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The Church Communications Director You Need More Than a Project Manager

What I have observed is that most growing churches realize at some point, that they need to specialize, as the aforementioned receptionist can no longer handle the bulletin, the social media accounts, and so on, by themselves.

Most churches treat their communication director -- if they even have one -- like a glorified project manager, that does graphic design. One needs to manage projects, but they need something more – an authority who partners in messaging the brand of the church or organization.

Check out the image a chart from a recent conversation I had about this, with a pastor:

Think of this chart as a conversation about personnel, about workflow, and ultimately about creating a more strategic and effective approach to communicating your church’s message.

A main point about it:

The row across the bottom are specialists, who work on things like Social Media, Layout Design, Graphics, Copywriting, Video Production (which is many things), web and so on. You can fill in any number of specific, tactical positions here.

I circled the Graphic Design and Project Manager parts of this workflow chart during a conversation with a pastor last week. This is the typical job description for a church communication director.

First layout, and then project management and layout.

Granted, depending on your situation, this may be a glorious improvement on your current reality.

One of having the receptionist do everything.

What I have observed is that most growing churches realize at some point, that they need to specialize, as the aforementioned receptionist can no longer handle the bulletin, the social media accounts, and so on, by themselves.

Hiring a graphic designer who can also project manage the various activities of the church is typically the solution the church comes up with, as that initial additional hire.

This new person, though, is then usually saddled with the entire communications weight of the church.

What starts out exciting and full of promise quickly descends into survival and burnout for that recently hired graphic designer. I have met many incredibly talented graphic designers who are completely subsumed by the number of programs and activities they’re forced to maintain from the outset. 

The Typical Communication Director Isn’t Allowed to Message

The core of the problem?

I think it is that in most situations, the communication director has very little to no authority to help “message” the church; rather, he or she is given projects to produce from various pastors and program directors, both staff and volunteers who head committees and such. This is what I mean when I say in other posts that the typical church communication strategy is “Church Like Kinko’s” instead of a “Church Like Pixar.”

This graphic designer-slash-project manager is usually quite good at the job – otherwise they wouldn’t survive. They typically can do graphic design, learn social media and sometimes website publishing, project manage with the best of them, and sometimes even do video or other skills.

But in spite of all of this, the poor, overworked designer/communication director gets burned out and retreats from the original grand vision for how to message the church – or even quits in frustration.

This is to say nothing for the specialists that may work with or underneath this person in a paid or volunteer capacity.

I have seen this happen over and over again.

There’s a better way. 

A Good Model Leads with A Creative Director

The key is to shift from a “Kinko’s” approach, to an agency approach.

In a Kinko’s approach, responsibility for communications is diffused across the entire church, including staff and often lay people.

Everyone manages their own thing, and the communications staff person or persons are responsible for executing other people’s ideas - making it look pretty. Designing a cool logo. Making akicking awesome website. This is, to quote a famous football coach, like asking someone to make a great meal when that person isn’t allowed to pick out the groceries.

The shift you need to make is from a support services model, to one of an agency.

In a branding agency model, messaging starts at the top, with a role called a Creative Director, or CD. The job of the CD is to set the message for the organization or client. This means understanding the overall brand and how each individual initiative or project works underneath the overall brand.

At St. Andrew, where I serve as the CD, part of my job is to do exactly this. This means I have to understand the brand deeply. When I say brand, I mean the unique identity of the church – what makes this particular community run with passion, its values, what it cares about (read here for more).

I have one main client - the congregation. Within that client, I have 20-30 sub clients - the various departments of the church.

If I let the sub clients dictate what message we’re sending, though, it may or may not serve the main client, the overall congregation. My job is to develop both the main client and all of the sub clients, while making sure that all sub clients stay on point with the main client.

When I understand this well, then I can apply it to every project that comes along – this includes sermon series, annual campaigns, capital campaigns, assimilation initiatives, Bible studies and classes, serve opportunities, and more. You name it. Everything needs to reflect the overall brand. (To get a behind the scenes glimpse, here’s a day in the life of my job as a Creative Director.) 

Projects Then Flow Through an Art Director and a Project Manager

Then, as in a typical agency, underneath the CD is an Art Director, or AD. I don’t have a dedicated AD at St. Andrew. We’re not big enough, in my opinion, to justify such a role. Instead, a few of us do it together.

Next is the Project Manager, or PM. Now, this isn’t an org chart. It’s more of a workflow chart. The job of the PM is to oversee and manage each of the jobs that we produce, including interfacing with the various ministries in the church, making sure we’re staying on task as a team, and so on.

As our PM does her job of managing the projects at St. Andrew, it then goes through various specialists. Here’s a list of the types of specialists you might hire.

Most churches force their creative and communication director to be a project manager.

I encourage you to think bigger from the start, and fill in underneath, as you are able.

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