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Graphic Design Tips For Pastors
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By Pieter Damsteegt

I never trust myself at design. You see I’m a filmmaker, not a graphic designer. Storytelling in real life isn’t the same as telling a story visually on a canvass or on a piece of paper. When I’m trying to be intentional with something that involves design I either get input from designers or outsource the project to a designer. I can tell you what looks good and quite possibly why, but I’m not good at making it well myself. I can critique art, design and photography because in art school we studied things like art history, had weekly critiques and learned principles of art and design. But in the end I’m not a graphic designer.

I remember this one class back in college where we worked on a short film of our art department on campus. In one of the interviews the student we interviewed said, “I guess I’m a graphic designer because I like to make things pretty.”

Personally, coming from an art background I have a burden for seeing good design in churches and ministries. I have found that I like things that are well made, things that just “look right,” and things that show time and effort were put into them.

I but since I’m not a designer myself I branched out and asked a few designer and photographer friends to share a few thoughts about what they’d like to share with pastors, churches and ministries. And these thoughts I’ll share a bit here.

One of the first responses had to do with typography. “No Papyrus Font.” Yes that’s actually a big one. You hear of graphic designers who will walk into a restaurant pick up the menu, see that it’s using papyrus font and walk out just out of principle. But no, let’s not talk about how you’re not suppose to use papyrus, comic sans or some of the other “iconic” font choices for your general materials, let’s go a bit deeper. If you find a designer to talk to though, typography is a good topic to learn about from them.

For non-designers, and in this case, ministry leaders and pastors, basic design starts with connecting with a designer. Don’t trust your gut if you have no idea about design. If you have no design background, attempting good design can be pretty dangerous, and no, your college computer class was not a design class, sorry.

Assuming you find a graphic designer, be careful when connecting with them, after all, the last thing you want to do is burn your bridges. Asking a graphic designer to “donate their time to the ministry/church” up front can be pretty insulting. In fact that goes for folks doing pretty much any professional service for the church, whether that’s a promo video, photography or other services.

One of my designer friends told me, “One of the things graphic designers really don’t appreciate hearing is that you ‘kinda know how to use the programs so you don't have to pay others to do it for you.’” She explained, “You’re basically saying you don't value their career. Or another way of putting it would be like them telling you, "I have my own relationship with God and don't need your counsel or knowledge of Scripture.’”

Another thing you need to be careful of is that if you do hire a graphic designer you shouldn’t expect them to also do your copy writing and editing for you. That's a different skill set that a lot of designers might not even be good at. And even if they know how, if you don't pay them for that skill set, you shouldn’t expect that to be included in the job. Also on a bit of a side note to editing, another friend mentioned, “Time really does need to be spent on writing and editing content of church materials. There are times when bulletin announcements are simply too long or awkwardly written. Pastors and leaders should make an effort to create content that is brief and actionable.”

One of my photographer friends voiced, “When meeting the prospective designer, check out their portfolio first. Don’t overlook it. It's literally the face of your church that you’re dealing with, the outward appearance; bad design or photography is a huge hindrance for people coming in, but may not be the reason they come in.”

Just as pastors and church leaders devote much of their time to planning engaging and transformative worship services, at least some of the time should be spent on designing print and digital church materials whether it’s your bulletin, your website or your graphics for the screens.

Don’t be afraid to get a budget for design. Outreach budget should always include at least some money for graphic design. “Design is more important than you think for the 21st century and for millennials and gen-x’ers. We will appreciate the added effort even if it’s subconsciously.” said another web designer friend.

One designer I talked to mentioned, “Embarking on large rebranding projects isn't necessary. However, I do appreciate it when churches give visual design high priority. I think people are more drawn to churches who have solid design systems. Programs, presentations, handouts, and other communications play a big role in the church-going experience.” You see good design subconsciously conveys a lot of things, trust, authority, etc. By having a cohesively and well-designed experience you are speaking volumes in favor of what you are doing than a having a system that is chaotic and unplanned.

In the real world branding is something that corporations spend millions of dollars on (aka brand image and name recognition) and it’s something more than just a physical logo, it’s what the logo stands for, the ideals held by those who use the logo. Members are all brand representatives. In fact, the Church is just a huge marketing campaign if you really think about it. Pretty cool huh? Well, it’s cool if we have a something cohesive.

For a lot of churches, finding a designer may not be an option, but check and see if you have any artistic elementary kids in your church school or that go to your church. If you discern an individual in your church that has a gift or better talents that you in the area of art and design, by all means connect with them. But, in your enthusiasm, make sure you don’t overburden them.

In working with design in your church or ministry, you you can start small. Little changes to church bulletins or PowerPoint presentations can make a huge difference. Changes such as increased spacing between text, consistent paragraph alignment, or using varying font styles (don’t use too many at a time) can improve the look and readability of these materials. The use of relevant photography, illustrations, icons and color can enhance the effectiveness of messages being sent.

Hiring design students or professionals would certainly help, but you may not have that option. If you’re not finding that help in your immediate circle, look through your friends on Facebook, Twitter or whatever you use and don’t be afraid to connect. Churches also should encourage their artistic members to become involved in creating materials.

In closing I’ll leave you with what one of my friends summarized quite well: “Design/art is extremely important. People respond to visual input, so something that is visually pleasing will be given more weight and authority in the mind. Therefore it is important to make sure that your information, whether that be powerpoints, websites, ads, bulletins, etc all should be well done.” He went on to mention, “The reasoning I've always heard for dressing up for church is about giving God our best. Our PowerPoints should be wearing their church clothes too.”

For me that last sentence connected well in my mind with the verse in 1 Corinthians 14:40 about things being done decently and in order, but that’s just how my mind works. But after reading this article I don’t want you to be super self-conscious about your design and freak out and just slow down and stop. Yet, I want you to always be on the lookout for something better, progressing to better levels of design in your church or ministry as you interact with those that have artistic talent. Don’t forget to hang out with those designers to bounce ideas around. In closing I do want you to remember that though this topic may seem beyond you God is the Creator and the first Designer and He will guide you as you seek His will through Prayer. I pray that you will be able to find that interaction you need with the art world so that you can focus on your ministry.

Pieter Damsteegt is a passionate film maker and serves in the Communication Department of the North American Division of Seventh-day Adventists.