The Power of Stories in Church Communications | Joanna Wishard

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Joanna Wishard, communications director of LCBC, discusses with us the power of stories in church communications.

Podcast Notes

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Podcast Transcription


Jason Hamrock: Well. Hey, Joanna, welcome to the show. How are you today?

Joanna Wishard: Good, thanks so much for having me.

Jason Hamrock: Well, I’m glad to have you here. I know you’re busy. Your world is crazy busy. You’ve got a lot going on, so we appreciate you taking a few minutes to jump into communications types of conversations here and just kind of go with us in that. So for our audience, give us a little background as to who you are and of course, your role and all the things you get to oversee.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, absolutely. So I’m a part of LCBC church, we are located in Pennsylvania, kind of, central PA, mostly on the east side. We are at 22 locations and counting, which is really exciting. So I’ve been on staff with our church about, seven going on eight years. And so, kind of funny, I went to school for graphic design in school, actually, I started working retail, graduated, didn’t actually get into design right away and just actually was in retail management for a bunch of years. That was out in Minneapolis, relocated back to the East Coast to be closer to family, and then actually started attending LCBC. And so my husband and I got super involved in our student ministry and just loved what the church was doing, loved the mission statement. And so kind of through a bunch of just relationships and conversations, I started freelancing and that turned into joining the team as a designer. And so, yeah, now, a couple years later, have the opportunity to lead as the communications director.

Jason Hamrock: Okay. So an interesting path.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, totally.

Jason Hamrock: What made you want to jump into the role as the director?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, so it’s funny because I just love what I get to do. I love being on the communications team, I love serving our ministry areas. And so in our context, our team works to serve all locations and central ministry teams, and so our team is really a team of teams. So disciplines would include graphic design, video project management, and marketing. And I mean, truthfully, just love working with the team. We have incredible gifts and talents and so it’s fun to actually have that like retail leadership and creativity all kind of combined. And just as our organization is sizing and scaling, yeah, I was just was like, okay, yeah, I think I can do this, I think I can take on this challenge. And so, yeah, I love being a part of the team, love doing what I get to do.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, that’s a big challenge, 22 campuses. So how do you balance that idea of trying to keep…because that’s overwhelming if all of them were running wild, that would just be impossible. It would be like 22 different clients, that would be crazy.

Joanna Wishard: Sure.

Jason Hamrock: So how do you balance organizing that with being able to be creative for each campus? Or how does that roll out?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, totally. So I would say a couple years ago we actually read the book Predictable Success as an organization. And so really started asking ourselves the hard questions around, hey, is church scalable? What does that mean for us? What does that mean for our context and how we want to keep growing, to introduce people to Jesus together to fully follow him, right? And so I think through that process, a lot of refining around systems, processes, what were our differentiators, what was important to us? And then really trying to hone in on like, good versus best. And so I think where we are today, we did a lot of work to work through what the book describes as whitewater. I just realized, like, hey, some of these things are not efficient, that they can be more efficient, and sometimes we also just need to work through kind of what’s good versus best and create systems and processes to support that. And so, in our context, we kind of work through a model where campuses and central work together. And so from a central perspective, it’s our job to provide processes, products, and training to help our campus teams lead their teams, lead their people, and execute kind of that core differentiator with excellence. And so, yes, 22, campuses are kind of doing their thing in their context, but all kind of foundationally built under the same processes, products, and training. And then how do we just help nuance when nuance needs to happen?

Jason Hamrock: So, yeah, yeah. So talk a little bit about the mission because you’ve talked a little bit about that here and, you know, how do you then…Because everything has to be aligned around the mission, if it doesn’t fit the mission, we don’t do it kind of a thing.

Joanna Wishard: Totally.

Jason Hamrock: And so what’s kind of cool about that is all 22 campuses are underlined one mission. So how does communications see that take that mission and how do they implement that into what you do?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. So our mission as a church is to introduce people to Jesus together to fully follow him. From a communication standpoint, we really believe then in partnering with that mission through problem-solving that leads to inspiring and informing. And so how can we create solutions to problems that our ministry teams have that really can inspire and inform our attendees, those that we currently have and those that we haven’t met yet, towards that mission statement? And just how they engage at our church, how they see themselves at our church, to make sure that from the minute we meet them, whether digitally or physically, to the moment they join us on a weekend and everything in between, that it feels just like a very consistent, welcoming, all the things that kind of emulate who we are, kind of from start to finish.

Jason Hamrock: Wow. That’s a tall order.

Joanna Wishard: It’s really fun.

