The Diversity Filter

The Diversity Filter

August 11, 2010 by

One of the unstated rules in the church world when creating visual communication pieces–especially when visuals call for pictures of people–is to make sure everything looks diverse. Regardless of whether or not the church has an ounce of diversity in it, it’s important to make sure every photograph has at least one black, Asian, white and Hispanic person, plus a child, teen, parent and senior. If you can include a good mix of male and female even better. A family dog is also a plus, but only if it’s not obvious which person in the photo it belongs too, lest the dog itself become a racial issue.

About 15 years ago, when I was getting my start in the publishing/marketing world, design software–and the hardware to run it–was becoming more and more affordable for the average Joe. This was especially the case for people like me who didn’t have a clue what they were doing but saw some sort of future in it.

As is often the case when someone is learning a new skill or talent, churches tend to benefit from the novice and naiveté of unfocused passion (“Look Pastor, I have Photoshop!”) and burgeoning need (“Photoshop?! You can make us look big!”).

This perfect storm of wannabe designers and churches who thought design was the answer to their problems created the ideal circumstance for cheesy all-inclusive diversity photos. I lost count of all the direct mail postcards and websites from churches who used the same stock photo library.

Although the intent behind communicating diversity is appreciated, diversity is a much more complex issue than mere visual communication. I think it starts before we ever engage the graphic designer.

For me, diversity comes in three primary categories (no particular order):

  • Gender
  • Generation
  • Ethnicity

These three filters are how I try to process through the decisions I make, the teams I build, the events I produce and projects I get behind. Because everything communicates, it’s important that diversity is a part of everything we do, not just everything we show.

I realize this filter doesn’t work perfectly in all contexts. Some parts of the country (and world) are more homogenous than others. Some cities are known for their lack of diversity.

This filter is not meant to result in the perfect photo, but hopefully, if diversity is embedded into the fabric of our decisions, it will naturally be reflected in the outflow of our communication.

Post By:

Brad Abare

Brad Abare is the founder of the Center for Church Communication. He consults with companies and organizations, helping them figure out why in the world they exist, why anyone should care and what to do about it.
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11 Responses to “The Diversity Filter”

  • erickyp
    August 11, 2010

    We launched a church 5 years ago in a town that is 97% white. When designing our mail out card, we dealt with this issue. Most churches and business’ were doing just what you said; sending out ads with the right mixture of gender, generation and ethnicity. We wrestled with that too. If we go that way and and place all of those people on our card and you show up at the church to a 97% white church (which would be an accurate reflection of the community), then that is false advertising. If we put an accurate view of our community and church on the card, then we look racist. So we went a different direction. We went with pictures of community landmarks in this kind of collage as we wanted to show that we were not a parachute launch bankrolled from some corporate conglomerate but a launch of home grown people who love this community.

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  • becky
    August 11, 2010

    I like the suggestion of using photos of your community landmarks. I think that’s an effective way around the purposefully-diverse-yet-almost-always-awkward photo described here. Another idea I’ve seen implemented well included just taking pictures of people’s feet (wearing shoes, and most with long pants so you don’t see much skin color). The shoes themselves can convey a different kind of diversity: work-boots, polished dress shoes, dirty sneakers, kids with bright colored shoes, etc. Nothing implied about skin-color whatsoever, yet these photos convey an inclusive feeling.

    There have been so many stories shared over the years of people editing photos to add in diversity (and doing it in obvious ways!). Universities, politicians, businesses, magazines… they’ve all done it – and gotten caught! I hope churches don’t take that route.

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  • Matt Stephens
    August 11, 2010

    So, you lamented the ubiquity of “diverse” stock photos, but do you propose an alternative? Many churches worry about putting photos of real congregation members (not including staff) on their sites (esp. minors). Do you recommend using real photos, even in relatively homogenous congregations?

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  • Brad Abare
    August 11, 2010

    This post was not meant to apply to stock photography specifically, but to anything that communicates generally. Everything communicates. Not just photos.

    I don’t have problems with using real church attenders (or not using them). The important thing is that diversity is a part of everything we do, not say.

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  • Tendai Mbaserah
    August 12, 2010

    Diversity is such an important kingdom concept, in fact we see it throughout Jesus’ ministry.
    I welcome the usage of photos of various people groups, for this to me is a correct representation of what God’s kingdom is all about.
    While there may be positives and negatives for using photos, let us be imaginative and creative.

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  • Joey Judkins
    August 16, 2010

    I’m a video/motion designer at a large church in Ohio, and my creative team has worked through similar issues, questions, and concerns about diversity in the Communication Arts (photos, videos, etc). Our stance generally is that we must incorporate diversity into all of our work (never with a quota like the one stated above: one white, one asian, one black, in EVERY picture), because our church is diverse, and our surrounding community is diverse. We want our church to not only look like the community, but also look like the Kingdom of God, which will be a highly diverse one!

    I agree that in Erickyp’s case, the challenge is slightly more difficult, since “looking like the Kingdom of God” and “looking like the community” seem to butt heads in his town. You can’t force an all-white town to not be white. But like the others said, let that not hinder your creativity! Creatives work best with limitations.

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  • David,
    August 20, 2010

    Great discussion. I love the creative ideas you all have shared – especially looking at alternatives to pictures of people to send the diversity message. It is an important element, as the Kingdom is open to everyone, so the invitation should share that as well.

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  • Gregg
    November 16, 2010

    Brad, you’ve alluded to this, but I’d like to get more specific. A step deeper than “what we say” vs “what we do.” If you are a mostly white church in a mostly white community, perhaps you should just acknowledge that our target ministry audience is white, and we don’t need to feel guilty about that. Or if you are a mostly black church in a mostly black community, same concept applies.

    But if your community is even marginally mixed, and you want to attract and minister to a diverse body — representing the whole kingdom of God — the first step is to recruit leaders (either staff or volunteers) from other races as part of your team. If/when visitors come to your church after seeing your “diverse” postcard and they see no people of color, for example, on the platform (or as greeters, ushers, elders), they will feel lied to. Again, Brad, to restate what you said — it IS about what you DO, not just what you say.

    When the visitor sees people from his/her culture as a leader, or at least a participant in the service, they will feel more at home, welcomed, accepted, wanted. If you want to create diversity, put your money/time/energy where your mouth is. Build diversity from within, then communicate and market in truth, and you’ll be amazed at the results.

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  • Ruben
    December 21, 2010

    Its a catch-22. If you display something you’re not, then its misleading. If you fail to communicate that you’re open to diversity, then nowadays you inadvertently come across as racist or at least a closed group.

    I advocate using creative ways to communicate at least your WILLINGNESS to be diverse, even if you’re not actually diverse. And let’s not forget that diversity is more than a racial thing. I’m also against making the diversity message a forefront issue. Our first thing we should be trying to communicate is our Gospel message. So it needs to be a background or 2nd tier type issue while recognizing that for some people, that’s the first thing they will pay attention to.

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