Tag Archives: church

You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators

Three years ago—in 2015—I came up with an idea for a book giving a pep talk to church communicators. Last month we officially launched You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators by Kelley Hartnett and illustrated by Erica J. Hicks.

The Backstory

In 2015 I was in the middle of reading Kid President’s Guide to Being Awesome by Robby Novak and Brad Montague. It’s hard to read that book without smiling and being inspired. It’s just full of such pep.

I’ve worked with church communicators as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks since 2004. If there’s any group in need of a pep talk, it’s church communicators. I read Novak and Montague’s infectious good cheer and thought we need this for church communicators.

So I put a proposal together for a pep talk for church communicators. Continue reading You’ve Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators

10 Years of Church Marketing Sucks

Ten years ago today, on July 22, 2004, a little website called Church Marketing Sucks went live. Our very first blog post went up and we’ve been challenging the church to communicate better ever since.

We’re still going strong today, and we’ve been throwing a month-long anniversary celebration for the month of July. After all, you only get to celebrate a 10-year anniversary once. We’ve got giveaways (T-shirts!), discounts and lots of posts exploring whether or not church marketing still sucks. We’re also doing a hangout next week and more is still coming.

It’s kind of incredible to be involved in something like this for so long. I’ve been the editor of Church Marketing Sucks for 10 years. In this day and age few people get to do anything for 10 years, never mind work on a website.

Church Marketing Sucks has out-lasted the fads, lived beyond the hype and been around long enough to become one of the dinosaurs of the Internet age. And hopefully we’ll be around for a while longer. We’ve been debating the question, but I’m convinced that church marketing does still suck. We’ve got work to do to help churches share the greatest story ever told.

Everything we’ve accomplished so far is really thanks to the vision and dedication of Brad Abare and the team of directors, board members and volunteers that make what we do happen. Brad not only had the vision to start this up 10 years ago, but the commitment to see it through and the trust to let someone like me run it.

Any number of things could have derailed us over the years. But I’m incredibly grateful for the dedication that made us a long-standing voice. I’m still humbled and thankful to be doing this, and I hope to be at it for a while longer.

Here’s to more frustration, education and motivation.

Gay Marriage: It’s Time for Christians to Move On

As last week’s Supreme Court decision and the ensuing reaction highlight, the conservative church is losing the debate over gay marriage.

Frankly, I welcome it.

For much of my life I’ve noticed the conservative church taking an approach to social issues that basically tells other people how to live. It’s judgmental, it forces beliefs on others and it denies people basic rights. I’m sure they don’t see it that way, but I think that’s how it’s coming across in the wider culture. What’s worse is that it gives the impression that blindly following a bunch of rules is what makes someone a Christian, that what is good and right and lovely in the eyes of God is wearing long skirts, not drinking beer and making sure people don’t get gay married.

I don’t get it.

I think it’s time for the church to stop expecting the world to follow our beliefs. You can’t legislate people into Christians. That’s not the great commission.

The church claims to be about love, but when all we do is argue about cultural issues and try to make people do stuff they don’t believe, we’re exhibiting the opposite of love.

It’s time the church figured out how to live in disagreement. It’s time churches figure out how to be the minority. Because guess what—that’s where we are.

Where this gets especially interesting is that the church itself is in deep disagreement. I used the phrase ‘conservative church’ above because not all churches condemn the LGBT lifestyle. Some churches are LGBT affirming and it’s interesting watching both sides try to navigate these waters. I think it’s time for the church to recognize the disagreement, let other people live how they want to live, and move on as brothers and sisters in unity.

Some other people have more eloquent things to say about faith and LGBT issues than I do:

Reading stories like these (and also browsing my social media feeds and seeing a lot more joy than dismay) gives me hope.

Dangerous: More Books!

Yesterday I released a new book, Dangerous: A Go-to Guide for Church Communication. It’s a collaborative effort published by one of my clients in cooperation with another awesome organization, Creative Missions. I got to work with some great contributors and some great co-editors. You can read more about the basics of the book over at Church Marketing Sucks.

I’ve done enough last-minute marketing about the book. Rather than do that here, I’d rather just talk honestly about it. Four quick lessons from this project:

1. I didn’t want to do it.
When the idea was first pitched we had about three and a half weeks to pull it off. Honestly, I’d had the same idea months earlier but I kept it to myself. Why? I don’t know. It seemed like something we could do eventually. I knew it would come down to a rushed project and I dreaded that. I think deep down I wanted someone else to come up with the driving vision and make it happen. Let someone else take the responsibility. That’s about what happened. (Confession: I’m not a leader.)

Now that’s it’s over, I’m glad we did it. We’ll see what the results are, but I think it was a smart move. It’s well-timed to be a good resource.