Jason Hamrock: Well, you know, and you live inside systems, right? So otherwise it would be really, really probably stressful. But what are some of those…Talk a little bit about the joys that you see from your job, and then I’ll switch to talking about like, what are the things you know, you want to work on.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. So I would say what’s cool and actually even a little systemy if you will, is we just realized a couple of years ago we just had to hone in on our creative process. And so what’s cool is seeing a ton of fruit then from some of that really hard work to figure out what are systems and structures that can hold what we need to do, but also remain flexible and nimble to ministry. It would be really easy to say, oh, just systematize everything. But that’s when people quickly are like, well, how much time do you need to get a project done? And it’s like, well, that’s not the posture, right? And so it’s fun to see, now, a lot of the work that we have done that it’s just I feel like paying off for us. And so whether that’s through building relational equity, through talking about like that discovery part of the project, what are you trying to do? How can we help you? What problem are you trying to solve? To then also like the other side, where it’s like the execution and the delivery to really start seeing life change happen and hear stories from what our work is doing and how it’s helping people. And so the best day is when we get a story in Slack that says, hey, you’d never believe this, someone came to our church for the first time and just said they found us on Google. And so I know that that’s our team helping make sure that we can show up well in those spaces, and get to people wherever they are on their journey. And so when you go through all that work to find the right systems and processes and service culture, then it’s like, cool, the stories are like, then the sweet spot of like awesome guys. Like, it’s paying off, and like, that’s amazing.

Jason Hamrock: What’s it been like to try and capture, like hearing that somebody came to the church through Google or whatever, that’s awesome, I love that kind of stuff. How have you built that culture so there’s that feedback from ministries, twenty-two campuses of ministries?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, yeah. So really, practically speaking, we have a stories channel and so much of our culture is just a stories-driven, currency. And so how do we just make sure that we can share them and surface them? Now, it’s funny, as I feel like we’ve definitely kind of helped the tide move towards knowing how to share those stories and also fill in kind of that education gap for our teams that we even had, hopefully, something to do with that Google search. And so, last year, in particular, one of our organizational priorities was to expand and grow digital reach. And so we’ve done that through a ton of different ways, we launched a podcast last year, and we’ve been kind of figuring out what is the right search engine and like, SEO stuff, to go down that. And so not to get too technical, but like, what are some ways that we really can work to expand our digital reach? And then in all of our team meetings that comes up. And so even our senior leader is sharing, hey guys, like we’re seeing this, this is going right back to the priority. So then that also helps our staff know what to look for and listen for to also then I think share it back with us so we can celebrate those wins with them.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Getting the senior leadership is incredibly important in that. I don’t want people to overlook that because it’s, I think as com directors or people that are in communications, we know that stories are some of the best fruit that you can try to capture and share with people. Not only your people but other people, right, they can see hope inside that story. And it’s one thing for us as comm directors to try and push that and say, we really need that, but it’s another thing to have the leadership come in and say, this is the fabric of who we are. Did you know that, or is that something like you had to go try and pitch, or was it just your leaders knew?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. So I would say that it’s probably a combination of the two. I think when we can show up with using stories we’ve heard well, then that also just shares like, oh, like we can do that. Like, yeah, okay, I’ll share stories with you because I know what you’re going to do with them, and so I think some of that is like that leading up. But also I think some of that story-sharing is just, again, part of our culture. And so I’m sure like a lot of churches, we have staff meetings where we’re talking about logistics and what’s coming down the pike. But we also make it a point to say, hey, what’s God doing? And that really does open the floor then for our staff to just say, hey, what stories are you seeing? How are you seeing God work? And then our team tries to capture them and reshare them in meaningful ways. Again, sometimes just it might be internally among our teams, or sometimes it might be more outward on a weekend. But then I think even with 22 locations, they want their stories to be shared. And so, yeah, it’s fun then to have them share them back with us and say, hey, I think this would be a great story, and then for us to help them share that.

Jason Hamrock: How do you run with those? And so when you capture a really good story, what’s your process for what makes a good story versus, oh, this is a really, really good story, or this is just a good story? And then what kind of channels are you pushing those out to? What does that look like?

