Why Your Church Needs a Style Guide

Posted at August 3, 2011

Could the right font really mean the difference between someone visiting your church, or not at all?  Will the gospel message penetrate further when your church logo is not stretched too wide atop your Sunday bulletin? Are typos a sing of the end times?

It may seem like a stretch at first, but the proper use of words, images, and identity in your church can help propel your ministry farther. The proper use of the church name, logo, colors, typography, and words helps to form a unified message. When the Church communicates with excellence, we show that our message is worthy of our best. In a word, proper communication is a form of worship.

Help your church staff succeed

Let’s face it: ministry staffers/volunteers don’t get hired because they understand serifs, Pantones, or AP style.  A little coaching may be necessary to help our fellow brothers and sisters communicate well.  Enter the Style Guide!

Creating a Style Guide is time-consuming (if done well), but thankfully there are several examples available to get you started. We’ll cite several of them in this blog post.  We did an informal survey of churches around the United States, and many were gracious enough to provide us with their internal examples.

Each church takes a little different direction with their guides; some of them are classic branding/identity manuals, while others follow more of a communications (big picture) guideline with fewer details. Most of them did not have a style guide at all!

Here are the big areas that you should consider for your guide.

Explain Why You Have a Guide in the First Place

As part of your rollout plan, the document itself should help to justify its own existence.  Whether it’s one paragraph or two pages, your verbiage helps the reader understand the overall value in learning, remembering, and practicing the guidelines described.  If people don’t understand the overall “why”, they definitely won’t do it.

Example style guide with great information on why they have the document in the first place:

Village Seven Presbyterian Church

Define the Do’s and Don’ts of Identity Usage

If your church has a logo, then your team has a responsibility to use it well. Trouble is, most folks don’t understand what this means. The tools that people use to create documents and media–tools like Microsoft Word and Publisher–are admittedly difficult to control when it comes to image fidelity.  Every style guide should contain instructions about how to properly use the logo in a variety of conditions.

Here are two examples that explain identity usage well:

Idlewild Baptist Church
(produced by the awesome folks at Eternity Communications, Inc.)

Centreville Presbyterian Church

Don’t Touch that Font!

“…and deliver me Lord, from Comic Sans, for it has no place in your house…”

We communications folks love our typefaces. And we cringe when the wrong typefaces (you know the difference between “typefaces” and “fonts”, right?) are used. Typography is a powerful thing, and most people have no idea how much they are really influenced by it.  Your typefaces should harmonize with your identity, but also give the freedom to your team to use different weights, variants, and sizes depending on the application.

We thought TBC (Jacksonville, FL) offered a good example of typography guidelines:

Trinity Baptist Church

BONUS: Here’s an old favorite for all of you typography geeks: the Font Conference video.

Kick it Up a Notch with Color

It’s hard enough to find clothes that match in the morning (at least for me). Now you’re telling me that I’m supposed to match your Pantone color with my PowerPoint slides? If you’re a print designer, you definitely need to consider the various non-print applications where your team will be communicating. Give them approximations of your approved colors in at least three color spaces: Pantone, RGB, and Hexadecimal.

This example gets two out of the three (see page 9):

Wayzata Community Church

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words… Unless it Stinks

News flash: a digital camera does not make you a photographer! And not every photograph is good enough for your collateral materials. It pays to set some standards for the types of photos you expect to see in your church. You can describe the type of people depicted, rules for photographs of children, minimum resolution requirements, approved sources of stock photos, etc.

We like the simple, straightforward guidelines and examples on page 9 of this guide:

Calvary Baptist Church

Lack of Planning on Your Part Does not Create a Crisis on My Part: Guidelines for Graphic Design Requests

It’s a fact that most church in-house designers are the busiest folks around. Sure, they just sit at their computer and draw pretty pictures all day… but this is hard work, people! Seriously, it is imperative that your creative team institute a formalized process for receiving, promising, and delivering on the various requests you receive. Ministries in the church are your internal “customers”, and you need to run your creative group like a service bureau. Even if it’s just one person.

Take a look at the great guidelines set in place by the Communication Arts Department at this church:

Eagle Brook Church

Andrea Olson is Communication Arts Director at Eagle Brook, and she says that the above guide is even distributed to new employees at their orientation. “It’s more about making sure proofing standards are adhered to and ministries fill out workorders for every single request no matter how large or small. This keeps our project manager from being swamped with emails!” she told us. As a result, they have seen an improvement in overall turnaround times on design/production orders.

Should I Tweet That? Establishing Social Network/Email Guidelines

It is surprising how few churches maintain a policy or guideline for how their staff should communicate to the outside world. This includes talking to reporters and the media, but also the more common and casual forms of express such as Facebook, Twitter, and Email. If you want to stop a PR bungle before it starts, be sure you have a clear policy for your team on how they are expected to behave online.

St. James Lutheran Church + School in Chicago has created this type of standard. Kate Donovan is Director of Communications and Admissions, and she explains the impact that this tool has had for them: “we desire to reflect the excellence of our gracious God through our management and the standards set a level of quality that reflects God’s glory,” Kate says. As a result of a consistent standard, “we are able to reach more people with our message.”

 

St. James Lutheran Church + School

 

 

By the way, most of the churches we polled said that they met little or no resistance when rolling out their new standards. It may be easier than you think. For Trinity Baptist Church, “education was key,” according to Daniel Riddick, Director of Communications. “When our staff made the connection to vision, it was a win. Any time we imposed the style apart from vision, simply as a mandate, we would often meet resistance.”

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What about your church? Do you have any sort of style guide? Most churches in our survey did not. Let us know your thoughts on whether you might implement this with your team. We hope the examples above are helpful!

And by the way, the typo in the first paragraph was intentional. Just wanted to see if you read this far. :)

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