How to Develop a Communications Playbook for Your Church

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This article was originally published by Church Marketing Sucks & Courageous Storytellers, where I also did a video interview with Mark MacDonald. Check them out! (You will need a Courageous Storytellers subscription to watch the video… but it’s just so totally worth it!)

Let me tell you a story. When I started my job at First MB Church four years ago, the church didn’t have an official communication request process. If a staff member wanted to advertise a retreat, a sweet old congregation member had a prayer request for her ailing Mini Schnauzer, or the pastor decided his Sunday sermon warranted a special handout on Friday morning (Can I get an amen?), our admin did her best to squeeze everything into the bulletin.

Our bulletin, by the way, was an 11-by-17-inch piece of paper folded into thirds. That equates to 374 square inches of utter chaos. And, please, don’t get me started on the barrage of clip art posters, the clunky (outdated) website, or the kids ministry volunteers’ insistence on using Comic Sansfor everything.

It was a dark, dark time in my church’s history. But let me be clear: It wasn’t anyone’s fault. Our staff members and volunteers were really good, but busy, people who were super passionate about their thing. No one on staff had the authority or the time, though, to control the pandemonium. As a consequence, everyone did their best to keep everyone else happy.

Sound familiar? If it doesn’t and you work in church communications? Count your lucky stars, my friend, and may the odds be ever in your favor. (Cue Hunger Games music.)

Read the rest of the article here.

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The Intensive Conference: Full of Nuggs and People Who GET It.

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I spent some time in St. Louis this week attending The Intensive conference, a gathering of creative people around the country ALL ABOUT CHURCH COMMUNICATIONS.

I’ll be honest: This trip came at a good time for me. I don’t care what career you’re in (… that sounds mean. I do care), it gets hard and tiring and frustrating and flat out silly sometimes when you do the same thing every day for several years. Even good jobs become difficult because those pesky humans keep showing up and doing things imperfectly.

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Kelley Hartnett and Mark MacDonald were the featured speakers, and they are fantastic people I’ve had the privilege of knowing a few years now. They had nuggets upon nuggets upon nuggets (and a man needs his nuggs) of wisdom I’m going to dive into a bit in a second, but I’ll be honest: my favorite part of this conference was being with people who Get It. I was in a room full of people who Get fonts and colors and deadlines and projector cables and volunteers and Macbooks and Andy Stanley and Parks & Rec and Panera. And they’re also the kind of people who noticed I capitalized Get and they understand why.

They just Get It.

Beyond that, though, I took away some practical, helpful things as well as some bigger picture reminders about stuff I do every day that sometimes I just need to remember. Here are three of my faves:

Branding is Important.

I’m a big fan of good branding, but I have to admit sometimes I struggle explaining why. It just is and I get it and HOW COME NO ONE ELSE DOES. A couple helpful thoughts:

  • Your logo isn’t your brand; your logo points to your brand.
  • A great definition Kelley shared: Branding is the “emotional aftertaste left by an experience.” Let that soak in.
  • A brand is successful if it’s known for a solution to a problem.
  • Brands help people make decisions quickly. I thought this was brilliant:
    How do we make choices?
    We make them based on what we know.
    Make sure you are known for something.
    Give people the tools they need to make the choice you want them to make.
  • Differences make you stand out. Don’t be bland; no one will care. “We do pretty much everything” is not helpful.

Less is More.

  • This is Mark’s sweet spot, and the subject of his book. His whole deal is the idea we should be known for something. One something. As he says, “The more things you want to be known for, the less you’ll be known for anything.”
    I SO AGREE WITH THIS.
  • Specifically in church world, we like to offer a jungle gym full of activities for each specific people group and mmaayybbbbeee tie in some religious angle and hope people show up. As Kelley reminded me, “The purpose of the church is not to get people to show up to stuff.” Many Christians are more wrapped up in attending activities than they are about being Jesus to their neighbors. And they’re tired. Because we (the church) keep them (very) busy. The church needs to be known for something, and it shouldn’t be making people busy and tired. We need to give people a chance to be a good disciple and not just do a bunch of stuff.
    I SO AGREE WITH THIS.
  • If everything is equally weighted, nothing matters.

But Most Importantly, I’m Ok.

“It is not possible to do your best at everything all the time.”

BUT I THINK IT IS.

BUT IT’S NOT.

BUT I THINK IT IS.

STOP IT, MATT. IT’S NOT.

