When I tell people I meet at parties that I work for a church, they respond with polite confusion. And I get it. I don’t come off as a pastor or a church mouse. I’m saturated in culture and pop culture. I speak quickly, loudly and without patience for small talk. If we’re talking about the latest season of Hannibal and the conversation can’t veer into how the show engages your worldview, I’m likely to suddenly realize I have to go check in with someone across the room. I have a New Englander’s lack of pretense: If we’re talking about what fiction you’re reading and I don’t approve of the author, I’ll probably forget to hide my disgust.
I also have a New Yorker’s obsession with professional excellence: I’ve gotten a congressional district to switch parties, I’ve written ad copy for products that cost more than most Americans make in a year and I have a hard time settling for messaging that isn't as clear and compelling as it could possibly be.
So why do I love working for a church? They aren't usually known as bastions of cultural relevance and creative expertise.
It’s not just because I’ve gone three years without trying to make people angry or get them to give me money (though that’s usually the first thing I bring up when people ask me how I enjoy my work). And it’s not just because I have flexible hours (though for a night owl with ADHD, that is a tremendous benefit).
Campaigns were more exciting. NGO work was more academically engaging. Copywriting let me write a whole lot more. But over the past three years, I’ve overseen the launch of websites, blogs and proprietary social platforms. I’ve written social media strategies and overseen the development of print pieces from concept to final distribution. And I’ve never once had a meeting dedicated to increasing click-through rates.
Using the tools of branding, design and communications on behalf of a family of churches has demanded that I subject my skills to a level of philosophical interrogation that campaigns or NGOs have never matched.
When you're working for a campaign or for a non-profit, your end goal is always very clear: More. Get more press coverage. Guarantee more votes. Secure more donations. And that's the direction toward which almost all of the advice about how to use the tools of marketing and communications is bent.
But my operating mandate working for this group of churches hasn't been more—it's been better. It's been clearer. Not once in the last three years have I been asked, “How can we get more readers?" or, “How can we attract more followers?” The questions driving my work have been more along the lines of: How can we more clearly and practically explain ourselves? How can we help people who are on the margins feel safer and more welcome? How can we help those who are deeply engaged become better neighbors, better friends, better parts of our city?
Figuring out how to use tools that are traditionally used for the sake of "more" toward the end of "better" has been rewarding and refreshing, and our strategic roadmap shows that there’s still a lot of exciting potential ahead, yet I don’t know how much longer I’ll be able to keep working here: Being a one-man department is taxing; the fact that increasing our revenue stream isn’t an institutional priority means my budget will always be frustratingly small; and the faster pace of work elsewhere in this city is bound to tempt me away eventually.
But if someone in marketing, PR or communications ever asks if they should consider working for a church, I'd say yes without hesitation or reservation. I’ve been working full-time since I was 14, and this just might be the best job I’ve ever had.