How to Handle Ministries That Break Your Church Comm Rules

How to Handle Ministries That Break Your Church Comm Rules

September 18, 2017 by

As church communicators, we spend a decent amount of time trying to get people to follow the rules, don’t we? Among other things, we ask them to use our communication request form, meet our deadlines, use particular fonts and colors, and adhere to our style guide. We also beg them not to do certain things, like stretch our church’s logo all out of whack, start a separate Facebook account for their ministry, distribute homemade fliers in the lobby, and spend 13 minutes sharing random announcements from the platform.

Most people honor our communication requests. But most isn’t good enough. What do we do then?

Most of the time, most people honor our requests. But because we take our jobs very seriously, because we consider ourselves to be sole protector of our church’s brand, and because we’re sort of control freaks (deny it all you want, friends), most isn’t good enough. We want all the people to follow all the rules all of the time.

But they don’t. They won’t. So, what do we do about that?

First: Adjust Your Approach

  • Is your communication ministry based around guidelines or rules? The posture with which you approach staff and ministry leaders will make them more or less inclined to do what you’re asking them to do.
  • Are you constantly telling people what they can’t do, rather than offering them helpful suggestions on what they can do? No one likes to be told no. Rather than presenting a list of communication don’ts, offer some pre-approved do’s. For example, “Please use either Calibri or Arial as your email font” sounds less combative than “Do NOT use Comic Sans or Curlz MT in any official church communication.”
  • Have you communicated your standards clearly and consistently? Sure, you have your style guide committed to memory, but no one else does. Know why? Because no one else cares that much—and, to be honest, they shouldn’t be expected to. Communication is your thing. So, instead of assuming everyone knows and will instinctively honor the “rules,” turn them into “Communication Tips,” and post them somewhere online for easy access. Snag five minutes at every staff meeting to share communication-related tools and updates. Have bacon meetings.
  • Are your guidelines reasonable in your ministry environment? Be honest: Are you being a little ridiculous? Have you tried to implement too many policies and changes at once, so everyone’s a little confused and maybe a bit bitter? Are you thinking more about yourself and your needs than you are about the people whom you’re called to serve?
  • Have you sufficiently explained the why? Sometimes, people don’t follow policies because they don’t understand why they’re in place to begin with. It’s one thing to lecture people about proofreading their emails before they go out. It’s another thing to talk about honoring God in every detail and how, over time, carelessness can tarnish a church’s reputation.
Conflict forces us to think critically about our approach and develop relational equity with other leaders.

Second: Don’t Take It Personally

  • Ministry leaders have a one-track mind. Children’s ministers care about children’s ministry. Men’s ministry leaders care about men’s ministry. Youth ministers care about youth. (And pizza. But mostly youth.) People aren’t breaking rules because they’re your rules. They’re breaking rules because they care as much about their ministry as you care about yours. The trick is to help them see the benefits of working within the guidelines you’ve established. Note: If you can’t easily explain those benefits and you find yourself saying, “Because I said so,” you may need to revisit your approach.
  • Assume benign intent. If someone’s distributing invitation cards in the lobby on the “wrong” weekend, don’t assume they’re being defiant. Instead, assume they misread your email or got their weekends mixed up. Instead of taking an authoritative, defensive posture, approach them with curiosity and good will.
  • Be careful about concessions. If you’re constantly making exceptions to your policies or deadlines, people may no longer understand what’s non-negotiable and what’s get-around-able. It’s fine to make concessions on purpose under particular circumstances, of course, but making a habit of letting things slide will create problems over time. Note: If you’re constantly bending your own rule, maybe that rule is unnecessary.

Third: Have a Conversation

The most important thing you can do with rule-breakers is talk to them. Don’t send emails or Slack messages. Don’t offer passive-aggressive reminders at all-staff meetings. Don’t gossip about them. Have a face-to-face conversation.

  • Begin with a quick statement of what prompted the meeting. “I noticed you put invite cards at the Connection Center again this weekend, even though I’d asked you not to.” (By the way, if you’re no good at conflict, say that, too: “I need to have a tough conversation with you, and I’m bound to get a little tongue-tied and awkward. But you and your ministry are important to me, and I really want to talk this through.”)
  • Then, ask a question. “Can you help me understand why?”
  • Then, listen. Even if the person says unkind things about you. Even if they complain about your rules. Even if they start blaming you for a lack of sign-ups for their event. Which they probably will.
  • And then (and this is going to hurt) repeat what you just heard. “Okay, if i understand you correctly, you need to sell more tickets to the pancake breakfast, and because you don’t think I’ve given it enough promotion, you decided to do some things on your own. Is that right?”
  • Next, affirm their feelings and find the good. “I know your breakfast is in just a couple of weeks, and it sounds like you’re concerned it won’t be as successful as it was last year. I appreciate how much ownership you’re taking of the event!”
  • Finally, look for solutions. “Now, I’ve already promised Connection Center space to the outreach team for the next two weeks. So, let’s talk about some other ways you can get the word out about your breakfast.”
Sometimes, people don’t follow policies because they don’t understand why they’re in place to begin with.

Finally: Ask for Help

If you’re confident your guidelines are clear and reasonable, and if an honest, face-to-face conversation doesn’t resolve the situation, it’s time to ask for help from your supervisor. Don’t be all, “I’m tellin’ daaaad,” of course. Stay humble and check your attitude. “I wonder if including Pastor Dan in this conversation would be helpful. He’s a creative thinker and I know he understands what each of us is trying to accomplish. Would you be open to that conversation?” If they agree, great. If they won’t agree, talk to your supervisor first, then, if advised to do so, talk to your rebel’s supervisor.

Conflict Is Hard

Unless you really are a control freak, there’s nothing particularly fun about confronting rule-breakers, errr, guideline-avoiders. Conflict is hard. But it also forces us to think critically about our approach and our policies, and it helps us develop relational equity with ministry leaders—both the easy ones and the not-so-easy ones.

So, go: Enforce your guidelines. Squash the rebels. (Kindly). Do it. Because I said so.


This month our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site is talking about how to get things done. We’re talking process and productivity, which is why dealing with those pesky rule-breakers is helpful. Learn more about how to create and protect your process by joining Courageous Storytellers.

Post By:

Kelley Hartnett

Kelley Hartnett spent more than a decade working in established churches and helping to launch new ones. She recently launched Tall Tree Collective, which helps nonprofits craft messages that inspire people to get behind their cause. Kelley formerly served as the membership director for our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site and is the author of You've Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators.
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