It’s a messy balance, but there are days and seasons when we have to be ok with “good enough.” That is not an excuse for mediocrity, but it is a reality of being human. Not every single thing I make will be awesome. Sometimes that’s my fault (I’m tired or uninspired or busy or lazy or just out of ideas), and sometimes I have to make logos for a children’s program called Candy Cane Lane.

Try to make that cool. I dare you.

A common theme of the last session was you’re better than you think you are. I needed that reminder.

I have pages of notes in Evernote I just went through again and a few new books to read. Several new friends also posted nuggets of wisdom on Twitter.

Overall it was a good experience, and I’m grateful I work for a church who believes in investing in their staff. Rest is important, and I forgot how refreshing it is to just simply be with people who Get It–whatever your It is.

So you should do that, too. Maybe you can’t drive to a conference in St. Louis in a rented Hyundai Accent that for some reason keeps playing “Baby It’s Cold Outside” from my iPhone every time I plug it in, but community is important, and I was reminded how much I needed it.

Recap: Branding is important, less is more, and you’re good at what you do. Three good lessons for all of us!

Hey, I’m on a podcast!

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I was super excited and honored to be the featured guest this week on the Church Media Podcast! Carl Barnhill and I talked about creativity, rest, work/life balance, and–of course–bad fonts. We also get into the dc Talk debacle.

Check it out now and let me know what you think!

Much of our discussion was spurred by this article I wrote for Sunday magazine.

And remember, Upstream is still on sale for a crazy low price few a more weeks!

Fear and love and different.

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Wherever you stand politically, I think you’d agree that today is a tough and frustrating and difficult day. Even if your candidate came out victorious last night, it’s clear that good people around our country are sad and hurt and angry and scared and divided.

We’re all weary, and I think it’s safe to say we’re all glad at least this portion of the political season is over. Finally, finally, finally over. Finally.

Most people would also agree that the two major candidates competing last night were not the best our country had to offer. However, I believe we collectively as a nation chose those two people for one primary reason:

Fear.

Both parties did a masterful job of convincing their followers that the other side was evil and had nothing but ruin in mind for our futures. We were asked to put our reservations and frustrations about the candidates aside–valid as they were–because their candidate was the only person standing in the way of the evil adversary taking over the White House and destroying our beloved America.

I think we came to this point because the last 15 years have taught us to be afraid. Terrorist attacks, beheadings, school shootings, and natural disasters have become the norm. We’re no longer shocked or surprised when those things happen, but we’ve become more cautious. We don’t know who we can trust. Our worlds are becoming more global, and suddenly people who don’t look or think or act like us are everywhere. Whenever we meet someone new, we’re not entirely sure they‘re not one of them.

Humans don’t like ‘different.’ We’re scared of it. But here’s what I know: As I age and mature, I realize more and more how important and valuable it is to surround myself with people who are different than me. Over the past few years especially, I have realized how inadvertently wrong I was about important things. I wasn’t wrong on purpose, but I was still wrong, and I needed a different perspective to reveal that truth to me.

Different is very, very important.

I’ve spent time with Muslims in Paris and Cairo.

I have good friends who are African Americans.

I have friends who are gay and friends whose parents are immigrants.

I have very close family members who hold very different theological views than I do.

I have friends who are athletes and artists and pro-life and pro-choice and professors and plumbers and Mormons and missionaries.

And all of them are wonderful people I enjoy spending time with. I don’t agree with them about some very important things, and they know that. They also know I’m not pushing to modify their behavior or constantly prove that they’re wrong. That doesn’t work, and deep down you know you wouldn’t want to hang out with that kind of person anyway. And those people I disagree with are frankly more fun and more life-giving than some people I know who share my demographics.

Should we keep each other accountable, challenge our beliefs, and strive to always grow? You bet. Difficult conversations are an important part of any friendship, but in my opinion that is much more effective when you are kind, open, humble, and honest. You will never grow or challenge your beliefs if you never encounter different.

I typically keep my political views very private. My friends know I’m a Christian, but I’m not incredibly vocal about specifics of what I believe. Lately I’ve taken some chances and shared statements online that went deeper than normal about my beliefs. Most people were kind and receptive and respectful, but some people weren’t.

It’s scary to share your opinion, especially when you work at a church and usually avoid conflict. Sadly this election cycle has reminded me that some people don’t know how to handle a difference of opinion, and when I’m different from who they thought I was, they’re not sure how to respond.

I’m a huge advocate of being very thoughtful and careful when posting online, but I’m also exhausted from the tiptoeing. I may in fact be different from you–even if our skin and religion and income are similar–and that is absolutely ok.