Joanna Wishard: Totally. So I think depending on the type of story and kind of what we’re working on, and then kind of figuring out the right match between the two. And so we’re on social media, YouTube, all that fun stuff. but then additionally, for our weekend gatherings, we send weekly emails to our attendees kind of for like need to know at LCBC. And so really, it’s kind of matching the stories with those right platforms. And so there are definitely times, I mean, we just shared one this weekend, that the story was very integral to the message. And so that like was a great lineup of sharing someone’s life change story with what was going on like within our weekend communicator. But then there are times where we’ll just share a pull quote in our email and say, hey guys, as you know, we’re in like a groups season. You know, we’d love to like get plugged into a group, hear someone’s story about how they got plugged into a group, and what’s happened as a result. And so, yeah, I think it’s just matching the right story with the right channel. And then kind of figuring out, like the inspire and the inform and making sure that those two things go together even when you’re telling someone’s story.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Yeah. That’s so good. I think some takeaways there, well, first of all, just that culture of capturing stories and then knowing what to do with it. So if you get a good story, do you guys just go all out sometimes or just create a whole video that’s showing on the weekend?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: And then you’re able to push that out everywhere?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, absolutely. And so, we do have a great team of videographers who, a couple of them in particular, like they just live and breathe stories. And so how are they just hearing them, and then they have a great, like, pre-interview and even care process because, you know, like when you share your story that can be really vulnerable. A lot of times people start sharing stuff that they may not have even been expecting or anticipating to share as a result of that, and so the guys just do a great job of also caring for the person in that process. And so a lot of times we will shoot stories to just kind of have them in the can, if you will. And then there are often times too, where we’ll actually be going and looking for something specific. Yeah, we are very blessed with a lot of life changes in our church, and so typically, our attendees are also very eager to share what God’s doing in their lives. And even for the folks that are like, I don’t know, I don’t think I really have a story. A lot of times those are the ones that are like, the most captivating.

Jason Hamrock: Well, I’ll tell you, I say this all the time is, if your church is growing, that’s an indication that God’s moving in your church. And if God’s moving in your church, stories are being created because life is being changed. Right? And I think the key in the concept is you’re not only wanting to energize your people, like, and just give your own people like, oh, that’s really cool, and just lift people up. I think it goes way deeper than that, it helps people who don’t go to your church if you do this right, that they could see themselves in that situation and just find that there’s hope and there’s a God who loves them, who will see them through this storm that they’re in.

Joanna Wishard: Totally.

Jason Hamrock: That’s the stuff that you don’t really realize how the Lord knows about this, but we don’t necessarily unless you tell us. But that’s the cool stuff I think that all that stuff that happens behind the scenes that we don’t know about.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. And it’s been incredible too, so with our two most recent campus launches, I want to say they were within the last six months of each other, the external campaign we did around advertising really was then rooted in people’s stories. And so I would say even, that was probably the first time we even had the right stories to share in those contexts that, I mean, I think one of them like, opens with just like I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t feel like I had people around me, a friend invited me to church and like, everything changed. It’s like, my goodness, like how easily is it to like, see that, stop the scroll, relate to that, and then act on it. And so it was really cool to see that team be able to launch a whole plan, just really focused around people’s stories and sharing that with others in their community.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, I love it, love it. Thank you for sharing all that. Okay, let’s talk about the other side of that, which is what are some challenges that, you know, being the comm director and your comm team that you’re sort of facing.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. Can I say time? I feel like it’s always just being up against the calendar. And so it’s funny, right, like, I know I shared a minute ago, just good versus best. And that really is just a value that we try to hold in that we could do a lot of really good things, but they might not be the best things. And so I’m very grateful that even our leadership has given us just very specific priorities, very specific just drivers of like what is differentiating and core to who we are. Sometimes we’ll even refer to it as like the LCBC way. And just like, this is who we are and we’re unapologetic about that, and how do we make decisions through those filters? And so what can be challenging is when you have, whether it’s a ministry or another location, that they’re just really excited about this cool thing, or they really want to do this crazy thing that, you know, seems really off the wall, and just kind of having to, like, pull the layers off that onion to get kind of to the problem, the thing under the thing usually. And then just make hard decisions around, hey, is that the right thing? Is that going, you know, in the direction of our mission and our drivers and our, you know, who we are? And when it’s not, like I mean, that leads to tough conversations. And so one of our values is to have the right conversations with the right person, you know, the whole truth with grace. And so how do we really have that conversation and say, hey, this is what I’m hearing, this is what, you know, feels like, we need to kind of massage a little bit to figure out what’s the right thing. And then one of our things is like, we just try to find a way to yes. And so that doesn’t mean it might be the thing you start with, but that doesn’t mean we can’t serve you and help you get to the thing that you’re trying to solve.

