Church Communication Strategy – Part II

Here is the rest of my interview with Kelley Hartnett of March Hare Creative – the importance of communication.

church communication

We’re hearing more and more about branding these days. That seems like a very business-oriented concept, so why do churches need to be concerned with it?

I once heard the word brand associated with the word promise. In essence, a church’s brand is a promise to its community: Who we say we are is actually who we are.

  • If we say we’re a friendly church, when you spend time with us, you’ll feel welcomed.
  • If we say we’re about helping people grow in their knowledge of scripture, you’ll find ministries and groups designed to help you study the Bible.
  • If we say we’re justice-oriented, you’ll find ways to plug into serving opportunities impacting poverty and oppression.

Now, here’s the tricky part: Your church’s brand isn’t really what you say it is; it’s actually defined by the people who experience it. That’s why branding is more than a logo. In fact, when you shift your perspective to “brand as promise,” you’ll naturally enter into conversations about mission and vision. So your first task is to get really serious, intentional, and prayerful about clarifying who you are and who you’re not.  You’ll naturally be able to streamline your ministries as you explore how your church could and should be impacting your community and as you make tough decisions that allow you to do better what you do best.

If you suspect you might need to do a bit of a brand refresh, start simply:

  • Consider polling your congregation to learn what five adjectives they’d use to describe your church to someone who’d never experienced it before.
  • If you’re feeling courageous, ask them what five words they’re afraid first-time guests might use.
  • If you’re feeling really, really courageous, invite some people who don’t attend your church to try it for a weekend and then offer unbiased, candid feedback.
  • Critically examine each of your ministries and programs through the lens of your mission and vision. Which ones support your desired brand? Which ones might work against it?

In short, your church brand is so much more than just your logo; it’s who you are and why you exist. Don’t let the marketing lingo fool you into thinking conversations about brand are unimportant or not applicable.

When you think about church websites, what are your top five priorities?

This is tough one! There are so many things to think about in regard to websites, but here are a few things that come to mind:

Service Times and Location. Go look at your church’s website through the eyes of a potential guest. How difficult is it to find your service times and location? How difficult should it be? (Hint: It shouldn’t be difficult. Put that information on the home page if at all possible.)

What to Expect. Think about your website has a “pre-experience.” More and more, people are exploring churches online before they walk in the doors. Offer them a pre-experience of your brand by making sure your copy and images sounds and look like you. Include practical information on a “what to expect” page—how to dress, where to check in kids, what the music’s like, and so on. Consider starting a video blog for your teaching pastor so people can get to know him or her a bit before they experience your worship services.

Stories. While people remember little of what they see, hear, and read, they remember everything they feel. Help people connect to your church—and to Christ—by sharing stories of real people experiencing real change. So many people think they’re too broken and “messed up” to walk into a church . . . let them feel hope through your website.

Clutter. Do people have to “deep dive” to get to the information they’re seeking? If basic information requires more than a couple of clicks to find, people are going to become frustrated. Challenge yourself to streamline your site and organize information into logical groups. Make sure the design itself is simple and not overwhelming. (For fun, take a look at the difference between www.google.com and www.yahoo.com.) Beautiful-looking designs are nice, but make sure you don’t sacrifice function for form. Make sure your copy is clear and concise and that it’s obvious to people what you want them to do as a result of visiting the site (attend worship, register for an event, and so on).

Action Steps. Don’t just make it clear what you want people to do next . . . make it clear how to do it. If you’re inviting people to participate in a mission trip, provide a way to get additional information or to actually sign up. Offer an easy-to-find online giving area and design it with the user in mind; don’t require a lengthy sign-up process or people will decide it’s not worth it). Provide online registration for classes and groups. People are already on your site; don’t require them to use a different communication channel to take action.

I see churches beginning to outsource more and more of what used to be handled “in house” by a part-time or full-time staff person (executive assistants, executive pastors, etc.) For a ministry that desires to improve their communication metrics, is it possible to outsource some of that to an outside communications expert?

I’m currently wrestling with this question, actually. Every church needs someone overseeing communication. Every church ought to have one person who ensures that every bit of information going out from every single channel is consistent, clear, and accurate. Ideally, that would be a paid staff person who’s completely immersed in the life of the church and serves in a high-level leadership role. (See this article for my rant on this topic.) However, I know that not every church has the resources to hire such a staff person.

So, if it’s true that the church communications role is critical, and if it’s also true that most churches don’t have the resources to make it happen . . . then we better do some fast problem-solving, right? Virtual church communications might be the answer. A virtual communications coordinator, for example, could serve as a proofreader and editor (one makes sure commas are correct; the other makes sure language is clear and consistent), keep the church’s website and social media channels up-to-date, and, in general, protect the church’s brand as it appears in print and electronic media.

However, it would be tough for a virtual coordinator to actually write the bulletin and e-newsletter because he or she isn’t in on staff meetings and calendar conversations. Sure, there’s technology to help with that (iChat, for example), but anyone who works in the church communications world knows that a good portion of communication needs are discovered in hallway chats and lunch meetings. For that reason, someone on staff may still need to make decisions about what needs to be communicated when and how, and then push that information to the virtual coordinator. Maybe.

If I seem a bit unsure, it’s because I am. The arrangement would necessarily be different depending on a church’s size, existing staff, and a number of other factors. Still, it’s a conversation worth having. I’m working on it!

Thanks Kelley – excellent insights! 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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