And you know those Muslims and gay people and immigrants and artists and athletes I mentioned? Whenever I spend time with one of them that I disagree with, I also come away a little surprised how much we’re alike. I can genuinely enjoy my time with someone who holds almost completely different religious and political views from me. I’ve spent time in four different countries, and every trip I take I’m reminded how similar every human is simply because we’re human. Sure we’re different, but we’re also the same.

And after spending time with those people, it’s harder to see them as an enemy. Suddenly the other side doesn’t seem so crazy. They have real, legitimate reasons (sometimes driven by hurt and pain) that led them to the beliefs they hold dear. When I see and hear and understand that, suddenly different isn’t so scary.

And I hope those people leave conversations with me feeling very similar. They may not agree with me about faith or politics, but I hope they leave a conversation with me thinking, “Ya know, sometimes those Evangelical guys act like jerks on TV, but that Matt guy is alright. He drinks too much Dew and has silly hair, but he’s not an insane bigot.”

That’s a good goal: Try to not make people think you’re an insane bigot.

I’m very aware that I am a white, straight, Christian male, and in our culture that means I am very privileged. Many of you are probably taking today’s news a lot harder than I am, although I’m not very happy either. Still, here’s what I know: Right now, we have no control over who is in the White House. That decision has been made (by us). We don’t have much say in national policy or global relations.

But ya know what? We have total control over how we treat each other. So let’s do a better job at that. We have to, or this exact thing will happen over and over and over again as long as we believe the lie that only politicians can save us and ‘different’ people are wrong and scary.

Stop it with the angry Facebook posts. Stop it. Be nice to people who disagree with you–even if you are convinced they are horrible and hopeless (they’re not). If we’re not afraid and we are kind and loving, there’s less of a need for government. If we dialogue with people who disagree and help people who need it, the world will be so much better than Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or anyone else could possibly enforce through policy and law. Stop the fear, stop the anger, and start the love–the only thing that can heal this mess we’ve created.

Whether we share political and religious views or not, it’s hard to argue with the words of Jesus. According to Him, the second greatest commandment of all time is to love each other. In fact, my Savior taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. The love He taught us to have is supposed to be patient, kind, humble, honoring, others-focused, and truth-seeking. It does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

So let’s do that. To everyone. Always.

Nothing else works, and nothing else is helpful–especially on days like today, especially with people who are different.

What dc Talk Taught Us About Marketing

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Toby, Michael, and Kevin, (maybe not) just between you and me, I’ve got something to say.

As most of the Internet knows by now, just over a week ago the official dc Talk Facebook page changed their cover photo to a cryptic graphic that simply said “2017.” The following day, a new post alerted the world that an important announcement would be shared on dctalk.com on May 11.

2017

As the band (and their marketing firm) likely anticipated, Christians raised in the 80s and 90s CCM bubble went berserk. This announcement could only logically mean one thing: arguably the most influential Christian band of all time was getting back together after a 16-year hiatus.

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If you weren’t a part of this culture growing up, I don’t think it’s possible to explain how big dc Talk was. They changed Christian music forever. They gave a moniker to a generation that suddenly wasn’t embarrassed to be known as “Jesus Freaks.” “Christian music” became something we willingly accepted because it sounded like music our friends would like. dc Talk looked and sounded different from almost everything else “Christian,” and they even released albums through Virgin Records.

Those years almost seem like ancient history now as my generation has waded through a 16-year “intermission” that has mostly produced Christian music we didn’t like. Now that “Fuller House” is on Netflix, “Girl Meets World” is on Disney Channel, and just about every movie from our childhood has been remade, this seemed like the perfect time for an epic comeback for the original Jesus Freaks.

As I watched the big video announcement on their website yesterday, my excitement quickly turned to confusion. The big comeback—the one that sent the Internet into a fury over the past week—was on a…. cruise ship? A one-time-only five-day trip that was too expensive and too impractical for most of my friends to realistically consider?

… Wasn’t this dc Talk? The band that set and crossed boundaries that no one else in the Christian world would even consider? The band that—even after they disbanded—continued to lead the CCM industry as frontmen of new bands? This was it?

Here’s why the Jesus Freak Cruise was such a huge disappointment: it wasn’t the cruise itself; that would have been fun. The problem was in the marketing.

Marketing by itself isn’t a bad thing. In its purest and noblest form, marketing is good. Good marketing helps us discover and understand tools that will make our lives better. Bad marketing bombards us with attempts to coerce us into purchases we don’t need and decisions we’ll regret.

