productivity as well as minimize confusion and frustration, so communicate them often!

In short, building a healthy and effective church communications team begins with defining the mission, values, and norms that foster passion, trust, and collaboration. Providing your team with the clarity, resources, and support they need will enable them to excel in their work and contribute to the success of your church’s ministry.

Structure Your Church Communications Team Like an Agency

You’ve built the foundation for a culture that people want to be a part of, so now it’s time to build your actual communications department.

But how should your structure your team and department within the whole of your church?

We’ve seen a lot of churches do this differently, but we’ve consistently seen one mindset shift that leads to success with any approach:

Your church communications team structure should look like an internal agency.

You Have Clients and They Have Needs

The thing about agencies is that they only exist in as much as they have clients to serve. And guess what—your church already has “clients,” so you’re off to a great start! Some of your team’s clients include:

  • Your Lead Pastor or Executive team
  • Your kids and youth ministries
  • Your Small Groups ministry
  • Your Missions team
  • Your mens and womens events or ministries

And not every client has the same needs, timelines, and budget, right? Some need more attention and focus than others, especially at different times of the year.

If you can flip the script from viewing your church’s teams and ministries as “burdens unaware of our timelines, resources, and processes” to “partners who have real needs that keep us in business and on-mission,” then the way you interface with them will change dramatically.

Every successful agency with a long list of satisfied clients provides them with a few key elements:

  1. A team of specialized experts who deliver great results
  2. Clear systems for receiving requests and planning timelines
  3. Regular meetings to keep communication open and projects flowing

So if you’re going to operate as your church’s internal agency, you need to ensure that your team, systems, and meetings are in place before a single request comes across your desk.

Assemble Your Team of Specialists

It’s time to build your team of experts!

Now you might be thinking, Our church can only afford to hire one person for Communications, AKA ‘Me.’

That’s fair. And honestly, in our experience, that’s pretty common. So while we could talk about all of the different individual people you could hire for your team, let’s instead talk about the top five functions and competencies we think every church communications team (or agency) should provide their church:

  • Communication and marketing strategy
  • Design
  • Social media management
  • Writing
  • Project management

(Two additional functions to consider would be videography/photography and web development, but those are very much dependent on your church’s specific media and web goals.)

If those essential competencies feel like a lot for one person to handle, you’re right! It’s not very realistic—or healthy—to place all of those responsibilities on one person. Nor do we think it’s even wise to filter all of your church’s communication through one person, if you can avoid it.

Because in reality, each of those competencies can map to a very real position on a communications team:

  • Overall communication and marketing strategy → Communications Director
  • Design → Art Director and/or Graphic Designer
  • Social media management → Social Media Manager
  • Writing → Copywriter
  • Project management → Project Manager

Thankfully, there are many talented people in the world that could help you with a few of these functions at once. But our main point is this: the best way your communications team can serve your church is to make sure it has all of those bases covered in some way without it falling all to one person (or at least being realistic about your bandwidth as one person covering it all while partnering with leadership to prioritize appropriately). Anything short of that will more than likely lead to bottlenecks, abrasion, and burnout.

Paid Staff vs. Volunteers vs. Outsourcing

Jumping back to the question about whether or not to hire someone for these functions: If you can, that might be a great option, but you don’t have to. There are many successful church communications teams that rely on the donated time of skilled church members (personal shout-out to Denise, my masterful bulletin editor!).

If you’re leaning more toward finding some volunteers to assist your team, here are two great questions to start with:

  1. What does our church want to do the most with our internal and external content? Video, print design, motion graphics, public relations, etc.?
  2. What gifts are already present in our congregation that could help us with our content goals? Ask around and look for the existing skill sets and passions to see who could fit with what you need.

One gentle reminder, though: You have to be even more mindful of burnout when relying on volunteers. They’re not getting paid to help you, so don’t overwork or overbear them.

As far as outsourcing those specialties to remote workers or agencies, that’s a very real option! Our one caution would be to ensure that you have a paid Communications Director in place before pursuing this option, someone who knows and owns the church’s communications and marketing goals that can serve as a source of truth and collaborate with an external team to deliver effective results.

RELATED: Shameless plug, but our team can help you with remote
communications team support. Let’s talk 

We’ll end it with this: team size is less important than team speciality. Regardless of size, an effective communications team should provide a church with expertise in graphic design, social media strategy, marketing strategy, and copywriting. You don’t necessarily need one teammate for each specialty, but a healthy communications team should avoid filtering all of these specialties through one person alone.

Whatever your structure, whether you have 10+ team members, an agency, or are going solo, scaling your effectiveness while remaining healthy requires systems.

Create Clear Systems People Love Using

As an internal agency with many clients and a myriad of requests, you need good systems! Good systems don’t just help you deliver great work on time, they help you prioritize people over projects so that everyone across your organization stays happy and eager to work on new projects together.

Let’s highlight the top three systems we think you should have in place for your communications department.

System #1: A Communications Request Portal

  • Where’s the one place anyone on your team can go to get a marketing, communications, or design request in front of your communications team?
  • Don’t rely on emails or “office drive-bys” to formally receive requests. Build (or find) a portal-esque system with different form fields and questions to organize and clarify exactly what’s needed and when it’s needed.
  • Internally, develop a “ranking matrix” of sorts to prioritize requests based on requested timeline, internal and external reach or impact, and resources needed to accomplish it. Have your senior leadership understand and sign off on how the ranking system is used. If your Comms. Request platform of choice can help with ranking via labeling or color-coding, even better.
  • We’ll talk about this in the next system section, but bonus points if the request system you choose is a feature of or can easily integrate with a project management platform.

