Artistry, technology skills employed to help churches make disciplesThe call to ministry doesn’t always mean the call to pastoral ministry. Some creative professionals have found their calling in employing their skills to help grow churches without being in the pulpit. The following story is about four individuals who have businesses invested in helping Missouri’s United Methodist Churches communicate with clarity – be it in worship, online or to the public at large.
Tom Strother worked has worked professionally in the audio/video industry for 13 years, including some time in music industry in Nashville and touring with big-name Christian bands. He now works full-time as the media ministry coordinator at First UMC in Jefferson City, but he also has a job on the side in which he consults with churches on audio/video solutions.
He works with churches to get their systems operational when they don’t know what’s wrong. He works alone and finds he can usually get someone up and running in a single visit. Sometimes even when the equipment is up-to-date, there is still an issue with figuring out how it works.
“It can be helpful to have someone like me, who has used the equipment before, to come in and train the person at the church who going to be using it,” Strother said. “Just because someone has played in a band, that doesn’t mean they’ll know how all the audio equipment works.”
He also advises churches on needed upgrades. “Sometimes to keep things working you need to bring your equipment up to date,” Strother said. “A piece of equipment may still be fully functional, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing for the job.”
Dean Eichler graduated from Central Missouri University with a degree in fine arts and entered the field of creative services. In his home church, Good Shepherd UMC in Kansas City, he focused on discipleship and faith development.
“I found my talents allowed me to serve God in a unique way,” he said.
Eichler donated his services and time to his local church. His wife, Marsha, was worship leader at Good Shepherd, and saw the congregation grow from 60 people to 600. He was offering his services in design and branding. In their time there, they had the opportunity to work with several different senior pastors, including Jim Oman, Kendall Waller, David Israel and Mark Sheets.
When Marsha Eichler followed her call to pastoral ministry he realized that as a clergy spouse of an itinerant minister he would need to be mobile, so he started Ministry Mark.
When Eichler started working for other churches, he found there was a large gap in quality between corporations and churches in areas such as identity, branding and promotions.
“I would cringe when I would hear someone say ‘It’s good enough for church,’” Eichler said. “Church should have the very best of what we are capable of doing.”
Eichler recognizes that many churches don’t have the staff, resources or budget to have things on par with major businesses, but he can still help them develop a brand identity with a consistent look and feel.
He finds it important to have marketing materials on par with the secular world. Eichler said when it comes to marketing, the church’s competition isn’t other churches, but rather everything else going on in the world around us that distracts people from going to church.
One thing Eichler liked about his wife’s first appointment to First UMC in Washington was that it gave him an opportunity to volunteer his services in a new setting that was very different than Kansas City. Having been there six years, he feels the church now has a well-branded community identity. He looks forward to offering to help First UMC in Joplin in the same manner when Marsha begins her new appointment there in July. Eichler view his work as a ministry, and although he does sometimes work for organizations that aren’t churches, he carefully reviews the mission of the organization before he takes them on as customers.
“I want to develop a relationship with the client and have a thorough understanding of what they are trying to accomplish,” he said.
Rev. Matt Kerner is a Missouri Conference elder is who currently on honorable location as he works with the financial institution Jack Henry, but he also continues to do church work as a consultant through his business Kaios. Kerner had been in full-time ministry for 13 years and had noticed that most churches can’t afford to hire a staff person with his experience and technical skills, but they may be able to bring on someone like him as a ministry partner to help with specific issues.
Unlike a private contractor who may primarily be interested in selling a service to be paid, Kerner is very focused from the beginning in helping the church see whether or not what they are trying to do is consistent with the mission of their church.
“It’s easy for churches to think they have to do something, like a feature on their website or live streaming, but if they don’t focus on their missional need, what they will get is a gadget, not a tool. Gadgets don’t bring people to Christ,” Kerner said. Kerner has worked with several Missouri Conference churches on their websites, video streaming, communication strategies and worship experiences.
He has encountered a couple of things multiple times that churches fail to consider. One is leaving ongoing maintenance and replacement of equipment out of their budget plans.
“They might consider how they need to maintain and eventually replace the church van, but they don’t consider how things like a soundboard and projector are not one-time purchases. They will also need to replaced,” he said.
The second thing churches typically fail to fully consider is the importance of training. Kerner said it is easy to do live video - very badly. It can also be fairly easy to do it well if someone knows what he or she is doing. Many churches have someone – but that person may be the only one with the skills, and 10 years later, the person is still the only one with the skills. It’s better to have a team approach.
“When I worked with Arch UMC in Hannibal, (pastor) David Scott did a great job of having a team of eight or nine people recruited, and they all understood both the how and the why of our objective of doing video on the web,” Kerner said.
REWIRED CREATIVE SERVICES
Mark Roach was part of the original 30-person core group at Morning Star, and worked there as worship director for 16 years, seeing the church grow to an average attendance of more than 2,000. Spending 16 years working in one church had its ups and downs and its own set of rewards. He has now worked with 25 different churches as a consultant with his business Rewired Creative Services.
“It’s a really neat thing, to work for the big C Church. It’s a totally different ball game, but it’s very rewarding. You can contribute on a more diverse basis,” he said.
Roach works around three themes: Consult, Create and Collaborate.
“When a church decides to initiate a big change, like starting to do their announcements via video, that’s a good time for me to come in and consult,” Roach said. “I can provide some strategic insights, and train people so things get started moving in the right direction.”
Much of his work has involved creating videos for capital campaigns for churches. He currently is on staff part-time at Cornerstone UMC in O’Fallon, Roach also teaches at a local university and leads a praise band.
He is a singer and songwriter, and employs his music creation skills in his video production. He hasn’t cut any of his own personal music lately but said he doesn’t feel like that is the stage he is in at this time.
“I’m 43, and I get a lot of excitement out of collaborating with the younger generation of artists,” he said. “I find a lot of satisfaction in helping drive a young career in the right direction.”
Hiring MembersMissouri Conference Director of Financial and Administrative Services Nate Berneking sees nothing wrong with congregations contracting for services within their membership, especially since often members will provide services to their congregation at a deep discount. The tricky part can be evaluating the quality of the service.
Berneking advises that it is important to have more than one person evaluating the work. It could be a special subcommittee, the board of trustees or the church administrative council. It should be people who can remain at arm’s length from the service provider and give an objective evaluation.
“This works best in a church with strong lay leadership, who can deal with contracting for a service on their own and protect the pastor from being directly involved in the process,” Berneking said. “If a conflict arises with the service being rendered, the pastor needs to be able to be a pastor to everybody.”