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 Meredith Whitefield, an amazing church communicator who serves as the Media Director for St. John Lutheran Church, in Cypress, Texas, and give us all a chance to learn from her ministry.
Background and Approach
My name is Meredith Whitefield. I studied Communication at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. During my college career I had no idea what I would do upon graduation nor of the path which God would lead me to serve. By chance, my volunteer position at the 2013 LCMS Youth Gathering was on the Media Team.
It was at this Gathering that I realized the enjoyment that came with working in social media and that it was possible to do it for a career! I never planned to work in church communications, but because of His plan, I now cherish the opportunities I have experienced by working in Church ministry.
What is your position and where do you serve?
Currently I serve as the Media Director for St. John Lutheran Church, Cypress, TX, where I have been serving and growing for the last 2 years.
What do you like most about working in church communication?
The novelty of communication! Often times the church has the tendency to become habitual or even stagnant. That’s where communication comes in! Especially in social media, there is a constant need for change.
Internet trends can evolve on a daily basis, or even an hourly basis, and that gives me the opportunity to connect with people who might not be in the pews on Sunday morning. The message of Christ won’t ever change, but the way it is presented is subjective.
Our audience has two extremes: those who have heard the message their whole lives and those who have fresh eyes to Christianity. A question I tend to ask myself is “how do I appeal to both parties?” Luckily, with the constant change of media there’s always a new and innovative way to get the message of Christ out into our virtual neighborhood.
As a church communicator I want people to be able to effortlessly learn of that Good News; that is, I want the message to be presented in a relevant manner that is appropriate in the current culture.
Even across platforms the way you present a message varies. For our congregation, the message is received differently for those in worship versus those interacting with us online. To delve deeper, our audience across different social media platforms varies. Although it’s a challenge to utilize the uniqueness of each platform, it helps to better connect those interacting with the message.
Doing the Work
In 3 words or less, how would you describe the way you work?
Whenever, wherever. (Inspiration comes at all times and at all places)
What does an average week look like for you?
The beginning days of the week are planning days; I plan content, get filming scheduled, and prepare material for Sunday.
Our Ministry Staff meets on Tuesday mornings for worship planning where we discuss what went well (or didn’t go well) on Sunday and how to better prepare for the upcoming Sunday. Both our Ministry and Administrative staff meet on Tuesdays after staff devotion to discuss projects we’re working on and upcoming events that may affect the staff. We have Creative Worship meetings and All-Staff meetings once a month.
The end of my week is fairly open to last minute changes, allotting time to work on short and long term projects, and making sure everything is ready for Sunday.
Favorite to-do list manager or project management process:
I’ve just recently joined the Wunderlist family, but I’m still a strong proponent of a handwritten to-do list on my desk. Our team also uses Trello for staff planning meetings.
Share a story of success:
I find the most joy in surprising successes.
We recently hosted our annual “Trunk or Treat” event on campus. Aside from our weekly announcements I ran a Facebook ad for a month. It was the first time I had really utilized Facebook ads and actively engaged in the event I promoted. We had planned for an average turn out, but were greeted with a spectacular surprise!
Nearly 400 families signed in the night of the event and the Facebook event reached over 27,000 people in our community. At the event there was a sea of people who were not members. When asked how families found out about the event, the majority of them replied “Facebook”.
It was an eye-opening experience for myself and our staff, realizing the power of social media and the positive impact in can have in ministry. This past week a family attended our worship service for the first time, deciding to check us out after Trunk or Treat. It was such a small effort but made to a huge impact on our community!
Share a story of a lesson learned:
Some ideas are better said than done. You can curate the best idea and implement it flawlessly and something can still go wrong.
We introduced video announcements in the last year and love to showcase our creativity occasionally. At Worship Planning the idea sounds great and the staff loves it, but when it plays on the big screen in front of 400+ people who may (or may not) know the person in the video it’s another ball game.
We filmed an announcement inviting people to submit art for our Christmas in the Arts program. With a Santa hat, fuzzy green gloves, bad dancing, and “You’re a Mean One Mr. Grinch” it was a HIT among the congregation. However, our Halloween-themed Blood Drive video, was not as well received. It’s definitely a challenge straddling the line between creative humor and simply delivering the message.
What are the top 1-3 goals for communication at your church?
We want our material to not only reflect our mission, but also engage our members in opportunities in which they can actively celebrate, live, and share the abundant life of Jesus.
How do you know when you’ve succeeded?
If you have established goals and those goals are met you’ve succeeded. For me, I feel successful when I’ve reached someone who may not know Christ. If their only interaction is with our social media or an event we hosted I know that I’ve provided them with the materials to learn and a next step opportunity for them to learn more.
What's one thing that surprised you about church communications?
I’m constantly surprised at how much there is to learn. It’s a continuous learning process! Just when I think I’ve nailed it, something changes.
Church communications is also vital to a congregation…without it how can the Church grow? Communication is another way to connect people who may or may not have a common bond.
Current mobile device:
This might be VERY uncharacteristic for a church worker, but I don’t drink either! H₂O all day, every day!
App / software you couldn’t work without:
Final Cut Pro X AND Photoshop