How I use a communications policy and branding guide

How I use a communications policy and branding guide

I don’t normally use my personal blog to write about work issues. But today, I’m going to use this space to talk about communications director stuff because it’s a convenient way to share information. If you are one of my regular readers, please feel free to just skip over this one.

I’m part of several groups for communications directors on Facebook. These groups have been an incredible resource for me to gather information and find out how other churches deal with issues we collectively face. I’m usually pretty quiet in these groups, gathering more information than I share.

Recently, someone asked if anyone had a communications handbook they could share. One of the things I love most about my job at The Sanctuary Church is creating process and strategy, so I mentioned that I have created several documents. A good number of people asked me if I could share my policy. Rather than e-mailing them individually to each person who asked, I thought it would be easier to post here. I also wanted to explain how I use these documents.

Two years ago, one of my projects for the summer was writing a Communications Policy for our church. When I started in this job eight years ago, I didn’t feel the need to have a set of “rules” to help me determine what we would and would not communicate as a church. Back then, we often had so much room in our weekly bulletin that our office manager would use clip art to fill the white space.

Much has changed since then. Not only has our church grown, which creates more requests from leaders to communicate events, but the way we communicate also has expanded. These days, not only do I have to decide what we will communicate each week, but I also have to determine what communication channels will be used for each type of event. Almost every event makes our weekly e-mail and printed bulletin, but not everything will be announced from stage, get a printed postcard or advertised on Facebook and Instagram.

Working at a church is so different from working at a newspaper where I could objectively determine what type of news deserved to be covered without worrying about hurting anyone’s feelings. When you work at a church, you are dealing with people who you also do life with. These are awesome people with great hearts who are trying to serve the community. I love these people personally, and I want to help them as much as possible.

But the reality is we don’t have the time or space to communicate every event or activity that every person would like us to promote. Instead of deciding what I can and can’t promote on an individual basis, every time someone asks, I created my Communications Policy to set boundaries. Now, when people ask me, I don’t have to invent a set of rules each time. It’s clear what we will and won’t communicate as a church. I also try to give people ideas for how they can communicate their personal projects to our church in a more organic way.

One of the most helpful parts of the document is the section called, “Tiers of Communication.” In this section, I break down what communication channels we will use to promote an event, based on how large the audience is in our church.

One thing I have learned is that by trying to communicate too many things or communicate them all equally, I am actually working against myself. As the Communications Director, I have to decide the main message I believe is most important for our church members to hear each week. By giving them too many choices or too many competing messages, I am actually making it more difficult for them to hear and understand the main message.

I use the Communications Policy in two ways: 

Often an attender of our church will ask me if I can communicate a personal project they are launching in the community. I use the pre-written policy as an objective way to explain why I can’t do this. It’s not personal. It doesn’t mean I don’t love what the person is doing. It’s just the policy.

I also go through the policy page-by-page with new ministry leaders. It helps us all get on the same page so they know what to expect. I ask every ministry leader to fill out a “media plan” to explain their upcoming events, and to do this within a set amount of time (usually six weeks) before the event.

The second document that has been very helpful to me is our branding guidelines. I took most of these ideas from the branding guides of much larger churches, and I’m still working on making this document “our own.” (Since this document is only used internally, some sections are basically copied from other churches. I am still working on updating this document.)

Even though it’s a work in progress, the branding guidelines have been helpful in several ways:

When ministry leaders are communicating their own events to a smaller group, I can give them this booklet so they use the same standards we do when we communicate to the entire church. The guide helps ensure leaders use our logo, colors and fonts correctly. It also explains the “style rules” we use in writing.

I also have used our branding guidelines with outside companies who might be working on a project for us. For example, we have been working on a renovation project in our space, and I shared the document with our interior designer so she would have the exact colors we use in our color pallet.

Here are the links to both of these documents.:

The Sanctuary Church Communications Policy

The Sanctuary Church branding guide

Let me know if you find these helpful!

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Home.

Home.

I’ve been wondering how I would feel on Sunday morning.

Would I be overcome with emotion? Would I be nervous? Or filled with excitement?

It turned out that “all of the above” was the correct choice. But there was something else.

More than anything, I had that feeling you get when you walk in the door after a very long journey. Sunday was the day our church has been anticipating for weeks, months, years… more than a decade really. After meeting in schools since the church was started 12 years ago, we had our first service at very own permanent church home.

In a way, the journey to get to this day felt like a stay at a nice hotel. During the last six years, we’ve been holding our services at a high school, which probably doesn’t sound that luxurious. But we’ve been blessed to use the school’s multi-million dollar, 900-seat auditorium, with its state-of-the-art sound system, massive stage and gazillion-foot-high ceiling. So, we were a little afraid that moving into our new 420-seat auditorium might feel like a downgrade.

