How do you feel that moment when your favorite TV show is abruptly interrupted, urgent music begins and a giant Special Report graphic appears? There’s nothing more exciting than being part of the team that is bringing you that breaking news coverage. How do I know? I’ve been part of that team, first as a newscast producer calling the shots in the live production booth. Later I was a TV news director, the leader who oversees the entire news operation for a television station. God prepared me for ministry through the adrenaline-driven world of the newsroom. Crazy? There’s plenty churches can learn from our friends down at the local TV station!
1. Time is Your Most Valuable Asset
A news team can give you all of the day’s top news, weather and sports (plus nine minutes of commercials) all in half an hour.
Lesson for churches: Churches needs several minutes for announcements and much longer for a four-point sermon. There are ways to communicate effectively in much less time than what we may think.
2. The Most Effective Reporters are Beat Reporters
General assignment reporters hang out in the newsroom and are handed a different story each day by the assignment desk. Beat reporters are given a specialty “beat” (education, government, courts, health, business, etc.) Beat reporters start their day in the community, making the rounds and visiting their sources. They have relationships with people in the community. They develop their own stories based on what their community sources tell them. Beat reporters are the ones who really uncover news. Their consistent relationships and presence in the community mean they get tipped off before things happen. Beat reporters break stories because they are present every day.
Lesson for churches: Relationships and being present in your community are important. You can’t sit in your ivory tower (building) and expect ministry opportunities to find you. The best opportunities are the ones you discover through your network of relationships.
3. Some People are “Talent” and Need to be Handled Differently
Being a news anchor is like being an ice skater—observers think it’s easy and they want to do what you do. The truth is that it’s difficult to look perfect and present flawlessly every day. News anchors have little privacy and can never go to the supermarket in sweatpants. They work late nights or early mornings. Anchors can never have “a bad day” because they are always in front of thousands of people. They are the face of their organization. They bring disproportionate value. If they quit, they’ll take a quarter of the audience with them. Anchors are unusually gifted communicators; however, because they are extremely gifted in one area, sometimes they lack skills in another. People openly criticize news anchors every day for petty things. News anchors need a thick skin and healthy ego just to keep going under these circumstances. They need to be managed differently because they are different.
Lesson for churches: Senior pastors and worship pastors are similar in many ways to news anchors. Pastors are unusually gifted in a few areas. They work odd hours. People are always judging their performance, many times for petty things. Pastors must always be “on.” They are the public face of your church. They bring disproportionate value. They are not “line workers” or hourly employees and shouldn’t be managed that way. We should not have systems that encourage prima donnas but we should recognize that pastors are like specialized, finely-tuned instruments. They need to be handled with special attention by church leadership to enable them to do their special work.
4. Intelligent Debate and Direct Interaction Result in Stronger Decisions
The greatest thing about working in the news business is the newsroom environment. Newsrooms are filled with smart, well-educated and well-read people. There is always lively debate over which stories to cover and what angles to take. You are expected to speak your mind, offer an opinion and your justification for it. If you feel passionately about something, you can express it with vigor (just be ready for an equally passionate argument against you!) You are expected to speak quickly, clearly and directly (remember, we’re on a deadline.) While debate may be lively and you may not agree with everything, you should not get offended. You are expected to have a thick skin. The unwritten rule of the newsroom is that lively debate and direct interaction are a necessary part of making good decisions.
Lesson for churches: Allow your leadership to drop the veneer of “being nice” and speak the truth in love to each other. Stop squashing opposing voices in order to promote a perception of “unity.” An opposing opinion isn’t a challenge to your leadership. People making intelligent counter-arguments are not antagonists. Create a culture where it is safe for ideas to compete and for people to speak directly with each other.
5. It’s All About the Numbers
There are only two metrics in the television business: ratings (number of viewers watching) and revenue (dollars from advertising sales). At the end of the day, everything else is irrelevant if you’re failing to raise ratings and revenue. Television leaders are very quick to change strategies and people when ratings or revenue don’t increase.
Lesson for churches: Because churches deal in spiritual matters, metrics aren’t as clear. However, we should have an agreed upon set of standards and be able to measure our progress. Churches can be quite willing to resist metrics in favor of more “mystical” things. But the undeniable truth is that your church’s numbers are either growing or shrinking each year for conversions, baptisms, offerings, attendance and small group participation. These numbers have an indirect correlation to the church’s spiritual condition. When the numbers go down, start asking questions. Don’t be afraid to quickly take corrective action.
6. Presentation Wins
An uncomfortable truth is that everyone has the same content available to them. What separates winners from losers is how that content is presented. Who is presenting it? How well is it written? Are the main points clear? Is it well paced and compelling? How relevant is it to my life? Is it available at a time that is convenient for me? Is content presented in a pleasing environment? How good are the graphics and images?
Lesson for churches: We’re no different than TV news.
7. It’s Better to be First Than Smooth
If you have a good news team, you’re first on the scene of breaking news. You are the first channel to break into regularly scheduled programming with a Special Report. Viewers will forgive your reporter if their hair isn’t perfect or if the lighting doesn’t look right. Viewers will forgive all kinds of mistakes when they know your heart is to bring them important information as quickly as possible. They have little need for a news station that looks more “put together” but is an hour behind.
Lesson for churches: Congregations will forgive all kinds of things when they see people coming to Christ, being baptized and growing in God. Members will be kind about our mistakes and shortcomings if they know we’re taking quick and aggressive action for God’s Kingdom.
8. Rookies Get a Shot
In my junior year of college, I got to do something I’ll never forget. I walked into the big city TV station I had grown up watching and became an intern. For two years, I learned the business from inside a working newsroom. I was mentored and inspired by my city’s best local reporters, anchors and managers. Then, right after graduation, I packed everything I owned into my car and moved to a small town. A station there hired me to be the producer of its 6:00 pm newscast. Wow! I could hardly believe the trust and responsibility that had been given to me while I was in my early 20’s and just out of school. I wasn’t the only fortunate young adult in television. Smaller-city newsrooms are filled with young adults producing, managing, reporting and anchoring newscasts. Because young people get chances to do meaningful work, the TV news business is overrun with talented, capable and experienced people.
Lesson for churches: Give young people as much responsibility as possible, as early as possible. Give them room to fail (learn). Nothing motivates rookies more than having “a place to play.” The number of capable hands in your church will multiply quickly.
I miss my days producing breaking news and hanging out with newsroom folks. They are a special breed. But nothing compares to the mission of the local church. The next time your TV show gets interrupted and you see that Special Report graphic, pay attention. Look for all the good ideas our churches can borrow from our friends at the local news station.