Part one of a two part series on Church Communication Professionals.
In the world of church communications, it is important for us to learn from each other and share what works and what doesn't. With that in mind, I wanted to interview Sheree Howard, an amazing church communicator who is currently serving as the Communications Director and Director of Contemporary Worship at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas, and give us all a chance to learn from her ministry.
Background and Approach
Please take a moment to introduce yourself and share a bit about your background that led you to your current position.
My name is Sheree Howard. I’ve been in vocational ministry for 19 years, serving in both contemporary worship and communications. My experience has led me to serve in diverse denominational backgrounds (Assemblies of God, Presbyterian, Non-Denominational). Currently, I am serving as the Communications Director and Director of Contemporary Worship at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Houston, Texas. Each church I’ve been blessed to be a part of has taught me something new and valuable. There are no 2 churches alike, yet we are all reaching out to the same crowds. Do the math on that and you can imagine that the places God has led me to have definitely shaped who I am as a communications professional, and I wouldn’t trade these various experiences for the world!
What do you like most about working in church communication?
The challenge! We’ve got to find new and compelling ways communicate the love of Jesus, without being gimmicky. I often say, “Christians are the reason nobody wants to be a Christian.” Let’s face it— the church is often awkward when communicating with people outside of their own culture. These days, the church-at-large is notorious for using “Christianese” ( e.g. “Come to our church because we’re relevant... we’re relational... there are no perfect people allowed!”). These phrases are well-meaning, but have become so overused that, what was once compelling language, has now lost its original meaning.
We tend to want to duplicate the megachurch model because we believe their attendance numbers must mean they’re doing something right. I believe that connecting with the broken isn’t about sitting at the cool kid’s table in the church cafeteria— it’s about knowing who your audience is and what their needs are. Don’t advertise that there are no perfect people allowed if your congregation raises their eyebrows when the town drunk walks in on a Sunday morning. Don’t use modern graphics to advertise how modern and relevant your church is if the pastor’s weekly messages only use illustrations from the Old Testament. If we all get sucked into the notion of appealing to the masses so we can be the next big church, who’s going to love on the smaller, less popular audience when the big church doesn’t connect with them?
Doing the Work
In 3 words or less, how would you describe the way you work?
Around. The. Clock. (creativity strikes always)
What does an average week look like for you?
We begin our week with all-staff devotions, where we also share the “wins” of life-change happening in our ministry areas. This helps us to never lose sight of why we do what we do. The rest of my week is pretty structured and scheduled, so I can have touchdown and debriefing meetings with key people, making sure we’re all on the same page with what’s coming up and how we want to share that information.
Favorite to-do list manager or project management process:
My type-A personality is currently thankful for Trello.
Share a story of success:
Success is when there are no inaccuracies on a print piece. Ha!
Seriously though, I’m a risk-taker when it comes to church comm. because we may never know what will grip people without pushing the envelope sometimes.
We recently did a sermon series called “Hot Topics” where we tackled controversial issues such as abortion, homosexuality and assisted suicide. My main goal in the promotion of the series was not to manage the tension, but to embrace it. These are hot topics for a reason— they’re supposed to be uncomfortable, right? Thankfully, my pastor trusts me, so he let me “go big or go home.” The communication strategies used to support the promotion and duration of the series were a win.
There was no question what we were asking people to attend, what they were going to hear about and how awkward it might be. We actually owned and celebrated the tension, and didn’t sugarcoat it. The series yielded some amazing conversations, started the healing process for so many and allowed people to receive the forgiveness and grace of Jesus. It was a great risk for the church and is still having a ripple effect today. I was so proud of our leadership’s willingness to boldly address what people are struggling with, and apply truth to it.
Share a story of a lesson learned:
Never underestimate the importance of proofreading! You can be the MENSA of the English language and still be blind to errors.
I once had a print deadline on a project, but I kept telling myself that if I just spent another hour on it, it would be even better. Well, my deadline arrived, and because of my need to perfect something that was already good enough, there was no time for anyone to proofread my work. I took the chance that I didn’t make any mistakes. I mean, I had been staring at it for hours! My extra work on the piece was an improvement, but it had the wrong date and time. Ultimately, the piece was a fail.
The lesson? It doesn’t matter if you generate the most beautiful and creative invitation ever... if it invites people to the wrong party.
What are the top 1-3 goals for communication at your church?
Be consistent, be brief, and offer a next step.
Before we set a goal, I ask, “How does this goal support our mission?” The answer to that determines how/if we communicate it. Our mission is sacred and our people trust us with it. It’s our job to protect it.
How do you know when you’ve succeeded?
If we follow our established communications plan, hopefully, we can feel like we’ve succeeded. The plan serves to cover the bases and hold us accountable to our mission, which is critical. For many, attendance and/or dollars quantify success; for me, it’s only part of the measure.
As long as we take the right steps to communicate a message effectively, we have to be ok with the outcome.
What's one thing that surprised you about church communications?
I’m regularly surprised at how much people don’t know what they don’t know. Every church has resident “communications experts.” Shockingly, very few seem to have actual experience in strategic communications.
Favorite digital marketing tool:
Canva is great for small, last-minute projects, but I don’t love that I can’t own the editable artwork.
I also LOVE CreationSwap and my heart bleeds for analytics on all the digital platforms I use.
Current mobile device:
Triple-shot lattes... the more caffeine, the more creative!
App / software you couldn’t work without:
All things Adobe Creative Cloud