System #2: A Project Management System

  • Where can your communications team locate all requests and track their related tasks, timelines, and progress?
  • Investing your time into developing a sturdy project management system will communicate value to your ministry teams. Why? Because their “projects” and “requests” really represent the people they’re trying to serve or help. And without those people, there wouldn’t be a ministry or church in the first place. So let’s help keep track of them!
  • Our agency uses Asana to organize and complete every request and project from start to finish. It helps us assign team members to specific tasks, build dependencies, organize files and communication, and deliver great work on time.
  • More bonus points if your project management system can integrate directly with an internal master calendar that all of your ministry teams have access to.

System #3: A Master Calendar

  • Where can every minister and staff member see all of the planned projects and events for the whole year all in one place?
  • Church communications is a very seasonal affair, so building a master calendar where every ministry’s big upcoming events can be plotted and planned for is critical. Not only does this help your communications team know what’s coming up next in the life cycle of the church, but it also helps your ministry teams strategize when not to overlap events or projects.
  • Make it public. Make it easy to access. Color code it by ministry or event type. But make it view only. Remember, if someone wants to get something on the calendar, you’ve got a Comms. Request Portal to field it and a Project Management System to organize and timeline it 

Clear systems will not only make your communication team’s job easier, but they’ll create enjoyable, reliable experiences for your ministry teams, too. (Download our Wall Planning Calendar.)

RELATED: How to Create a Church Planning Calendar

Get and Stay Ahead With Regular Meetings

The final aspect of building and leading a church communications team we want to highlight is that dreaded word: meetings 

We know, we know—no one needs more meetings, right? Well, let’s talk about that first.

One of our favorite filters to use when deciding which meetings to have and which to eliminate involves asking the question: Will we be able to walk away with clear next steps after this meeting? If the answer is no, then you probably don’t need to have it. There’s no better way to save time for everyone than cutting out meetings that don’t lead to real, tangible action.

But the largest benefit of establishing regular, action-oriented meetings is that they help your team get ahead and stay ahead. Because the reality is that you can plan ahead or you can burn people out.

With that in mind, we recommend establishing three different kinds of regular meetings withing your team and across your organization.

Team 1:1s

If you’re the Communications Director, setting up regular one-on-one meetings with your teammates is crucial. These 1:1’s give you a chance to hear from your teammates about how they’re doing, what they’re working on, and what they need from you to help them move forward.

It’s easy to get super heads-down in busy seasons and forget to look around at the people helping with the workload. We recommend at least a monthly 1:1 check-in with each of your team members, if not 2–4 times a month.  If you’re not connecting with your team members on some kind of regular rhythm, you’re probably going to be surprised when they say, “Hey, I’m leaving.”

Also, if you don’t have regular 1:1’s with your direct reports as a Communication Director, you should ask for them. Just like you need to hear from your teammates about what they need to do their jobs effectively and function healthily, your leaders need to hear the same from you.

Regular Department Meetings

As a communications team, kick off every week with an all-hands meeting focused on prioritizing what needs to happen this week and addressing any team bottlenecks or challenges that you need to help remove. We recommend starting this meeting with gratitudes and wins from the prior week, both internally and inter-departmentally. A habit of expressing gratitude keeps people, joy, and passion at the center of all the hard work you do and makes for a tight-knit and cooperative team.

Additionally, set up regular inter-departmental meetings with each of your ministry teams. For leadership-level clients like your Lead Pastor or Executive team, consider establishing a weekly or bi-weekly meeting rhythm. It doesn’t need to be painfully long, just a regular check-in to make sure you’re always aware of the direction or initiatives your leadership is prioritizing.

For your other large departments like Kids Ministry, Youth Ministry, Small Groups Minsitry, and Missions Ministry, try to connect once a month to get ahead on their next events and communication needs. Build an online document with an ongoing meeting log for each department where you can take notes on ideas, discussion points, and next steps.

Quarterly Planning Meetings

If there was only one meeting we’d recommend you establish, it’d be Quarterly Planning Meetings. QPM’s are org-wide meetings where your department heads look at the next six months of ministry and plan out when things are needed to accomplish your goals. Your role in those meetings should be helping the department heads and ministry leaders understand the reverse-timelines your communications team needs to help pull off a project. Talk about the discovery, creation, revisions, and shipping time needed to adequately support whatever large ministry events or initiatives have been identified over the next six months.

It’s definitely difficult to convince your colleagues to add more meetings to their calendars, but we promise that you’ll experience far better results and much less burnout if you can implement regular 1:1’s, department and interdepartmental meetings, and Quarterly Planning Meetings into your department’s rhythms. And when you’re trying to help your church amplify the greatest-news message in human history, better results and less burnout are massive wins!

Partner With Us To Help Build Your Dream Team

Whew! That was a lot—did that seem like a lot?

Well, if you loved all of the information but still feel a little overwhelmed and in need of additional guidance, our team would love to come in and help you actually build the church communications team of your dreams!

Fill out the form below and someone from our team will reach out to you about a custom church communications team assembly process for your church.

Running a church communications team is a lot of work, and we don’t want you to feel alone in your efforts. If you’re a Communications Director, Art Director, Graphic Designer, or any other type of church-comms specialist, you’re invited to  join our ArtSpeak Creative Community

The ArtSpeak Creative Community is an online community of mission-minded creatives helping each other restore their health & rediscover their creative purpose. You can get direct Slack access to ArtSpeak’s team and other marketers, receive actionable feedback on your team’s projects, and hone your skills in real-time with other church creatives just like you.

Join the ArtSpeak Creative Community today.