A Shared Editorial Calendar is Your Best Church Planning Tool

Len WilsonChurch, Leadership, Marketing, Strategic ThinkingLeave a Comment

A shared, comprehensive church editorial calendar is the most important tool you can implement for your church’s worship and communications needs. The purpose of the calendar is to coordinate your messages in support of a single theme.

Do you find your church struggling to manage too many people, ideas, and themes during worship? If you lack messaging clarity, you need an editorial calendar. If your worshippers hear a whole bunch of themes and ideas in a single service, they’re less likely to remember any of them or be changed by any of them. If you give them a cohesive theme, they’ll remember it, and be more likely to change their lives accordingly.

A Shared, Well-Designed Editorial Calendar is a Crucial Planning Tool for Effective Worship.

A primary role of a church worship and communications leader is to align weekend worship themes and messages. This role is critical; a communications leader is often the only ministry leader outside the senior and executive pastor’s office that has a global view of the church. She or he must make sure that everyone else knows what’s going on as well. This applies to the church as a whole, and to staff and volunteers as well. Clear internal communication is just as important as clear communication from the staff to the congregation.

What is the best way to solve this need? A well-designed, complete editorial calendar.

The best way to create organizational clarity while aligning everyone toward the same goal, is a well-designed, complete creative calendar. Most creative and communication directors already maintain a calendar. These calendars, though, are typically individual or something just shared with other creatives and communications staff and volunteers.

I am talking about a creative calendar that is used by the entire pastoral and program staff of the church.

A well-designed calendar is the first and most critical step to creating effective and powerful communications and media in your church. Without this, nothing else will work right.

Why Your Volunteers and Staff Need to Follow A Shared Editorial Calendar

The first question for most people is, how do you get your colleagues to pay attention?

The thing that drives the entire media engine is the message in worship on Sundays. Worship is an act of communication, the most prominent such channel in church life. It is the driver for creative arts and communications. A creative calendar gives a means for themes established in worship to flow to the entire congregation.

1. A shared editorial calendar for your church forces everyone to be on the same page.

At one large church, the staff liked to call the Senior Pastor “segue man” for his ability to merge several ideas together in a single service. While his desire to make them all fit was admirable, it usually didn’t work. Nothing destroys the work of a creative team faster than competing messaging.

Most church worship environments are a confusing mess of competing messages, with too many messages being squeezed into a given Sunday. It is better to have one core idea each week, rather than five or six competing ideas. With so many competing messages, the only thing the congregation thinks about at the end is what to eat. The resulting lack of focus creates confusion and a minimizes impact, whereby one big idea creates meaning and calls people to action.

2. A shared editorial calendar for your church forces alignment.

Many of the messages during a given Sunday of worship have no representation in your church’s communication channels or opportunity to respond. I see pastors become aware of this and begin to think about coordinating ideas on Sunday morning during final worship prep.

By then, though, it is too late to develop specific messaging to reinforce and drive home the call to action. A calendar forces this conversation to happen much earlier, when you can do something meaningful about it.

3. A shared editorial calendar for your church establishes what matters.

Most churches have too much communication going on at the same time, with no global view to help the congregation with what is most important. One church I encountered let each department manage their own creative and communications decision-making, and the result was a cacophony of competing signs in the lobby.

I literally walked in the door and saw 12 different large print or digital signs, each screaming for attention for their ministry area. Standing there, I had no idea what anything was and no interest in wading through everything to learn in that short amount of time.

It was just a bunch of noise.

A calendar helps establish priorities.

How to Design a Church Editorial Calendar

How to do it? Open this link and review its content as you keep reading.

  • Think of the calendar as “editorial.” In other words, it works in the same way you’d find in a newsroom for a news website or TV station. Places like these maintain an editorial calendar to coordinate all content, including monthly themes, ideas that run across multiple channels, and ideas that run across multiple weeks and months.
  • Do your calendar in Google Sheets. I use a simple Google Sheet. The magic here isn’t the technology, but the ease of access and sharing, along with the way I design and deploy it. The main benefit is to literally get everyone on the same page.
  • Give everyone “view” access and a few select people “write” access, to edit or write content to the calendar.
  • Call the first tab Worship, and include a column for every week, and rows for the title, key scripture, core concept or keyword, image, short description, list of participants, list of announcement messages, along with the call to action or desired response.At St. Andrew, we’re always adding things to this – the most recent, not shown here, is a new row for a coordinated message prior to our offering. (Note that the Worship tab begins Apr. 8, instead of Jan. 7 this year – this is because we updated our worship schedule beginning Apr. 8, 2018. Normally this would begin the first week of January.)
  • In another tab, create a Marketing calendar, including a column for each week and a row for every channel. Include every ad under every channel. If a ministry is worth doing, it’s worth having an ad campaign. If it’s not worth an ad campaign, it’s not worth doing.
  • Reproduce a few elements of the Marketing tab in the worship tab with simple “equals” equations. For example, I list all video announcements in the Marketing tab, but also show those in the Worship tab, so worship and music people know what’s going on, without having to dig through the entire marketing list.
  • Within the Marketing tab, use the top area of the sheet to show a campaign duration, usually 4-6 weeks.
  • Under the Marketing tab, below the campaigns section, list each communications channel and space. On my calendar at the link, notice on the marketing tab how every channel is listed, and within every channel, every ad space is listed. Instead of giving everything equal weight, the calendar helps focus advertising down to the limited number of the most important messages on a given weekend. For example, I have nine dedicated ad slots in the bulletin design, with the highest priority (“feature”) items devoted to the back cover. Less is more. It helps the church to develop a life rhythm.
  • Color code each campaign by tier of importance. I have three tiers, with darker hued ones more important, longer, and hitting more channel slots. Don’t give every ministry ad equal weight, but give it exposure according to one of three tiers by its value and relationship to the core messages of the church. For more on this, see our church’s style guide here.
  • Use two different colors – one for new campaigns that have yet to be added to the calendar, and another for campaigns that have already been assigned ad slots. I have blue for new campaigns and yellow for ones that are assigned.
  • With each of the 52 columns in a given year, look for each ministry area to have two to three prime opportunities when the whole church shines a light on their work. This creates more impact and meaning than a constant low-level noise.
  • Two to three “prime” slots a year also forces each ministry area to begin thinking strategically about their own work. What two to three ministry activities are the most important to each ministry? What are the second most important?
  • When you design a calendar months out, you give everyone the context they need to see the bigger picture of the entire church. It helps eliminate tunnel vision and puts everyone on the same page about strategic churchwide vision and mission. It also gives them comfort and security, knowing that they will have their turn in the sun.
  • With this calendar in place, you can begin to think long term. Notice the Dates tab. I have listed a simple set of dates for the coming year. This came from asking ministry directors for their plans. We began collecting future dates of church for next calendar year. Ask each ministry director to name the two to three of the most important highlights in their calendar year and two or three of those that are second-most important, among all activities.

Thanks to the creative calendar, the creative communications staff no longer needs to spend significant time reacting to other staff members’ lack of planning or last-minute requests.

Most programming is the same each year in the life of the church, and with proper planning, the creative ministry can spend most of its time planning and developing killer content and not scrambling to fit in everything.

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