Communication – When Do We Know If We Are Doing It Well?

Communication // May 31, 2011

When I complete a Generosity Audit for a client, the deliverable is a multi-page report that addresses strengths and weaknesses, followed by a 6-9 month strategy to address those areas of weakness.

The church’s communication approach is almost always a topic covered in the report and resulting strategy. It is something every client attempts to do well, but most have opportunities to improve how and what they communicate as well as which channels they use use to distribute that information.

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Kelley Hartnett of March Hare Creative to discuss this critical topic in ministry. (I have had the privilege of working with Kelley through two different  initiatives and one general fund initiative while she was on staff at Morning Star Church in O’Fallon, MO. MSC is one of the top 100 Fastest Growing Churches in America.)

Kelley now brings her experience and expertise in communications to others through her March Hare Creative consulting practice.

Q: Kelley, what’s the number one mistake churches are making in regard to their communication?

A: I see a lot of churches taking a cram-and-jam approach to their communication.

That is, they’re stuffing as much information as they possibly can into their bulletins, websites, weekend announcements, and newsletters.

They bombard their members and attendees with a deluge of announcements and asks. The real danger in presenting every bit of information through every channel available is that people will simply tune out.

For that reason, it’s important  churches develop purposeful plans around what information gets shared with what audience and through what channels.

For example, some churches decide that opportunities don’t get large-scale promotion unless they affect at least 80% of those in attendance on the weekend. That doesn’t mean that more peripheral ministries are unimportant.

It means they’re shared in different ways. It also doesn’t mean that those opportunities are NEVER shared with the masses. In fact, if you’re thinking about your ministry in terms of steps instead of programs, you may find relevant, appropriate opportunities to share about your underwater basket-weaving ministry as a next step out of a message series.

Admittedly, developing such a plan is tough. It demands strategic thinking, and it requires a willingness to have unhappy conversations with ministry leaders. (Please note that I didn’t say unfriendly.)

But when you offer an e-newsletter blurb to someone who wanted a video commercial followed up by a live plug from the lead pastor, that’s likely to be unhappy conversation. Quickly, though, if you have a plan in place—and if you consistently use it as a decision-making filter, your ministry leaders will see the benefits, and your church family will learn where they can find the information that’s most meaningful to them.

Q: From your perspective, many churches seem to be putting too much information out there. But what are they leaving out?

A: Churches are great at reporting attendance figures. Many churches are particularly adept at sharing volunteer needs. Some even do a fabulous job of keeping financial information in front of their people. What so many churches often forget to do, though, is connect the dots for people. In other words, we need our churches to tell more stories of life change. The power of story simply cannot be underestimated. Emotional connection builds engagement. Engagement promotes a “go and tell” mentality. And isn’t that what Jesus commanded us to do?

Q: Social media can be a valuable tool for churches and non-profits today. How can churches leverage Facebook for ministry?

A: Facebook is an incredible ministry tool! Churches willing to invest a bit of time, effort, and creativity in the social media space offer beyond-the-weekend touchpoints to their church family and provide non-threatening on-ramps to people who may be seeking a place to connect. Here’s how (and this is just the free stuff!):

  • When people are “friends” on Facebook, they see one another’s activity. So, if I “like” your church, all of my friends see “Kelley likes [your church]” in their newsfeed. Facebook is, in large measure, a follow-the-leader environment, so when my friends see that message in their feed, they may feel compelled to go see what’s so likeable about it.
  • Even if my friends don’t immediately “like” your church just because I did, they’ll continue to see my interactions with you. They’ll see that I’m attending your events, sharing your videos, and commenting on your status updates. That provides, at the very least, top-of-mind awareness of your church—so when my friends experience a crisis or begin actively seeking a church home, there’s a good chance your church will come to mind.
  • Facebook isn’t only about social connection, though. For churches, it can be a discipleship tool through which you can extend your weekend messages. Ask questions about the message. Post devotional guides. Share scripture for memorization.

As with all things church communication, your church’s Facebook presence will be effective to the degree that it’s purposeful and consistent. Facebook is an investment of your time. (Note: I did not say that it’s a time-waster or time-sucker.)

If you’re not ready for the commitment, postpone your launch until you are.  Like an outdated website, an inactive Facebook page may send the wrong message—that your ministry is stale, that you’re not excited about what’s happening, and/or that you don’t really see the value of reaching people outside your church.

About Rusty Lewis

As a church leader, there’s nothing more frustrating than not having the funding to do what God’s calling you to do. But when you think about trying to address that problem, you feel overwhelmed, you dread the potential pushback from your congregation, and you’re not sure where to turn for help. Over the last 18 years, I’ve helped more than 120 churches close the gap between their current financial reality and what they need to move forward in ministry.

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