by Eddie Pipkin
My wife and I have a household trophy that we use to celebrate small but meaningful moments that might otherwise pass without mention. It’s a cheap plastic 8-inch golden column with a shiny star on top. It’s gaudy; it’s silly; it’s a tool we use to appreciate one another when effort has been expended that might go overlooked. Usually the awarding of the trophy is a self-nominated process (as in , “Look, I cooked AND washed the dishes.” “Oh, you definitely get the trophy tonight.”) In marriage and in ministry, it is sometimes beneficial to toot one’s own horn.
Humility being a celebrated value of ministry leadership, it can feel odd to participate in self-perpetuated horn tooting, but how else will the people who support our ministry and make that ministry possible know what we’ve been up to (and what their support has brought to fruition)?
Actually humility and savvy, prolific marketing can coexist productively. There’s a difference between taking personal credit for anything and everything and providing a community platform for celebrating goals accomplished and good things happening. The very acknowledgement of milestones and meaningful moments means that we’ve opened the door for expressions of gratitude. “Here’s an awesome thing we did — here are all the amazing people who made that awesome thing possible. And here’s how they did it.”
Gratitude and giving credit where credit is due are contagious conduits of positivity. Expressing them makes the people who have invested themselves in your vision feel great about the work that has already been done. And these stories of what is possible inspire others to imagine themselves jumping in and taking part in their own projects.
There is a destructive presumption that permeates ministry leadership, and it’s that just because we know what’s going on (and why and how and when and where), everyone else will know what’s going on. This attitude constricts ministry potential because it deprives people of opportunities to meaningfully engage. Also, it creates a sense that there’s an insiders’ club of people in the know, a clique of the favored ones who get to be involved (as opposed to everybody else who doesn’t get invited to the cool kids’ club). This effect is intensified by our tendency to blame a lack of communication on the receivers’ end, rather than taking responsibility for our failures as messengers.
A bucket of kudos to those of you who have leveraged your communications channels to keep people informed of all the upcoming events and programming opportunities on your schedule. These “calendar announcements” are critical for getting people to show up, volunteer, invite friends, and give generously to support the work. These announcements can be playful, eye-catching, and even interactive. There are a world of options for grabbing people’s attention.
But tooting your ministry’s horn is not just about previewing the opportunities ahead. It’s about recapping what has already been accomplished and how lives have been impacted for good. It’s about reminding people what it took to achieve your goals, the sacrifices involved in getting there, and the lessons learned along the way.
Do these things:
- Tell stories. Get good storytellers involved; when it’s possible, let people tell their own stories in their own voices.
- Use listicles. These days everybody loves a bullet-pointed list with facts and numbers that pop.
- Use pictures and video. Short clips can pack a punch. You don’t have to produce a long-form documentary.
- Package the same material in ways that can be customized to maximum effect across multiple platforms. (One of the side effects of the destructive presumption I mentioned earlier is a tendency to communicate via one, or maybe two, outlets only and then be frustrated when people have missed our message. People tend to lean towards a favored platform for receiving info — e-mail or app or social media or in-person-worship — and if we skip that platform, miss that person.
- Explain how the thing you’re celebrating serves the greater mission. Explain the role of staff and volunteers in making the thing happen. Explain the intricacies of financial support that make the thing possible
- Whenever you can, however you can, tie it all to the greater community beyond your physical ministry campus.
- Celebrate, celebrate, celebrate, and don’t forget to say how what just happened sets the stage for what comes next.
I’m not just referencing big events and major programming. Circling back to our opening illustration of our little family trophy, I would encourage you to think of much smaller day-to-day happenings that that you might feature that may give people deeper, more prosaic insights in how ministry gets done.
For instance, let’s say your leadership team is involved in some intense, productive training sessions about how to do ministry even better (like maybe EMC3’s “Leadership Skill Builders” units, just sayin’). How will the people you are serving know about this investment you are making in their future, unless you tell them? Unless you celebrate it?
Or you have a dedicated team of unsung volunteers that mulches the landscaping once a month or comes in early to make the coffee or organizes the closets once a quarter. Lots of churches do a creditable job of drawing attention to these low-key heroes who keep the machinery of ministry humming along. The possibilities are expansive because these are the people who serve faithfully, day by day, week by week, and year by year. Their stories are rich and worthy of being shared. Because other people can relate to these stories — “Hey, maybe I can do this, too” — they are prompted to expand their own horizons.
By tooting our own horns and the horns of our teams, we encourage others to to join the band and play along.
Therefore, this work of storytelling and sharing the narrative of our ministry is holy and vital work. We should take it seriously and devote sufficient resoures to getting it done.
How do you and your staff and leaders do at (humbly) tooting your own horn? What are the ways you celebrate the small things you and your leadership and your volunteers do to make daily ministry happen? Share our stories, and ask others about how they solve the challenges you find yourself facing.