The Millenial Ministry: Learning Graphic Design

There’s nothing worse than having a great message that gets ignored. Unfortunately, the greatest message in the world, the Gospel, is often being ignored because little is done to make it stand-out. As a millennial who grew up in church, I realized early on that it was embarrassingly rare to see a Gospel-preaching church that had professional promotional material. More often than not, I saw text-filled tracts with nothing but a clipart cross!

To be fair, a professional church invitation doesn’t add any power to the Gospel, but it does help get the Gospel to more people. In a culture that is inundated with marketing materials that are professionally designed, the church can’t expect the lost to take an invitation seriously that looks like it came from the 1980’s! Fortunately, certain people have come to the rescue to this type of churches and offer a tailored graphic design service to people in the ministry. While that is a great last resort, shouldn’t such a prevalent need become a more prominent ministry? Besides, there are quite a few problems that can accompany hiring a graphic designer:

  • When churches hire other people to do the job, they will often skimp on quality to save money. Many times, a church will hire out a design job to a graphic designer who is affordable, but the product they receive fails at attracting the attention of their audience.
  • When churches hire other people to do the job, the entire process takes quite a bit of time. A good graphic designer has several other clients and a personal life, and the church staff has a lot of other responsibilities to handle, so the finished product can often take weeks to arrive. Consequently, when a need comes up last-minute, or the church’s designer has a full schedule, the church often gives up on a visually appealing presence altogether.

What’s the solution, then? I truly believe Millennials, especially those in the ministry, should give greater consideration to learning the skill of graphic design. As millennials in ministry, we have a lot of advantages when it comes to learning graphic design: we are more familiar with technology, we understand the importance of professional graphics, and we have more time to dedicate to learning a new skill (surely you don’t expect your pastor to learn this skill!).

Now, I’ve encouraged many people to try this and I’ve heard a variety of excuses:

  • Doesn’t it cost a lot of money to get that kind of software?
  • It takes a lot of time to learn graphic design! How will I find the time?
  • I’m not an artistic or tech-savvy person!
  • I’ll never be good enough to design something that looks professional!

I’m no professional, but I want to share how I learned the basics of graphic design.

 

The Basics

In order to design something that looks professional, you only need to develop two skills—two! Here they are: you need to learn what looks good and you need to learn how to make that with the software you use. That’s it! If you can train yourself to be in tune with what looks modern and trendy and learn how to use your software to create that, you will save your church thousands of dollars (no kidding)!

The first skill is quite easy to learn because it simply requires you to pay attention to the graphics around you. What makes the Easter invitation you saw another church use look sharp? Is it the bright colors? Is it a minimalistic, simple design? What makes Nike’s billboard look good? Is it the bold text that they put with the photo of their professional athlete? Another way I try to develop my eye for what looks modern and is trending in the graphic design world is by browsing behance.net and dribbble.com. Both of these websites are where graphic designers showcase the designs of which they are most proud. The designers who contribute to these websites are so much more creative and skilled than I am, so I can learn a lot from looking at their material.

The most difficult, taxing part of graphic design is learning the software. There are plenty of people that know what kind of design looks professional, but they never learn how to create. Since I exclusively use Adobe software (more about that later), I can only speak of ways I’ve learned those specific programs. There are three ways to learn any graphic design software:

  1. Video Tutorials-YouTube has several tutorials to offer, but I’ve found them to be very low-quality and unreliable. You just can’t depend on YouTube having a tutorial to help you learn everything you need to learn about your specific program. If you prefer to learn this way, I highly recommend subscribing to Lynda.com. Lynda.com produces video tutorials to help people learn skills related to technology. They offer a plethora of tutorials for each Adobe software (plus, just about any other software you can think of), tutorials on photography, and plenty of materials to help you learn other skills as well. Lynda.com will cost you $20/month, which is far more affordable than a class at your local community college (some library cards come with free access to this website, too!).
  2. Books-I personally learn skills well by reading, so this option accounts for the majority of my learning. For each Adobe program I’ve learned, I have done so by systematically going through the Classroom in a Book written for that program. Classroom in a Book is made by Adobe professionals for the purpose of systematically teaching the functions (tools) of their program to their customers. Each chapter uses a partially completed project and teaches you, step by step, how to finish that project, simultaneously giving you an in-depth training session on the program.
  3. Experience-You have to get over the fact that you won’t make anything worth using your first time around. I still feel embarrassed when I see some of the things I created for the church plant I served at! What makes even the first projects worthwhile is that each project will teach you something new! On one project, you might spend an hour figuring out how to achieve the effect you want, but you will have that knowledge available the next time you face a similar dilemma. If you know someone else who is a graphic designer, you can also sit down with them and watch them complete a project and gain experience that way. As the saying goes, practice makes perfect!

 

The Resources

Everyone imagines that, in order to be a graphic designer, you have to have a $3000 iMac to get the job done. This isn’t the case! When I first started learning graphic design, I used the 4-year-old laptop that my parents bought me for my high school graduation! Having a top-notch processor is nice, but it’s not a necessity when you are first learning Illustrator or Photoshop. Once you have a computer, you’ll need to buy your graphic design software.

Up until a few years ago, if you wanted to learn graphic design, you had to buy the software for around $1000, but who wants to make an investment like that in a brand-new skill? A few years ago, Adobe finally got smart and joined the subscription bandwagon. All of their apps can now be paid for through a subscription, where you pay a small monthly fee to own the program and some cloud-based storage. The Creative Cloud, as Adobe calls it, is the collection of all of their most popular apps (Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign, Premiere Pro, and many more). Customers can subscribe to one app for $20 month (student or non-student) or subscribe to have access to the entire Creative Cloud suite! If you are a student with a “.edu” email address, you can subscribe to the entire Creative Cloud suite for $20/month—what a deal! Those who aren’t students can still subscribe to the entire suite for $50/month.

My suggestion is to start by learning one program, Photoshop or Illustrator, and go from there. Those programs are the most versatile programs when it comes to making church-related graphics. $20 each month may seem like a lot, but the investment will be well-worth your time if you stick with this skill.

 

The Product

The goal isn’t to become so good that you can start a side business doing graphic design (not a bad idea, though). I’m simply making the case to learn this skill so you can save your church a lot of money and improve their presence in the community. If you make a small investment to learn this skill, you can at least become good enough to edit template graphics to suit the needs of your church.

What church wouldn’t benefit from a young person who had this skill set? I started learning graphic design two years ago, and it has allowed me to help both churches I’ve served at in that time, contribute to the mission of a local non-profit, and earn some money on occasion. If you borrow money and time from the places where you’re currently wasting them, the chances are high that you’ll have enough money and time to learn a skill that will become even more essential in the coming years.

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