If your church website doesn’t work, you’ve obviously gotta fix it…
…but have you ever seen a faith-based organization or church use the same templates year after year — not only for websites, but for the bulletin, administrative documents, and even internal processes within parish groups, programs and event planning? Have you noticed that, even though some improvements are needed, no change is made because “we’ve always done it that way,” and “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”?
My experience working with dozens of Catholic organizations has informed the following opinion: Many people working in Church circles want to see improvements in communication, participation, and loyalty, but few people challenge themselves to improve an existing item, process, or structure.
Maybe Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations isn’t a perfect teaching text for these situations, but I’ve had many conversations with Catholics who are also frustrated about this phenomenon, and our conversations often include this point: Within ministry environments, the lack of perceived 1.) personal gain, or 2.) competition, tends to lead to…
- little to no discussion about current pro’s and con’s
- little to no consultation of professionals or leaders from outside the community
- little to no research of other parishes / apostolates for inspiration and ideas
The general exceptions to these trends are capitol campaigns and major fundraisers. Why? There is obvious financial gain on the line and clear competition for that gain.
However distasteful it may seem to consider that parishes and apostolates are, in fact, competing for people’s attention, participation, and loyalty, the fact remains: The third-largest religious group in the United States is “Former Catholics.” One in three people were raised Catholic, yet fewer than one-fourth still describe themselves as Catholic.
Are we not competing?
“Competition” may have negative connotations — including ill will toward one’s competitor, an unhealthy desperation, dishonest / immoral conduct, etc. — but Saint Paul taught that we should live our faith with such dedication, that we “run so as to win” (1 Cor. 9:24).
How could we settle, then, for “the way it’s always been done,” or “we’re getting by”?
We shouldn’t; it’s downright unbiblical.
Imagine my twenty-year-old self, nervously sitting across from the Creative Partner at an advertising agency near downtown San Antonio. I’d applied for an internship with nearly every agency in town, and this one had been the first to respond.
After a few questions about my personal background and experience, I started to relax. Then, my interviewer asked me, “Who are some artists, graphic designers, or ad agencies that inspire you?”
My brain went blank. Stunned silence.
I’d been trapped in a bubble. Mostly self-taught and primarily interested in Catholic communications, I had never researched commercial marketing, influential graphic designers, or branding campaigns.
Although I was accepted, one of the first lessons my mentor taught me was the importance of researching other successful professionals and projects. I was tasked with creating a competitor analysis chart, comparing our advertising firm to others in our area and the nation.
Dear fellow Catholic communicators, most of us live in a ministry bubble. Most of the people you work with are probably fans of yours, and praise most of what you do — especially if you’re the only graphic designer / desktop publishing pro / video editor / photographer / webmaster / etc., in your organization.
You are in a dangerous situation. Your ministry bubble is contributing to your own high opinion of your work. You aren’t challenging yourself enough. You aren’t comparing your work to other churches’ projects. You aren’t comparing it to what church-goers see in their ‘normal lives’ (at the office, at the mall, on TV, online). Your skill set is falling behind the times, because your technology is ancient, and you’re smugly dealing with it. You have no one to challenge you.
We must rise to a higher level. Here are 5 ways I challenge myself to aim higher:
- Subscribe to news websites, blogs, or online journals in your field (outside of faith-based circles). Read them. Find webinars in your field (outside of faith-based circles). Take them. Learn from lectures & podcasts in your field (outside of faith-based circles). Get the picture? Learn from people who are competing to be the best at what you do.
- Before starting a project, look for similar examples in your field (outside of faith-based circles). Take notes. What makes each one successful? Behance is one of my favorite places to do this.
- Draft several different versions of one project.
- Apply your new knowledge and awareness of your field: Critique your own work. Then, let other (knowledgeable) people critique it.
- Let time test your work: Anticipate your projects as much as possible, so you can wait a day or two (or more) before deciding on a winner.
Run so as to win.