2. Fast is good.
This project happened fast. Like, 20 days fast. That’s a little crazy. But sometimes I think we need that. Too often we over-think ideas and turn them into these big huge things that can’t stand up on their own and collapse under all our expectations. Sometimes it works better to shut up and crank something out.

3. Help is good.
We had a lot of great people helping on this project. We had a team of three people giving editorial direction. We had more than a dozen contributors. We had someone do the layout. Someone else did the design. Someone else got the ebook working (long story). Collaboration is an amazing thing. Sometimes I wish we had more. (Marketing plan? Oh yeah, I guess we could use one of those.)

4. Scared.
I’ve published several books now. I’ve got a once-a-year streak going that’s kind of fun. You think I’d be used to this by now. But to be honest, I’m scared. I’m a little panicked about how people are going to respond to this book. Are they going to hate it? Did I forget something? How many horrible, ridiculous typos are there? Did I make some huge mistake and I should be embarrassed to call myself an editor? Will they be mad because it’s too short? Will they be annoyed that the content is available elsewhere? Will it be worth all the effort? So many doubts. So many fears.

I think that’s part of being a writer. I think that’s part of being creative and putting yourself out there. It’s scary.

Why I Like My Church

Buddy KevinI was having a conversation with a new couple at church yesterday and the inevitable question came up: How long have you been attending Messiah? It’s been 11 years now.

That’s insane. Nobody my age commits to anything (much less a church) for that long. I’m already part of the old-guard. I remember the previous rector (that’s Episcopalian for pastor). I remember what the building was like before the addition. I’ve earned the right to protest, “But that’s how we’ve always done it!”

That conversation made me think about why we’ve stuck it out at Messiah for so long.

Relationships
Much of it has to do with the people. Some smart folks say that friendships are what keep people in church, and I’m inclined to agree. We tried to fit in at our previous church, tried to move beyond being college students to being regulars, but it never quite took. When we taught Sunday School and the parents didn’t know our names we decided it was time to move on.

But we found those relationships at Messiah. It helped that there were plenty of social dinners organized where you were encouraged to get to know people. I remember several rounds of dinners like that at various people’s houses that slowly pulled us in. It also helped when we were invited over for dinner on Easter Sunday. Who invites people over for dinner on Easter Sunday at the last minute? Really nice people, that’s who. People who understand a young married couple with no family in town.

Diversity
The other thing I like about my church is the diversity. Now I’ll be honest: We’re mostly a bunch of white folks. We don’t quite have the racial diversity. But that’s changing (it’s much more prevalent at the earlier service with an explosion of KaRen). But we do have other diversity. There’s a huge mix of ages (110 kids in 5th grade or under, in a church of 300!) and styles. On Sunday morning you’re sure to hear both an organ and an electric guitar. You’ll also see someone in jeans, a T-shirt and sandals next to someone in a suit and tie.

All that diversity in and of itself doesn’t mean a lot. But it does tell me that the people are able to value what’s different and get along despite disagreements. Nobody is up in arms over the drums or the 18th century hymns, demanding we change to suit their needs. That sounds ridiculous, but I grew up in atmosphere where it was common.

Liturgy
Finally, I was drawn to the liturgy. Growing up in an independent church less than 40 years old, there was no sense of history. There was no connection to the wider faith that went all the way back to Christ. We were somehow disconnected and adrift, which was painfully obvious anytime a pastor left. At Messiah, I was shocked when the rector left without any controversy.

But the liturgy, those words repeated by Christians all over the world and throughout time, well, you can’t avoid that connection. It’s deep. It’s powerful. There’s a danger of it becoming too familiar, but I’ll gladly take that danger than the disconnected prattling of someone in a suit trying their best to sound spiritual and only accomplishing saying ‘Lord’ and ‘Jesus’ every few words.

 

I could go on. Everybody has their own reasons for sticking with a church, moving on, or giving up. But those are the ones that came to mind when I reflected on why I’ve been here for over a decade.

What about you? Why do you like your church?

Crazy Week

In the Rocking ChairThis has been a pretty crazy week.

  • On Monday I announced that we’re planning to adopt again. This is still new and we’re figuring it out as we go, but it’s pretty exciting.
  • On Tuesday I announced my new book, Addition by Adoption: Kids, Causes & 140 Characters.
  • The marketing machine went to work to spread the word far and wide about the book. It’s exhausting. And thrilling. And kind of scary. I did my first interview about the book on Wednesday night. On Thursday the first review came out (wow, what a rave!). I spent Friday night doing an e-mail interview. I need to do another one today. All in preparation for the pre-order, which starts on Tuesday (meaning the craziness continues next week). Whew.
  • I also opted to redesign my entire web site this week in order to better accommodate the info about the book. I’m still working out the kinks.
  • Milo is being baptized on Sunday in what’s shaping up to be a multicultural Sunday. In addition to baptizing an Ethiopian, the archbishop of Rangoon, Burma is preaching the sermon at the 8:30 service, during the education hour a chaplain for Karen refugees in Thailand will be sharing as well as a missionary from Argentina, and later that afternoon there will be a baptism and confirmation of a number of Karen parishioners.
  • We’re hosting a little shindig for Milo which means we need to clean the house. Bigtime. Plus Milo’s God parents are coming in to town from the east coast and staying with us. We should maybe clear off the bed in the guest room for them.