What separates the good companies from the bad companies is trust.

Many in my generation have learned to be annoyed by and sometimes even ignore marketing because all of us have been burned in the past. We all know what it’s like to buy a product that promises happiness and it just lets us down. There’s a reason why all the amazing infomercial gadgets are only $9.99. As appealing as the products seem, they often make promises too large for reality to live up to.

The three men in dc Talk and the dozens of people behind their marketing and PR are smart people. Like I said, they’ve continued to lead an entire music empire for more than 20 years. It’s not like they were surprised that fans were disappointed yesterday. They wanted to generate buzz, and they knew how to do it.

Later on in the day, Toby Mac admitted “it wasn’t in the realm of possibility” that this would lead to a full-blown reunion. The plan was never to truly end the intermission, even though that’s what their website proudly claimed. They had to know this campaign would send mixed signals, and frankly I’m not sure what the goal was. The guys clearly aren’t ready to be back together, and they could have made more money going other routes, so sadly I have nothing else to chalk this up to other than bad marketing that (seemingly intentionally) made promises too large to live up to.

Let this be a lesson to all of us: Instead of misleading your audience, let your “yes” be “yes,” your “no” be “no,” your “reunion” be a reunion, and your “intermission” be an intermission. This campaign seemed to have intentions that were shaky at best, and while it’s true that they never explicitly promised a reunion, they definitely let down the fans that have loved them for decades, which in turn results in a lack of trust.

So, Toby, Michael, and Kevin, we’re not mad; we’re just disappointed. Of course we wanted the huge comeback we’ve been dreaming of, but I think you knew better than this. We don’t want to be marketed to; you—of all people—should know that we just wanna be loved,” and “Luv is a verb that requires some action.”

Sadly, I guess, “some people gotta learn the hard way.”

Fear & Gravy (aka I wrote a book)

04/06/16 update: Just to clarify, the book isn’t available quite yet, but you can learn more and download a free chapter here!

Fear is a very real thing.

It’s easy to be afraid of snakes and ISIS and Donald Trump, but there’s also a different kind of fear that I’ve been wrestling lately: The fear of risk and the fear of vulnerability.

Putting yourself out there—the real you, not the doctored one we all put online and in casual relationships—that is scary. When you’re brave enough to be honest and share your passions with the world, you’re inviting criticism and negative feedback. Why in the heck would you want to invite people to critique you?

When you work for days and months and years on a project, you feel connected to it in a way that makes it hard to share. Criticism becomes more personal, and it’s easy to associate your worth with your work. When you take a stand, you will upset someone. But, as the famous quote says, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” (shoutout to my boy, Hamilton)

As Jon Acuff recently wrote, it’s tempting to believe you shouldn’t share something you’ve created until “it’s so good that no one can criticize it.”

This is true for everyone, but I think it’s especially true for those of us who live and work in art/communication/creativity land—a mystical land full of rainbows and hipsters and coffee and an overflowing waterfall of good ideas.

Or something like that.

With every graphic I make and every video I edit, I feel like I leave a piece of me in it, so the responses I receive—or don’t receive—feel very personal.

I know I’m beginning to sound like a real tortured artist, and I don’t mean to.

But here’s why I’ve been afraid lately:

IMG_5336I wrote a book.

Like, a real one. With a cover and table of contents and an ISBN number and a bar code that you can buy on Amazon.

If you’ve known me for a while, you know that I love to write and occasionally have silly little things about Star Wars or dream jobs published online. Writing a book has always been on my bucket list, and recently I decided to take a leap and go for it.

Here’s the funny thing: I’ve been done with it for months and didn’t tell anyone. I started three years ago and kept putting it off.

I was afraid it would be really horrible. I was afraid no one would care. I was afraid I’d spend a lot of my own money and no one would ever buy it. I was afraid of one-star Amazon reviews and I was afraid of finding every copy I ever sold at a used bookstore in the bargain bin.

But more than that, I was afraid I would upset people. There are a lot of pieces of me scattered in these pages, and you may not like or agree with everything you see. Beyond the surface level stuff I’ve posted before, I go deeper in this project into things that are really important to me. I was afraid people would see me differently, and they may not like what they saw.

That is scary.

More details will be coming soon. But in the meantime, I wanted to publish this post, because I know if I do, I have to finish. Now that it’s out there, you can keep me accountable. It would be easy to keep this thing stored on a hard drive and never allow it to see the light of day, but I want to be brave. I want to be bold enough to share my thoughts on things that are important.

