One Bite At A Time

I recently joined a fun Facebook Group called "Church Communications" (side note, remember when Facebook groups were things like "Blue is the best M&M" and silly things like that? We've come a long way). Anyway, a question popped up there right after I joined:

Trying to start a Communications team so that I am not the only one doing all the work. Do any of you have documentation that you can share? Do you have a budget for subscriptions? I need a proposal for our administration to show my plan and the need and what kind of money we need. Do you have a schedule for posting? Any other helpful information and documentation would be great.

When I mentioned that I had some resources to share, lots of folks wanted in so I thought a blog post (it's a long one, hang on) would be the best way to distribute this stuff for now.

Background: I'm the Communications Director at The Church at Severn Run. Right now we are about 1,300 folks and growing. When I started three years ago we were holding at 800 folks on average. Now I'm a full-time staff member, but when I started I was very part time, so I immediately starting building a volunteer team to help me do all the things we needed to do in order to build a previously non-existent Communications/Creative/Marketing Department. Three years, and a lot more hours per week later, I still heavily rely on my volunteer team to get things done for a couple of reasons: 1) There is only one of me and lots to do; 2) My teams are better at the things they do for Severn Run than I am; 3) The body of Christ should be involved in making the church great! See Ephesians 4:11-13 for inspiration.

So how do you get started building this team? You know that silly question, "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time." Same. Start one piece at a time and then slowly build. It's taken me three years to get a team functioning as highly as it is now, but it is still undergoing some restructuring and reorganization regularly to make sure we are doing things the best way. Below outlines how I started, and how I think you can start too.

1) Create Your Team - On Paper

Here is an example of my most updated Team Commitment Document, which is really fun to compare to my very first team meeting notes from 2013 which I have kept for sentimental reasons on Google Drive (to your advantage). This part is pretty difficult, but absolutely imperative in order to have a well functioning team. It puts you all on the same page right from the get go.

Elements to be aware of:

Overall team purpose: this should be closely in line with your church mission. You exist to support the church!

Continual Team Goals: these are the goals that stay the same year in and year out. They will very rarely change and they exist to help you sift through the myriad of project requests you will receive. If you get requests that do not line up with your goals or purpose, it's much easier to say "nope can't do it!"

Team Structure: My team is made up of several skill teams that are led by volunteer leaders: Writing, Marketing & Social Media, Graphic Design, Web, Photography, Videography, Fine Arts, and Stage Design. You will need to really assess your own church's needs and resources to determine what teams you want to create. For instance, if you are a really small church with very limited financial resources, you may not want to have a Videography team because there are resources like Igniter Media and Worship House Media for sermon illustrations and services that can help you make video announcements. This is probably more affordable than buying up all of the equipment that you need to do these types of projects well yourself. Once you figure out the teams that you need, these Skill Teams will really help you spread the workload out quickly!

Team Member Expectations & Commitment: These are so important because it allows you and your team members a way out that is clear and agreeable if it ever gets to that point. Newsflash! Creatives are especially flaky when we are given all the freedom in the world. When you are clear and concise with your expectations, most of us will rise up to the occasion and rock your world. My favorite commitment here is to learn how to create with an open hand. This leaves room for you and your team leads to provide feedback without it coming across as controlling. When you expect feedback, it's easier to receive. The hardest expectation is communication, hands-down. Be ready for lots of texting and phone calls because email communication is the WORST. I love Basecamp for team communication, but there is a learning curve in getting team members to use it. So prepare your phone, leader.

Time Sensitive Goals: Break these up to yearly, quarterly, monthly, and daily commitments based on what's happening in  your church that year.

Leader Guidelines

Because you want to divide up the workload, the next step will be to create similar expectation sheets for your Skill Team Leaders. I have one for each team leader with specific expectations of how they should communicate with me, their teams, and ministries as well as what projects they should focus on and how. The temptation will be to wait until you have a leader before you make these expectations, don't do that! This sheet will be a great recruiting tool for you so get on it first.

2) Recruit!

Now that you have your team on paper, it's time to start recruiting. Spend every second you have on the weekends at your church talking about your new team, to anyone and everyone who will listen. One-on-one conversations are great for recruiting this team. You will get references and people will start pointing others they know to you. As you recruit have two things ready: your team commitment, and your first meeting date and time.