More often, the journey felt like camping. We had to schlep two trailers full of sound equipment, instruments, toys, signs, coffee makers and more back and forth, in and out, every Sunday morning. No matter what your destination or what you experience along the way, living out of a suitcase gets old.

The journey has been full of obstacles. During the last year and a half since we located the building we wanted to purchase, we have faced the opposition of neighbors who didn’t want us to buy the space, moments when we thought we couldn’t possibly pay for it, and then even the last-minute critique of inspectors.

Photos by Seth Kaufman.

And the journey definitely has not been easy. Like so many families in our church, we have made the choice to give up things we would like for our family to be able to give more of our finances to the church. As a staff member, just when I thought I couldn’t work any more, my family was willing to sacrifice time together so I could do a little bit more. And then we started spending Saturday mornings helping with construction and clean-up while the dust and messiness piled up at our own house. Those were sacrifices that lots and lots of people made to help our church get into this facility.

I realized I’ve spent a lot of time focusing on the people who might come. How can we effectively communicate our message to the general public? How can we invite people who might be searching for something more in life? How can we let the community know that we are here?

Photos by Seth Kaufman

We had scheduled this past Sunday as a “practice run” for our current body before our grand opening service this coming weekend. But I was still much more nervous than usual thinking of the new guests who might show up. Then there were all of the unknowns: Where should I sit? How should I get on stage to do announcements? How will things sound? Will people care that all of the carpet and furniture haven’t arrived yet? Or that we still have unpacked boxes?

When I walked into the auditorium and heard the band practicing, that was when the wave of emotion hit me. “We’re here! This is really happening!” I was fighting back tears as I walked through the lobby and the offices and the kids’ area.

Photos by Seth Kaufman.

Then, everyone arrived and we settled in for our first worship song together. We had been in that huge high school auditorium for the last seven years, and although the space was great, people sat in far off corners with sound drifting into the high ceiling and fading away. Now, we were sitting shoulder to shoulder, all of our voices praising God as one. The voices were so loud. So unified. So full of worship.

That’s when I could finally put a name to that feeling in my heart.

We’re home.

 

 

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Lights on. Lights off.

Lights on. Lights off.

Oh, my poor blog! I haven’t seen you in so long! Has it really been two whole months? I really have missed you, and I’ve had so many blog posts wanting to be written.

The last few months have been really, really crazy. I know we all go through these phases in life. My problem is that I can get so laser focused on all of the things I need to do, that I can’t rest with such a long to-do list looming over my head.

It all started last spring, really. As I’ve mentioned here before, our church is getting ready to move into a new facility. As long as we were making such a major change, we decided we should go ahead and change lots of things!

So, starting last spring, that’s what I’ve been doing. I’ve had the privilege of getting to work on tweaking our logo and changing our colors. Once that was done, it meant changing everything else… building a new web site, redesigning all of our promotional materials and signage.

I’ve also been blessed to get to work on my video editing skills. I’ve realized I really love telling people’s stories, and I’ve been able to do lots and lots of that the last few months by interviewing, filming, editing and creating videos for our Sunday morning services. Add in a direct mail campaign, which was a first for me, and just all of the normal stuff that I need to do on a weekly basis, and well, whew! It’s been crazy!

All of this hard work was in preparation of this past Sunday when we were scheduled to have our first service in our new building. And then… the first marshal stopped by. And he asked us to do a few more things before we could actually occupy our new space.

Instead of having our first service on Sunday, we had no service.

I’ve learned something about myself the last few months. I can be like a light switch. When I have a million things on my plate, I’m either “on” or “off”. I’m either running as fast as I can go, or I crash, too tired to move. I get so used to running a hundred miles a minute, that I forget how to walk.

We suddenly went from racing to get everything ready on time to a complete standstill. One minute I was picking up signs, banners, booklets and postcards from the printer. The next, I was stopped in my tracks.

I woke up Sunday morning with a major headache, caused by a big knot in my neck. I slept in. Then I just laid around doing absolutely nothing for a few hours. I wasn’t sure what to do with myself.

By mid-morning, I started realizing what a blessing that day was. I can get so focused on “doing” church or creating an experience or trying to make everything look great for outsiders, that I can forget to stop and get quiet and focus on God. So, Sunday turned out to be a real blessing for me. A true day of rest.

My to-do list is much, much shorter this week than it has been for months. I’m thankful that when we do finally have our first service at our new facility, I will be able to go to it at a normal pace, rather than exhausted and running on fumes.

And I’m starting to figure out how to operate at a place between “lights on” and “lights off”. So, “Hello blog!” You might start seeing a little more of the medium-speed me.

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That moment you realize, “God did this.”

I am in awe.

I don’t even know how to start this blog post, but I know that I have to write this down.

