5 Communication Skills for Leaders

Regardless of your job title or formal education, there are several media and tech skills that are beneficial to all 21st century church leaders. See how your skill set measures up and where you could add to your repertoire.

Does anyone else get discouraged when they read COLLIDE? Every time I pick up a new issue, I’m reminded how not awesome I am when it comes to utilizing media as an effective tool in ministry. It’s humbling to hear from experts who know how to launch an Internet campus, construct a contemporary worship space, design a church logo, make a motion loop, shoot video on a green screen, build a Web site, produce a mobile app, podcast sermons, layout and print dazzling mailers, run a digital mixer and light board, maximize presentation software, and daily craft hilarious blog posts that change the lives of readers with astute cultural observations and deeply theological insights. Who can measure up to these geek prophets?

This whole media and technology thing can be overwhelming. Keeping up with the trends often feels like an unattainable goal that might not even be worth pursuing. Still, I can’t ignore the fact that media is the language of our culture. We need to be students who are learning how to speak “media” with increasing proficiency. Instead of throwing up our hands in exasperation and wallowing in self-pity because we’ll never measure up, might I suggest we consider focusing on a few key starting points? Sure, we can’t all be experts or IT pros, but there are some basics that we need to have down if we’re going to connect with others and make an impact on our culture, so here we go. These are five things we all need to know how to do:

1. Tweet
Twitter provides a simple platform for users to publicly answer the question, “What’s happening?” It’s a simple way to cultivate a feeling of connectedness with others. According to market research, 75 million people visited Twitter.com in January 2010, representing some 1,100% growth in a year. It’s quite obvious that people have jumped on the Twitter train, and this is one application that is here to stay.

So why should Christians be on board with such a seemingly narcissistic exercise? First, it allows people to forge connections that might not otherwise be possible. For example, my pastor recently took a trip to Israel, and thanks to Twitter, I and many others were able to share the experience with him through pictures and stories that both illuminated the Scriptures and made us laugh. Sure, he could put together a slideshow and develop a Sunday morning message about his journey, but there’s something unique and bonding about up-to-the-minute updates. Even though I might not have someone’s cell phone number, Twitter allows me to feel like I know them and affords me the opportunity to benefit from their example.

Second, Twitter forces us to focus on the power of words. By limiting our posts to 140 characters, the very nature of the application drives us to communicate with laser focus and clarity. I am reminded of Andy Stanley’s words in his book Communicating for a Change: “Generally speaking, people will not be impacted by a paragraph. Nobody remembers a paragraph. People are impacted by statements that stick.” In his book A Godward Life, John Piper opens his preface saying, “Books don’t change people; paragraphs do. Sometimes even sentences.” Twitter compels us to get to the point and opens up the door for us to share Scriptures and gospel truths in a concise, memorable, and impactful manner.

It’s easy, people. Go to www.twitter.com and click “Sign Up Now.” You can even connect your Twitter account to Facebook via a Facebook application, so you can update your status in two places at once. If you already have an account, open up your life and let people in. Then open up your mouth and declare God’s glory.

2. Brand
When someone starts talking about marketing and branding in ministry, I tend to shut down. I did not major in advertising. I am not a graphic designer. I don’t read Seth Godin’s blog (gasp). Aren’t concepts like marketing and branding “slick” and “corporate” anyways? What does branding have to do with church? As I’ve pushed passed my insecurities and lowered my defenses, I’ve come to the realization that branding might actually be something worth thinking about.

In a previous article in COLLIDE, Phil Cooke struck me when he said, “In a media-driven culture, perception is just as important as reality.” Consider this: Every single thing we do says something about who we are. The stones or bricks you use on your building, the textures and colors on the floors and walls, the comfort of the furniture, the staging, the music, the graphics, the bulletins, the lighting, the Web site, the business cards, the registration forms, the height of the receptionist’s desk, the layout of your offices, the dress code for your staff—everything tells a story about who you are, what you are about.