Jason Hamrock: I love that you just said at the end, that we always try and get to a yes. Because I think sometimes as comm directors, we might just say, nope, you can’t have that, it doesn’t fit. And I’m not a big fan of that because not that I don’t want them to feel the rejection or that’s just an uncomfortable situation, it’s that you want to help them win. And so sometimes it is just the win is don’t put your efforts in that. But I think it’s always best, but here’s what we can do to help you. And sometimes it’s just counseling you know and advice. Here’s what you can do to do go help your, you know, event or whatever be successful.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. And I think so much of that can stem from coming to the table with solutions instead of coming to the table with problems. And so I think that’s like a lot of work that, just even a lot of folks at my, just like in my peer group at the church, like, that’s just what we keep trying to even sharpen each other with. Where it’s like, oh, it just sounds like you gave a solution, like reframe that, but tell me the problem. And so I think we still have work to do, but that’s the thing that we keep trying to bring back to each other that it’s like, nope, that’s not a problem, that’s a solution. And of course, we want to make cool stuff, right? Of course, we want to, yeah, do the trendy this or the cool that, but if it’s not solving our problem, we also don’t want to misalign using our resources.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Let’s talk a little bit about that because you guys, you have to have a careful balance here. What is the priority to, or time or energy based on Sundays versus everything else?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, great question. So it’s funny because I was processing that a little bit, even before our conversation today, and I don’t know that we would describe it that way necessarily. And so yes, we are in the week for the weekend, absolutely. But more so through the filters, I think we operate, and then that naturally informs the weight to Sunday in all ministry environments. And so for us, we very much believe in relevant gatherings that are simple and applicable. Dynamic kid and student ministries. We want our people for it to be easy to feel seen and known, and we want to blow away our people with personal care and follow through. And so a lot of that happens on a Sunday, absolutely, but also a lot of that happens outside of Sunday. And so when we’re working on projects and in taking work and helping our ministries and our campuses, those probably are the higher level filters we think through, and then determine what priorities and projects look like from there.

Jason Hamrock: Wow. Okay. Yeah, because you have a lot to deal with. I mean with all those campuses, there are tons of ministries wanting stuff. So you could easily lose track of, I’m sure, yeah, like you said that time is your biggest thing that you have to…

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, absolutely. And that does not mean that Sunday is not important. But I think it just also, what’s the right way to say it, like, almost it neutralizes it a little bit that then every team, regardless of their ministry area, like we’re all pointed towards the same drivers, we’re all pointed towards the same mission. And so, yes, dynamic kid and student ministry, that’s also a very high priority for us because we want parents to, like, we want their kids to have amazing experiences where they’re telling their parents, I can’t wait to come back. If we were just focused on the weekend gathering, those two things would be out of balance with one another.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. So true, so true. What’s some advice you would give to a communication director who’s fairly new to the role? Because, you know, you’re not too new to the role. What kind of advice would you give them right now as they’re stepping, like, what are the things they should try to prioritize?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. For me, and probably the way I’m wired, relationships are just so important. And so, for me, I love to get around people that I can ask a lot of questions to. I think understanding organizational history is really key, especially, when you might even be seeing that you need to change directions or, you know, kind of turn the dial 10 or 15 degrees. The more you can do that with organizational history on your side, with other people in the room, kind of that you have relationships built with, I don’t know, I just find that that can be easier to work through those changes or challenges. And then also, that you just have a great sounding board to process with. And so I know, even my supervisor said to me once, hey, kind of the more you move through different leadership levels in a church, just the lonelier it can get. So how do you just make sure that you don’t wake up one day finding yourself isolated on your own island? But that you know who your peers are within your church, you reach out to other comms directors at other churches, or even in the marketplace setting that can offer you wisdom, and be someone else to bounce something off of. But I don’t know, we were not wired to do it alone and figure it out alone, and so I would say, just make sure you know who your people are and those safe places to process with, especially when you’re anticipating changes or, you know, a course change.

Jason Hamrock: That is so well said, especially that organizational history. I didn’t really think of it that way, I thought of more the culture, but the organizational history is so critically important to that because you kind of know what got you up to this point as a church. And your job isn’t to step in and change everything, it’s to continue to carry the mission, but you have to understand the history, that’s what’s really, really good. Because culture is obviously one of those things where there’s that line between stepping in and just being absorbed into the culture, because then you may not be able to see what you do need to change because you’re so sucked into it, but understand the history of it so that you can make some changes, good changes, moving forward is pretty important.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, totally. Yeah. And I know that I’ve definitely stepped in it too, where you’re like, oh, I didn’t know that was a thing, or I didn’t realize that was so important to so and so. And so the faster you also just get to know all the so and so’s like then that also just helps bridge that gap. And so I know there are people on our leadership team that I’ve just walked in, you know, and said, hey, I just need to process something with you. This feels like something you might care about or you would have been a part of in the past. I just want to make sure I know all the things, so, like, we don’t get it wrong or we don’t move too fast in one direction without honoring another direction. And so, yeah, as many times as I could say, I’ve gotten it right, there have definitely been times that you also get it wrong, and some of that you just live and you learn how to just develop those relationships better in the future.

