Ever wondered what a church creative director does? I am the Creative and Communications Director at St Andrew, a large church in the Dallas area. Often, people are curious about what I do. Since I believe creative leadership is one of the most important things a church of any size can have, I’ve outlined a typical day in my work life. (This day was Thursday August 10, 2017.)
7:00am – Creative Process
As I start my day with coffee, I am thinking about a concept for a giving sermon series in 12 weeks. We’re trying to push our series planning further out, to 9-12 months, but we have a ways to go. The previous night, I read a chapter on church generosity before bed.
As I had hoped, the concept of “gift” marinated all night, and I feel early momentum around the idea of helping people to see tithing as a loving gift to an unknown person, not a spiritual transaction with a church institution.
8:00am – Writing
With the kids off to school, I finally write down the idea I’ve had in my head for the last 60 minutes. I’ve come to appreciate ideas as the currency of my ministry, and no longer take them for granted. Instead, when one appears I try to write it down before it leaves for a more affable host.
I like to conduct my first writing session of the day at home, without the managerial interruptions of leading a team.
My ideal creative process includes 3 – 4 sessions a day, each about 50-55 minutes long, where I capture or expand on a core concept. When drafting, I follow ideas as they appear, then go back later to edit and meet deadlines. This means I don’t always write to deadlines, but instead write to streams of consciousness. Most days I am lucky to get 1 – 2 such sessions, always before lunch, when I am at my creative peak.
I try to avoid booking lots of meetings in the mornings to allow for this vital process to happen. But not this day.
9:00am – Meet New Talent
I walk into Starbucks to meet with our worship leader, Josh, our guitarist Mark and their mutual friend James about creating custom soundtracks to go with our short films.
Being a church creative director is largely about gathering talent. Since I arrived at St Andrew, I’ve been leading our talented video production team toward a vision of increasing complexity and professionalism. Most churches ask their creatives to do everything. A single designer or producer preps, shoots, cuts and masters a short film for worship. Churches usually cannot afford anything more – many not for of lack of resources, but for lack of good vision and lack of good systems.
I’m slowly trying to turn the ship to a true film environment and part of that is custom music. These cats are University of North Texas music grads (a path and field I once considered). Talk about talent! One of the best music schools in the country is down the road. Why wouldn’t I leverage this opportunity?
10:00am – Worship & an Urgent Communications Issue
Feeling inspired about a vision for short films in worship, I enter a sermon series planning meeting with two of our associate pastors, Arthur and Pam. The three of us are hoping to dive into the series on generosity in October and an Advent / Christmas series, if we get lucky on time. Our plan is to bounce concepts, images and ideas around, and from the exchange, for me to write a creative brief that will drive the series (I’ll post more on this concept in January, 2018).
Except: this meeting starts with an urgent communications issue.
One of my hats is to lead the communications team at the church, and a mass mailer we sent to the community has generated an unexpected response. I am bummed. This fire to put out steals the film mojo I was feeling. I also mentally say goodbye to my hoped-for time later that day to spend on our new website in development.
I deal with the issue for 30 minutes, set my team on a path, and then the three of us finally get on track with a deep theological and semiotic discussion about the relationship of generosity with reconciliation, atonement and inheritance.
We take the conversation to lunch and end up with a sermon series title we all love. On the way to lunch, I run into a visiting pastor from the Houston area who has come up to learn about some digital technology innovations we’re trying. I’d completely forgotten about his visit! But I’ve just moved into an awesome tool called BusyCal (h/t to Phil Bowdle) so hopefully I can avoid calendar mess-ups in the future.
1:00pm – Team Production Walkaround
I open my office for the first time all day and check in with my team. Hanging with our creative team is one of the funnest tasks, when I get to see videos and graphics and stage sets and other cool stuff in development, bounce ideas, and more.
Our senior designer Diana, who has seven years of experience at the church and thirty in the field, has just returned from vacation. She shares some cool stories and images with me, then we dig into what has been happening while she’s been gone.
We have an automated project request and management tool in development, but it’s not online yet, so I’m going old school with paper notes. We together look at a half dozen projects coming up for the rest of the month.
Next, I check in with our junior designer Briana, who is two years removed from school and two months on our staff. She’s in the heat of several projects, including the urgent communications issue from earlier. It turns out that we have to reprint the mailer, with the hope of getting it postmarked today. We’re short staffed to accomplish this goal, so our COO Forrest and I exchange texts, who puts out an all staff to help get the project turned around by 4:00.
2:00pm – Project Manager
In between conversations with the visiting pastor from Houston, our media and production director Kyle stops by my office to go over several current issues. Kyle is managing video productions, a set build, some IT issues, I don’t even know what else, and an a $6MM sanctuary renovation and construction project. We always have multiple points to cover. After a year of close working relationship, we’re developing a shorthand and can bounce quickly between projects and problems. It’s scary, actually, how much we can discuss in a short period of time. Amid project talk, he updates me on our operating budget.
3:00pm – Creative Director
After a flurry of emails, I approve the revised mailer. Some of the team converges in the work room where we stand over the 4-color Canon digital copier while it spits out thousands of new pieces. Kyle disappears to solve an unrelated problem, and I try to teach myself how to operate the Canon on the fly. We set up an assembly line and begin to process the paper.
Meanwhile, one of our team members, Chris, checks in with me. Chris wears several valuable hats in the department, including copywriter, social media coordinator, photographer and team extrovert. He and I discuss several issues.
Next, as I send off an email, one of our producers, Aimee, pops her head in my door and asks me to approve a questionable video edit that mentions the word “suicide.” I visit her office and watch her edit, which is part of a short film scheduled to air in worship in 10 days. I decide the story I’m hearing is important and worth the frank discussion the word might generate.
4:00pm – Mail Drop Specialist
A dozen of our church’s staff have gathered in the conference room to help complete the revised local communication. I arrive with some of the materials, demonstrate how to do the task and thank everyone for helping. Shortly, more materials arrive as members of our team hustle up and down the hall.
I had doubted our ability to make the end of the postal service day, but the copier works like a champ and with dozens of hands at work, we get close. One of the staff members suggests we might make it, so I pull my car around and smartphone map the nearest post office while they stuff the final pieces. I come back in the building and transfer the big bin into the backseat of my car. On the accelerator, and – score!! – I make it to the door of the post office at exactly 5:00. The guard is in the process of locking the building, but takes my bin. I text colleagues with celebratory messages, memes and emojis.
As I drive home, relieved, I begin to think back on the day, and to the discussion on the theology of generosity. As the craziness of the afternoon recedes, ideas for how to present our core image of the October series start to fire off.
I pull over, get out my journal, and write down a few ideas.