The Problem with Excellence Part 2

I know you church communication-types (because I’m one too): You get lippy when church marketing sucks, and you get your back up when someone comes along and starts bashing the church. If that’s you, you might be particularly cranky about my recent post on the problem with excellence. I’m hoping this follow-up will un-cranky you.

Let me say this: I’ve come to understand that excellence, in and of itself, isn’t a problem; it’s the unreasonable expectation of excellence that can wreak emotional havoc in you, your teams and ultimately your church family.

With that in mind, following are my as-promised solutions:

If excellence is a euphemism for perfect:

  • Stop using the bar as a bat. It seems that “raising the bar of excellence” is an oft-beat drum in church circles. People perform to the standard expected of them, right? Well, sure. Unless they can’t. If you’ve raised your bar to a level that’s not right-sized to your or your team members’ actual level of giftedness, it becomes a weapon. So know those things at which you and your teams excel, and do those things. Of course we can all learn and stretch and grow, but we also have to be realistic about our limitations.
  • Define what excellence looks like. You and I both know people who think their Comic-Sans-laden, animated-gif-infested websites are the best. Ever. And some people actually like Nickelback. Clearly, excellence is subjective. Consider, then, developing clear brand and style guidelines so you—and the people on your team—know, objectively, based on filters you put in place, what is and is not excellent in your specific context.

If excellence is spreading you and your people too thin:

  • Get clear about your vision. You can’t be excellent about everything all the time—not without eventually imploding. Be sure, then, that you’re striving toward excellence in the things that actually, truly matter. You can’t know what matters unless your church has a clear understanding of what it’s supposed to be doing—and not doing. In other words: Don’t sweat the small stuff. Don’t major in the minors. Keep the main thing the main thing. (There’s a reason phrases become cliché: Lots of people resonate with them because they make sense on a gut level.)
  • Set boundaries. More than likely, your communications department supports every ministry of the church. So, unless you’ve worked out a way to influence the time-space continuum in your favor, you simply can’t produce excellent work all the time for every ministry unless you have some clear boundaries in place. Set and communicate realistic advance-notice requirements for project requests. Develop and practice language around your department’s commitment to act as brand bodyguards: “I’d love to produce that 12-page booklet for tomorrow’s training event, but your timeframe won’t allow me to create a product that accurately represents who we are. How about we do this instead?”

By the way, if you’re thinking, “Boundaries? I don’t need no stinkin’ boundaries. I’m awesome under pressure!” I dare you to ask the people around you if they agree. There’s a difference between producing good work under pressure and working well—being a decent human being—under pressure.

If you’re wrongly motivated toward excellence:

  • Surround yourself with truth-tellers. We all need at least one person around us to remind us, every so often, that we’re really not that big of deal. Find people who are willing to look you in the eye and ask the tough question: “Who’s getting the glory out of this?”
  • Be still. We in church work get so busy figuring out how to tell other people about God that we forget to know him ourselves. If your expectation of excellence is about you and your need for recognition, maybe you need a reminder of how very little our good work impresses him and how much he loves us regardless.

After serving for five years as Director of Communications for Morning Star Church, one of the 100 Fastest Growing Churches in 2010 (Outreach magazine), Kelley Hartnett now partners with churches through her communications consulting firm, March Hare Creative.