3) Team Meetings

These have ended up being much more important than I thought they would be! I'm an introvert and like to just get things done quietly most of the time, but it turns out that creatives doing volunteer work do really well when you can remind them why they are serving and how they are making a difference. When we first started at Severn Run, we met as a whole team monthly. It helped us establish a culture and get to know each other, and we were small. We had 4-10 people coming regularly and we grew close and really turned into the core of my team now. This is really hard on you, leader, but worth it in the long run. It can be difficult to stay encouraged when you hit lulls, fail at a project or two, or lose your first team member, but hang in there and keep teaching your purpose until you are blue in the face. It will catch on, and even better your team leads will take notes from you and be able to do this when they start meeting on their own.

Now, my skill teams meet monthly, I meet with the leaders quarterly, and we meet as a whole only yearly around Christmas to celebrate the year we had and get ready for the year ahead. As we have grown, people have become much more specialized so our skill teams needed to meet more regularly than our overall group. This is our first year doing this and so far it has been a great model for our larger (think 40 person plus) team.

4) Nuts & Bolts

Now you need to start working with your team leaders to create tools that will help your current team members do projects well, and new team members to jump in easily. Also you want to have resources for ministries, small groups, and events so that they can work with your team effectively. Here are a few resources I have created for my church (click the title to see an example):

Special Interest Ministry Communications Plan
This is for our ministries, small groups, and events that reach less than 80% of our congregation. Large events and ministries that reach 80-100% of our audience get pretty much whatever they want, but we had to keep things clear for the smaller ministries who might feel like they are just getting ignored instead of helped in a strategic way.

Communications Pyramids & Social Media Expectations
This really helps my marketing and social media team most of all. It makes it really easy for me to guide this team on how they can best market (especially on social) announcement requests. I determine the priority level based on the ministry and relevance at the time of the request.

Mini-Brand Guide (In-Progress)
This is for designers mostly. It's missing some stuff (like fonts) but it's still in progress. Not surprisingly, my graphic design team is the smallest team I have right now because I tend to just do design instead of delegate it (my background is graphic design).

Writing Style Guide
This really helps marketing, social media, writing, and web. It helps us sound consistent and unified. We are going to be adding our favorite MLA rules to this guide as well.

Social Media Posting Cheat Sheet
Not going to lie, this one hasn't taken off for me yet. My social media team is awesome and we have a solid group of folks who have really found their niche in our social story, but I'm actively recruiting someone to help with the more boring "sales-y" posts. Once I find someone called to this, I think that this resource will help a lot!

5) Experiment with Collaboration Tools

There are so many tools that help volunteer teams who have to work in different locations at different times to collaborate. You need to assess what will work best for you and your team based on your needs, your personal abilities, and your financial resources. Here is what we use with my teams:

Basecamp - Project Management and Communication
I LOVE Basecamp. We recently switched to Basecamp 3 and it's absolutely phenomenal. It's great for each of my team members because you can keep up with it via email, an app on your phone or tablet, or via your web browser. There's really no excuse to not check it regularly and it's crazy simple to use. Also with Basecamp 3 you get UNLIMITED PROJECTS! Amazing. This let's you break up your teams easily and even projects within teams easily. Click here to watch a thrilling video of me explaining how I planned for my Marketing & Social Media Teams to use Basecamp 3. It goes into each available feature that Basecamp 3 offers. Also I recently heard that Basecamp offers a 25% off rate for Non-Profits, I haven't gotten that yet, but I will be looking into it. Find their pricing here. By the way, I doubt you will need clientside, so it's really pretty affordable.
Basecamp alternatives: Trello, Asana, Slack, Google Drive.

Buffer - Social Media Scheduling
Buffer is amazing for my social team. We used to use Hootsuite, but I was not a huge fan and it was harder to add team members to in the long run, also more expensive. Buffer has two levels of permissions for team members, Content Contributor and Admins. Content Contributors can create and schedule posts for whatever accounts you give them access to, but they will not post without approval. All of my team members, except my team lead, are contributors so that every post gets two pairs of eyes on them. This catches so many typos, and a typo, especially on Twitter, lives forever. The only bummer with Buffer is no Instagram scheduling. It has great analytics, easy posting, a browser extension, image creator, and a great app. We have the "Small" business plan for our team AND Buffer offers a 50% discount for non-profits. Check out their pricing here.
Buffer alternatives: Hootsuite, Sprout Social, Facebook Scheduling. - Mass Emailing Service
We use Mailchimp to send out our nice church-wide email updates, a weekly devotional, and our weekly discussion questions. Mailchimp is great because you can have multiple team members contribute to campaigns and there are varying permission levels that will allow team members to make changes, but not hit send. Again, this is great for proofing! Mailchimp is also very user friendly. There are lots of drag-and-drop templates that you can use, or if you are a coding ninja you can code up your own templates as well. Mailchimp pricing is based on how many subscribers you are sending to, and many of you with smaller churches will be able to use it for free! See their pricing here.
Mailchimp alternatives: Constant Contact, Sendicate

