Faith communicators share stories, ideas

Ken Garfield
Ken Garfield

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As director of communications at Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, Ken Garfield has a lot on his plate.

He oversees the church’s website and posts stories on it every day.

He edits a 12-page, full-color magazine the church publishes three times a year.

He edits a six-page newsletter that is published every other week in print and on the church’s website.

He edits the church’s Sunday worship bulletin, which includes roughly 50 news items a week.

And he contributes to an e-blast that is distributed Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and includes prayer elements provided by the pastor, along with news highlights of the week.

A former reporter and religion editor for The Charlotte Observer, Garfield says he left the newspaper voluntarily in 2006 because he “loved nonprofits and loved writing about them and wanted to do it in a nonprofit setting in a house of worship.”

But as part of a two-person communications staff at a 5,000-member church who must deal with challenges like those at daily and weekly newspapers, Garfield says, he co-founded an informal group three years ago for communications directors at churches and nonprofits.

The group, known as Faith Communicators, has an e-message group of 60 to 70 communications staffers from religious congregations and nonprofits, and attracts about 15 people for its meetings the fourth Friday of each month.

“All of us pretty much are one-person shops,” says Garfield, who founded the group with John Bambach, learning center coordinator at the Cornwell Center at Myers Park Baptist Church.

The meetings feature coffee, networking, and typically a speaker who talks about communications nuts and bolts.

In March, for example, Bill Norton, vice president of marketing at United Way of Central Carolinas, talked to the group about how United Way reinvented its brand, as well as issues it tries to address in its communications.

And in January, Akilah Luke, communications manager at Crisis Assistance Ministry, talked about the way the agency uses social media.

“It’s strictly learning and fellowship,” Garfield says.

The learning focuses on critical communications issues for congregations and nonprofits, including “shrinking budgets and often shrinking memberships for mainstream churches,” as well as “how to intelligently use all the communications platforms,” he says.

“We all face the same or some combination of the same challenges,” Garfield says. “There is no one correct answer. Every congregation and nonprofit has to tell its story differently, depending on its budget and demographics.”

Churches with demographically diverse congregations need to deliver information in the multiple formats used by their members, he says.

Young members, for example, may prefer to get information on their mobile phones and devices, while older members may prefer to get information in print format.

Ultimately, however, the communications challenge for congregations and nonprofits is to “keep the focus on storytelling,” Garfield says.

“People hunger to read stories of other peoples’ faith lives, ministries, challenges,” he says, “to go beyond the clever graphics and the use of technology to really communicate with meaning and emotion.”

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