I didn’t plan any of this to happen at the same time. I just is. And it’s kind of cool that it’s working out that way.

Conference Week: Story & Cultivate

I’ve been working in church communications since 2004 and this week I went to my first church communications conference. Two of them actually. Making up for lost time, I guess. I hit up Cultivate in Chicago and Story in Aurora, Ill. (I had to skip out on the second day workshop portion of Story). It was a great couple days of getting out of the house and meeting folks I’ve followed online for years but never actually met. Of course I’m also an introvert, so it was a bit overwhelming and I wanted to curl up and be alone on several occasions.

Getting to the events was a miracle in itself. I owe a big debt to my mother-in-law for watching the kids, Michael Buckingham for splitting a hotel room with me, Cultivate for being cheap, Story for hooking me up with a free ticket, Brad Abare and Matt Kerner for posing as chaufers, and United for having cheap flights to Chicago. Thanks!

Cultivate vs. Story
The two events are like a study in contrasts. While the subject matter was the same (church communication) the style and approach of the two events couldn’t be more different.

Continue reading Conference Week: Story & Cultivate

Is That the Gospel?

Last week I couldn’t sleep and started writing the following to express the doubts and frustrations I was feeling. I’m not sure if any of it makes sense or if it’s accurately communicating what I’m thinking, but I wanted to get it out. Sometimes these kinds of doubts and frustrations do best when they come to the light, as opposed to just keeping them to myself. So here they are. Please read them with a little grace. Thanks.

I remember a late night during my freshman year of college when I sat on the floor outside my dorm room and poured my heart into a little notebook. I still have that notebook around here somewhere. I remember being so frustrated with life and so eager to do something but having no idea what to do. I felt like the day to day things I was doing had no relation to my faith.

Not long after I started this blog and those thoughts would continue in a stream of consciousness mishmash that nobody really understood (thankfully this blog has morphed into something a little more pragmatic).

But it’s been 10+ years and I think those thoughts are still rattling around inside my head. I find myself wondering what the point of all this is. My head is consumed with things like finding a babysitter for a conference call tomorrow night, figuring out when I can catch that new sci-fi flick District 9 I’ve heard so much about, and wondering when I’m going to get around to trimming that giant lilac bush in the back. None of that matters. What does matter are the stories I catch glimpses of, Mark Horvath traveling the country and meeting homeless people, the stories of the struggling unemployed, the people in Africa that will likely live half as long as I will.

Continue reading Is That the Gospel?

We’ll Take Any Newborn

A few weeks back I pondered the difficult question of adoption and abortion. I asked the church why adoption isn’t standard practice in the face of abortion.

Well, one church has answered. Pastor Vic Pentz of Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta promised in a recent sermon that his church would “care for any newborn baby you bring to this church.” They’re partnering with the adoption agency Bethany Christian Services to make that acutally happen. It’s a bold statement and doesn’t get into any of the many complicated issues involved in adoption (it’s not exactly as simple as bring a baby to the church), but I love it. It’s a strong step forward for the church.

If the church is going to value life, I think they need to truly value life. And that means stepping forward to care for babies that would otherwise be unwanted. That means walking alongside moms and dads who would consider abortion because they don’t think they have the resources to care for a baby. That means doing whatever it takes for life, whether it’s keeping families together or creating new ones.

Come Watch Us Argue Over Gay People

I just blogged about an exciting new slogan for the Episcopal Church over at Church Marketing Sucks: “Come Watch Us Argue Over Gay People.”

Considering I attend an Episcopal church, the process of writing the blog entry and the article it links to (an NPR story on the continuing battle over gay bishops) hit close to home. The point I made over at Church Marketing Sucks is that theology comes before marketing.

That’s not exactly what the Episcopal Church is doing (I was writing to warn of that danger in general, not pointing to an explicit example of it). But I think they may be putting procedure before marketing. Granted, I’m not as familiar with all the ins and outs of this debate as I should be (but I’m more familiar than I’d like to be), but here’s what I mean:

The gay bishop debate is all about procedure. At no point did the Episcopal Church sit down and decide theology (that I’m aware of). Instead, they began debating theology through procedure. Should we or should we not ordain gay priests? How about gay bishops? What about blessing same sex marriages? What underlies all these procedural arguments is theology.

So why not just debate the theology? It seems a lot simpler to me to just get to the root of the problem.

Continue reading Come Watch Us Argue Over Gay People