Recently I read a great blog post by Paul Jarvis about gravy. You don’t need gravy to eat a meal, but it sure makes things taste better. In his work, Paul makes a conscious effort to set very modest goals. He sets low expectations that he can live with, because “I consider anything beyond a little bit of success to be gravy. Sweet, delicious gravy.”

GravyChart

With most things in life, you can’t control other people’s reactions. It would be very unhealthy and very unwise to allow others to dictate how happy or successful you are. That’s a very easy thing to get sucked into, but it’s a very dangerous trap where it’s impossible to be happy.

So, with this project, my expectations are super low. I hope I sell five copies and one of those five people likes it. I hope my family and closest friends enjoy and are challenged by my words. If nothing else, I’ll know that I did it: I published a book. That’s it.

If I sell ten or 15 copies, bring on the gravy train.

JimmyFist

I’ll be sharing more about my book soon, but in the meantime, here’s my takeaway for you: If I can do this, you can, too. Don’t be afraid of letting the world see the real you. It’s a much better and more rewarding way to live. Plus, (to quote Acuff again) the fear I’m talking about “has kept many a book stuck in a laptop, many a business stuck in a head, and many a painting stuck in the studio.”

Let it out, and enjoy the gravy.

Heroes Don’t Hide: Leadership Lessons from Luke Skywalker

This article was originally published in the Christian Leader magazine.

I have to admit: I’m a very casual Star Wars fan. I can’t really tell you anything about Count Dooku, but I am pretty sure I’m supposed to hate Jar Jar Binks.

With that said, I did enjoy the latest Star Wars movie. Even if you don’t typically enjoy science fiction and might not totally understand Chewbacca, very few film franchises have impacted our culture as much as Star Wars. Fun special effects aside, there is something innately compelling and awe-inspiring about epic heroes fighting a dark and evil enemy.

I think there’s an important lesson we can all learn from The Force Awakens. As cool as the Jedi are, I believe everyone’s favorite light saber-yielder made a mistake that we should avoid.

When we last saw Luke Skywalker at the end of Return of the Jedi, he was the hero of the universe. The evil Darth Vader was defeated, and at least some sort of balance was reestablished in the Force. Around 30 years have passed, and in the classic scrolling text that kicks off the new sequel we learn that Luke has vanished.

The bad guys have new leadership and are determined to destroy him. Princess Leia is still in the picture, and she too is looking for her brother, Luke.

This new movie is basically a galactic search for one man who clearly doesn’t want to be found. He scatters a few clues embedded in his favorite droid, but he makes it very difficult for a new generation of leaders to find their beloved hero. The galaxy needs Luke, and for reasons that aren’t yet clear, he’s hiding (with a really cool beard).

There are numerous theories circulating on the Web about why Luke went into seclusion. Maybe he’s afraid of his own power and doesn’t trust himself to resist the temptation of the dark side. Maybe he’s embarrassed about the chaos his family is responsible for. Or it could be that he’s just a tired old man who would rather read the newspaper with a cup of coffee in a bathrobe and slippers.

Does that sound like Luke Skywalker to you? He’s a film icon—one of the coolest heroes to ever grace our screens. When the galaxy is in trouble, who you gonna’ call? If the Ghostbusters aren’t available, the obvious answer is Luke Skywalker!

The next movie may reveal a good reason for Luke’s absence, and his reputation may be restored. But with what we currently know, I’m disappointed in Luke. Heroes don’t hide. Even when they’re scared, leaders act and inspire.

If you’re in a place of leadership at work, at church, in your family or in any other context, a time will come when people look to you for direction, training and encouragement. Maybe you have a stellar leadership track record like Luke, or maybe you’re more like Finn or Rey—the new generation of leaders with passion and potential but little experience.

Don’t shrink away from the big moment. There are at least 100 verses in the Bible where God commands us not to fear. Romans 13:1 tells us, “There is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

Emerging young leaders in my generation need guidance from people who are a few “episodes” ahead of us. Whatever age and stage of life you find yourself in, don’t let your past or fears about the future keep you from being the hero we need you to be. Don’t underestimate your experience or the value you can provide.

Of course, unlike Leia, our “only hope” comes from One greater than Obi Wan. But we all still need guides that are brave enough to step up and lead the next charge—even if you don’t have a cool beard or amazing light saber skills. Prayerfully and boldly move forward as the leader God has called you to be.