We need to know how to think about branding because we have a message worth conveying, and we can’t afford to let it get lost or confused. Cooke went on to say, “The essential definition of branding is simply the story that surrounds a product, a person, or an organization. In other words, what do people think of when they think of you?” We need to think about branding because we are the stewards of God’s story of love filled with themes of redemption, risk, sacrifice, hope, comfort, and peace. Are these the things people think of when they think of your church? They should be.

Just because you aren’t a former advertising executive doesn’t mean you can’t start thinking about branding. Here’s an exercise to get you started. Gather your team for a brainstorming session and narrow down 10 adjectives, 10 nouns, and 10 verbs that you would hope members, visitors, and observers would associate with your church. Then assess how well your organization represents those 30 words and begin to dream about what might need to change.

3. Collaborate with Artists
I am a pastor, not an artist. If you’re like me, you often feel overwhelmed by the weekly pressure to produce creative graphics, videos, dramas, and musical worship experiences. There was a time when I lamented the fact that I hadn’t chosen graphic design as my minor or enrolled in an Adobe Creative Suite training seminar. I wanted to do it all myself, so I wouldn’t have to rely on others or share the credit for the results. How foolish! I have finally come to realize the necessity of relying on others to produce media that will effectively speak to our audience. Join me. Swallow your pride and embrace collaboration.

There are two things that need to be considered when collaborating with artists. First, I think they can be difficult. Relying on other people is tough, but relying on artists can be downright annoying. No offense is intended, but I think it’s safe to say that many artists tend to live in their own universe. Creativity doesn’t play well with deadlines, and art doesn’t always cooperate with the vision of an outsider. Instead of fighting reality, it is imperative to realize that space and freedom are the very things that foster greatness when it comes to creativity. Do your part and plan ahead. Leave plenty of time to let the creative juices flow!

Second, artists can be expensive. When we started paying part-time worship leaders, outsourcing some of the design and print work for our larger events and retreats, and purchasing church media from online stores, I was shocked by the price tag. It’s time we get over it and realize that good art is worth the price. If you’re working with good artists, they are creating a product better than anything you could ever dream of. Collaborating with artists is something you should plan for and adjust your budget to accommodate.

4. Upload and Publish
How many lessons are taught on your campus each week? In addition to the main worship service, you probably have someone speaking to various other groups throughout the week. At my church, we have messages being delivered to men, women, junior high, high school, college, young adults, and more. And what about photos and videos? Each month, how many pictures are taken, testimonies recorded, and highlight videos edited? This is good stuff, and we have to make it available to anyone and everyone who could potentially be encouraged by it.

With simple sharing tools such as iTunes, YouTube, Facebook, and Flickr, we have the ability to share our content. No doubt, it would encourage people if we gave them access to it. We should do it. It’s as simple as that. If you don’t know how to get started, search www.collidemagazine.com for some great how-to resources.

5. Learn
Sure, there’s no way that I will ever catch up with the geniuses at LifeChurch.tv, but that doesn’t mean that I shouldn’t do my best to utilize media to engage others with the truth. I’ve slowly but surely been teaching myself to do things that I once thought were out of my league. All it has taken is a simple dedication to continuing education. We all need to set aside time for a few media homeschool lessons.

Using Google to find tutorials, I have created and maintained a Web site using the Blogger platform, launched a podcast using Ourmedia, FeedBurner, and iTunes, edited video on both iMovie and Final Cut Pro, uploaded and shared videos on YouTube and Vimeo, uploaded and shared photos on Flickr, created graphics, calendars, postcards, flyers, and T-shirt designs using Adobe Illustrator, and created a Facebook group, a MySpace page, and a Twitter account for our ministry.

Who knows what’s next. Maybe I’ll learn how to create stills and motion backgrounds for worship or purchase bandwidth and partition space on a server. Perhaps I’ll discover how to add post-production effects to videos or produce a cool testimony video using a green screen. The sky is the limit. All I know is that I need to keep learning, and so do you.