Jason Hamrock: Well, it’s a lot easier to learn from our failures, right?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: It’s hard to learn from success because, I don’t know, it’s successful. But when it’s a failure, just my advice to everybody is always to fail forward.

Joanna Wishard: Yep. Yeah.

Jason Hamrock: Because I mean, it’s inevitable, right?

Joanna Wishard: Totally. I just like to do it with a couple of my friends, too.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. And you kind of said this a little bit, but, like, who do you look to, you know, to help you do your job better? What are your outlets? You kind of mentioned a little bit there, you know, with your supervisor or some other comm directors. Where else are you getting inspiration?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. So I would say also just on our church team, I am very much in a relationship with our student director, our kid director, our guest experience director, and those that lead in our worship and arts department, and that is primarily so we can be thinking at a more higher strategic level than just within our own silos. If I woke up just thinking about communications every day, I’d be missing out on a lot of goodness that I could learn from my counterparts. And so I think that, yeah, again, that just visual of like, when you’re working on an island, that’s when things get weird. And so how do you know, even on your own church team, who are the right counterparts that can help you think can help you process? But also that you can challenge and they can challenge you because you know that fundamentally, you’re all going after the same mission. And then I would say also just outside of my church team, we very much believe that we have so many gifts and talents within our church, and so there are definitely people, even in our church that are, whether they’re marketing professionals or designers or videographers or comms directors, our team is very used to also kind of having their people to even be connected with those that aren’t on our church staff but would love to serve or consult or talk through things with us. And yeah, it’s interesting too, even with my, like, marketplace experience in retail management, I still have people from that world that it’s like, hey, can I process this people problem with you? Or, you know, this training thing that I’m feeling? Because fundamentally, a lot of it transfers, right? It’s just a different craft that you’re kind of transferring it under.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. And you mentioned something about a class that you guys are jumping into a class where you’re teaching.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. Yeah. So we have developed, which is a two-year leadership program, and we have different tracks that you can jump into. And so one of the classes that that cohort goes through is communicating to be heard. And so actually it’s starting up here soon, and we go through crucial conversations. And I said this, you heard that which is like all temperaments, and so kind of marrying that curriculum together. And so I love teaching it because I love the reminder every year that it’s like, yes, these things are important and valuable, and kind of being able to brush up on it. But yeah, so those are two great resources as well. And then, of course, our church participates in the Global Leadership Summit, and so we have a lot of just content from those and that avenue. And so most of the people in that circuit, I’d say a lot of us also follow their work.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, leadership, I love that. Yeah, the Leadership Summit is always a good one to go to. Are there any books that you have read? You mentioned one, but are there any other books that have really helped define you in terms of how you’re doing your job?

Joanna Wishard: I feel like I should tell you, yes, but I don’t know that I have a ton of those. A couple of years ago, actually, as a team, we read Herding Tigers, I think it’s Todd Henry. And that was really good for our team, even the way he describes, like, creative guardrails and, like, how to help creatives think. I know that we, yeah, there’s a couple of us that follow his work more closely just from the creative side. And then Creativity Inc. is another book that our team reads when they’re kind of onboarding. And so much of that, for me, is I think it helps just set a high level of candor. And so if you’re around our church, you’ll hear we’re a high feedback culture. And really, at the end of the day, what that means is just like you should be able to have like, just conversations with others around their ministry and what they’re doing. Knowing that, again, we’re all on the same foundation, whether it’s what our values look like, or what our core looks like. And so how can you develop that high level of candor quickly to be able to put your personal preferences aside and remember, hey, we’re all going after the mission together? This is not personal, just this is how we live out our values.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah. Oh, so good, so good. Joanna, how do people get in touch with you if they’ve got some questions? Because a lot of times our community wants to reach out and pick your brain. So how would they get ahold of you?

Joanna Wishard: Absolutely. So you can jump on our church website, and you can find me on the team page. But otherwise, I’m on Instagram under Joanna Wishard or LinkedIn as well.

Jason Hamrock: Well, thank you again for your time, your insight, and your wisdom.

Joanna Wishard: Yeah, thank you.

Jason Hamrock: And your passion for what you do there, it’s just evident, you know, in just this short conversation that God is doing some really cool things through you, through the leadership, and through the congregation. And what a cool place to be at, huh?

Joanna Wishard: Yeah. Thank you, this has been so fun. Thanks for having me.

Jason Hamrock: Yeah, all right, well, take care.

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