T here’s a tragic, invisible barrier that prevents churches from using talented creatives and creatives from serving God through ministry in the local church. Both churches and creatives want to collaborate, but neither can seem to figure out how.
To help, I’ve made a creative arts and communications ministry development roadmap.
The reason is that, after 20 years into a calling to serve the church through creative ministry, I have learned a secret:
Powerful church creative arts and communications is equal parts a) talented, creative storytelling and b) killer systems.
The former without the latter may give you a great weekend, but is unsustainable. The latter without the former is efficiently boring.
This roadmap is a strategic flyover of the eight most important systems churches must build to unleash the power of a creative arts ministry. My hope is that with this roadmap you will be able to locate and unearth a treasure trove of amazing creativity and storytelling hidden in the jungle of your church’s daily life.
The Big Idea Behind the Roadmap
Here are three of my core convictions about creative arts ministry:
- Most people experience Christ first and foremost through art and experience, not propositions.
- Creative arts and communications touches every area of church life; as one pastor said to me, it is “highly visible and easily critiqued.”
- Creatives thrive with structure and wilt without it.
My goal for your church is to help you integrate and unleash the power of creative arts, communications, marketing, production and worship ministry efforts for the purpose of telling the story of Jesus and advancing the kingdom.
My vision is that there would be an ecosystem in the local church for creative arts the same way there is for mission, education and every other ministry in church life. By ecosystem, I mean a common language, thriving examples in local churches, and a strong support system in education, para-church ministry, resourcing, and more.
8 Big Steps for Developing a Creative Arts and Communications Ministry
Each of the eight issues listed are critical and need to be mastered for you to run an effective creative arts / communications ministry in your church. When established, they will unleash your church’s potential as a creativity and storytelling machine.
I call these big steps because each is necessary, but none are the kind of thing you can check off your list in a day or a week. I’ve done this in two churches as a full-time leader and in several churches as a part-time leader or consultant, and in every case it has taken 2 years or longer to get the majority of these steps up and running.
These eight categories are dynamic and interrelated and, while presented here in order for clarity and ease of understanding, may be approached in any sequence.
Start wherever! But just start.
1. Name the Vision, Values, Branding, and Assimilation Path.
These are the core strategic concerns that drive all other work – they are the decision making tools. Without them, there will be confusion about what to prioritize. With them, such decisions become much easier to make.
Some great practitioners cover these four topics extensively. Here’s an overview on values I wrote that captures what they really are and how they work as decision-making tools.
2. Finally Nail the Worship Development Process.
Worship is an act of and a channel for communication—the most prominent such vehicle in the life of the church. I use worship as the driver for creative arts and communications because it is, rightfully, the biggest resource hog in the life of the church. It demands the most time and energy and attracts the most attention. Themes established in worship flow to the entire congregation.
Many churches have two major problems in worship development. One, they separate worship development from creative and communications development, and two, they fly by the seat of their pants – they struggle with getting the right people in the room, with enough content and enough time to dream and accomplish the vision.
The first issue is organizational and is solved at the top level of the church; the second can be solved with a good development process. For more on worship development, here’s a checklist for designing creative worship, condensed from one of my books, Taking Flight with Creativity.
3. Build Better Channels.
Many churches do not have a comprehensive channel strategy. They put substantial resources into stale, ineffective channels and ignore valuable and emerging ones altogether.
By channels I mean the vehicles by which the storyteller and storyreceiver dynamically interact. Examples include social media, screens around campus, worship programs, the website, and more. When I arrived at Peachtree, my colleagues and I undertook a multi-year plan to move the church from print to digital – to shift from a dependency on bloated print tactics to a leaner and more effective multi-faceted approach with an emphasis on digital and visual communication.
Building better channels is complex and long-term. I’ll be writing more on this soon.
4. Plan Technology Purchasing.
“One crisis after another.” Does this commentary, given to me by a church leader about his congregation’s approach to technology, describe your church? In a lot of churches, technology is a runaway freight train of freak out. At first, we ignore it. Then, once we’re headed for a crash, we stick our head out of the caboose and scream for someone to pull the brake.
I see technology as a primary vehicle for creative arts and communications because it is the means by which people experience the stories we tell. All churches use technology, but many churches woefully under-appreciate the need for change to make their technological environments accommodate how their congregation lives.
Further, most churches consider technology to be an operations, not a creative or communications, concern, when in fact good use of technology is strategic and essential to effective communication.
For more on church technology, here’s a list of mistakes to avoid and how to make a Technology Five Year Plan.
5. Produce a Comprehensive Content Calendar.
Uncoordinated content, or content driven by several decision-makers, fights itself and becomes self-defeating. It destroys the ability to communicate well.
The trick is a single churchwide publishing calendar, based on tiers of prioritization, which coordinates all ministry activity, marries the themes and calls to action of worship, and integrates them for greatest impact with the life of the congregation.
Like an editorial calendar that drives a magazine, a church content calendar takes a comprehensive view of church life over a year and strategically identifies peak moments to address themes and tell stories. If a ministry is important enough to exist, it is important enough to feature at some point in the church’s year.
And – yes – another post coming soon on how to do this.
6. Find and Cultivate the Right Personnel.
Right decision-making about full-time, part-time, contractor and volunteer personnel does not arise out of the current, crying need but from a clear understanding of the first five categories, above.
Often, churches live and die in this category, suffering through frequent position turnover. Without clear systems and boundaries, artists and creatives get confused, frustrated and burned out. Other churches struggle with how to find, train and retain artists to accomplish the vision.
I have known many churches who have lost highly talented and critical creative and communications people on an average of every 12-18 months for lack of clear thinking.
Further, it’s worth mentioning that many churches have two leaders for this ministry – directors of worship arts and of communications. Two chefs can make for some challenging time in the kitchen. (And, yes, we have a language problem when it comes to creative ministry.)
Staffing is a sensitive topic and one that requires perspective from both employer and employee. In March, my blog theme will focus on the employee’s side – what it is like trying to pursue a career as a church creative.
7. Tame the Project Management Tiger.
Every effective ministry needs a good workflow – a system for handling all production requests and needs for creative, production, publication and marketing in worship and other venues. There are several ways to approach this – more soon.
8. Master all of Your Favorite Tactics.
In this final step is a seemingly endless list of areas of specialization such as graphic design, film and video production, website development / management, layout, pre-press and printing, social media, marketing and publicity, shared asset management, and more.
Often, a church hires a specialist in one of these areas without first working through steps 1 – 7 above. Chaos ensues. In one church I recently consulted, a video producer and a graphic designer each created their own versions of the same basic concept for different channels. Both were great but contained completely different concepts, visual identities and calls to action. What a mess!
I cover many areas of specialization in other posts on this blog, such as here on missing the mark in storytelling, here on renovating the bulletin, and here on campus storytelling, and have new posts on art design, print collateral, among others, coming soon.
What to do next
Learn more with my Complete Creative Toolbox, including 8 practical must-have templates, how-tos and more! Available with an email address here:
And with your email subscription, be on the lookout for more details on these 8 big steps, coming soon. Also, write below in the comments with a big challenge or a great victory you’ve had in local church creative arts ministry.