For the last six months, our family has been on an unbelievable journey. We have learned about sacrifice. Our faith has been tested. We have had our eyes opened. We have seen God answer prayers. What happened today was such an amazing God thing that it gives me chills.

Six months ago, we were challenged to join with our church on a journey of generosity. For the last 10 years, our church has been meeting in a local school. We are blessed with an incredible state-of-the-art auditorium that we are able to rent for Sunday morning worship. But six out of seven days of the week, we are basically invisible to our community because we don’t have a building.

During the last few years, more and more people have been coming to our church. We have seen some amazing things happen as we live out our mission of “helping everyday people become passionate followers of Jesus Christ.” It is our desire to live life together in community, to reach out to the lost and lonely and those who need help in our community. And to do that, we believe that God is calling us to step out and purchase a facility.

It seems impossible. The economy stinks. Lots of people in our church body don’t have jobs. But we couldn’t ignore this feeling of urgency that it is time to expand our vision by purchasing a facility.

I’m not going to lie. I had a very difficult time working through what this would mean for our family. Like many other families, we would need to significantly increase what we were giving. We asked ourselves, “What can we give up so we can give more to the Kingdom of God.”

This hasn’t been easy. We have had to take a hard and often painful look at our priorities, our selfish desires and our own greed. We have found that our definition of the word “need” has been very out of balance. Many of the things we think we “need” to live an average life in the suburbs of Chicago are really just things we want or desire to be comfortable.

We have had to learn to trust God like never before. To be honest, we realized that we haven’t experienced many times in our life when we had to really think about how we were spending our money and make hard choices to give things up that we want or even “need.” But at the same time, the experience has brought with it a ton of freedom!

The last six months have been an incredible journey for our church. We have had to unite as a body to support this effort. We have gone before the local zoning board to gain approval. We have faced opposition from another property owner. Through it all, God has opened doors and removed major obstacles to allow us to keep moving forward.

We now face the largest challenge so far. Our church has given more than $350,000 to make a downpayment on the building we hope to purchase. However, about six weeks ago, we found out we still need $350,000 more. And we need it in September.

When we heard this news, honestly, our hearts sank.

“It’s not possible,” was our first reaction.

But since then, God has been working on us. We realize now that this isn’t about what our family can do or what our church can do. This is about what God can do. And God can do the impossible.

We wanted to go before the Lord with willing hearts to do what He might ask us to do. Since there are about 100 families in our church, our family decided that we want to give $3,500 above and beyond what we normally give to help raise $350,000. There have been other times in our life when $3,500 might not have seemed like a huge amount to give. But we are in a place where we really had no idea how that would be possible. We felt a strong conviction that we needed to go outside our church body to ask for help.

We sat down and brainstormed what we could do to use the talents and gifts God has given us to raise some money. We made a list of the friends and family in our life who might be willing to help.

We decided that our 6th grader would participate in a 3.5 mile run/walk his youth group was organizing.

I remembered that I had several hundreds dollars worth of Discovery Toys inventory that I could sell.

The kids talked about setting up a lemonade stand.

We wrote a letter and sent it out. I will admit that I procrastinated and procrastinated because I really didn’t want to ask people to give money. But we finally got the letter in the mail last week.

We started hearing back from people almost immediately. People wanted to buy Discovery Toys. Others wanted to support the 3.5 mile run. Others just wanted to give. People were responding… but that $3,500 goal still seemed far off.

We have heard stories of others in our church receiving money unexpectedly. One family got a big financial gift from a relative. Another family received a bonus from work. Another family had not been paid by several clients and finally got paid. We kept trusting God for that $3,500 that he had put on our hearts.

As I prayed about it this week, I remember thinking, “If we really DO get $3,500, I will know it was God.”

When we got home tonight, we opened the mail. We checked our voicemail. And we were shocked.

$3,495.

That is how much people have given. Yes, we are $5 short, but that’s close enough for me to believe.

We are so thankful to each person who gave in some way. Whether it was tens of dollars or hundreds or more, it is unreal to us how God told each person exactly what they needed to give to be part of that total.

The bigger goal still sounds impossible to our human minds. And yet seeing what God did on a smaller scale makes us realize that He can do it. We saw it happen. You should have seen us screaming and dancing around when we realized people had given almost exactly $3,500.

Is He big enough to add a few more zeros? I don’t have any doubt.

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Fifth grade graduation

Our church has a special graduation service for the fifth graders to mark their transition into Thrive, our junior high ministry. This is a big deal at our church because once kids are in Thrive, they sit with their parents during Sunday morning worship.

Each fifth grader gets a box filled with notes of encouragement from special adults in the church. The box also includes that child’s “life verse” on the cover. We chose Psalm 25:4-5 for Andrew. It was a really special day for us!

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