Google Drive - File Sharing
We use Google Drive (which Google Apps for Businesses are free for non-profits and you get extra storage) for a lot of our file sharing, especially for the video team. Raw footage and final videos are exchanged via Drive so we aren't sending giant emails or exchanging hard drives in parking lots. My only gripe with Google Drive is accidental deleting. I once wiped out every stock photo we had. Dumb. Luckily I managed to recover them.
Google Drive alternatives: Dropbox

SmugMug - File Sharing
This is our NEWEST tool, suggested to me by my new Photo Team lead. SmugMug is cheap and allows unlimited storage of any file type. You can make public and private/password protected galleries and it's easy to tag, sort, and search for files in your SmugMug account. We are using SmugMug publicly to share baptism and event photos with our congregation, and we are using private folders to share resources around the Creative Team. Check out their pricing here. We are using their cheapest plan and it's working well so far!
SmugMug alternatives: Cloud Servers

Church Community Builder - Large Group Communication
We use CCB at Severn Run so I do have a large Creative Team group there as well. I use this group to send out full-team updates, scheduling events for the team, and recruiting. It is my least used tool right now. This is a huge investment that your entire church would make so I'm not going to get into the bonuses of how you can use this here.
CCB alternative: Facebook group, Slack - Stock Photography, Vectors, and Video
Lightstock is an amazing company with high-quality products. This year I joined their subscription service and their products have been a life saver for sermon graphics, social posts, and general advertising. They also give away a free photo & vector weekly and a free video clip monthly. There are a couple of subscription plans to choose from, or you can buy credits as you need them. Lightstock specializes in imagery for the church and they are getting better all the time with diversity in their images.
Lightstock alternatives:,, and many, many more.

*By the way, I'm not getting paid to endorse any of these services.


The last part of the question above was about budgeting. This is the hardest part, especially for creative types.

  • The first thing you want to do is get a hold of your church calendar. Figure out what's coming up and find out if stuff is missing. This will help you determine what you need to market. Find out your biggest church events and be sure you understand what has been done in the past and if other departments have covered advertising pieces in the past. Now that your department exists, will you cover those costs or will they? Come up with some basic marketing ideas for each event and give yourself a nice cushiony budget to work with, and when the time comes to market that event, pretend you have very little money and do your best to stay in budget. Use recourses like, and to see what kind of pricing you can expect on printed materials. Don't forget to factor in digital ads wherever you might want them. 
  • From there build your own calendar and plan in meetings, work nights, etc. Keep in mind that you will probably want to get snacks and drinks, maybe even meals for your team events.
  • Now factor in the tools you want to use. What subscriptions do you want to have? How much extra should you factor in for those times you can't find the perfect image on Lightstock? Is there any shiny new equipment that you want in the next year? What about programs like Adobe Creative Cloud (by the way, get a non-profit rate for Adobe CC through Genesis Technologies)? Might your Mailchimp list grow and bump you to the next payment tier? Try to consider all the options and factor them in.
  • You will want to consider team and leader appreciation. I try to get my leaders a gift each year and provide delicious food for the teams when I can. Anything I can to say "Thank you for what you do!" 
  • What about you? You need to learn and improve as well. Consider conferences, online seminars, and learning resources that you might want to use yourself and add those in as well. 
  • Here's an example of my spending lines for the year (note: the Gear Shop is a totally different ministry from what I've been sharing about above):

So, I think by now I've covered everything in the original question, but this is a lot of info and frankly, I could write an entire post about each section easily. I'm not blogging super regularly right now, but as specific requests come in, I'm happy to do my best to answer them when I can! Feel free to leave a comment below if you would like further explanation on something OR if you have an additional alternative resource to add that I may have missed (which I'm sure I did along the way). 

Keep up the good work, Communicators! Your job is difficult, but you can do it. And you can find your people and build an amazing team to support you and your church along the way. I will be praying for you!