The Small Gap Creating a Big Problem in Your Communication

When I say it out loud, it just doesn’t feel right. But, I do turn 50 next month, so the math checks out. “I’ve been in the professional communication arena for thirty years.” There. I’ve said it. And, it’s so weird. It doesn’t feel like that long. It feels like I’m at the starting line. I think that’s because communications is basically a lifelong work study program; it just never gets old.

But, after three decades at this, I can tell you there’s one major communication gap derailing our effectiveness as leaders and handicapping the growth and impact of good organizations and causes. It’s a big one; and it’s especially prominent in the church. And, I wonder why nobody’s talking about it.

Churches are trying to “do communications” by hiring talented and skilled project managers, creatives, marketers, videographers, graphic designers, writers, etc., giving them big titles and throwing them into a cyclone of activity with no strategic or executive clarity. They send them to conferences to get better at their craft and learn the newest “how to” of the current trends to make more excellent work. And, people still aren’t happy. So they hire. And, fire. And, blame. And, micromanage.

And, while these skilled artists continue to generate a flurry of creative digital, design and video content on demand – it’s not helping align the church or equip the people they’re serving. More communications is not what’s missing.

The critical gap I see derail communications isn’t a technical problem. It’s a gap between leadership and staff. It’s what happens between aspirational vision and operational behavior. What’s missing is the basic blueprint that organizes the direction of our communications.

If you follow any road of pain and frustration in an organization, “it” will inevitably lead to communications. Even if the problem didn’t start there, the communications activity is where people see and feel it.

Communications and creative work is only as good as the strategy that drives it. This is where churches and not-for-profits are falling behind today. The cart is driving the horse. Someplace, in the frenzy of communicating more and creating more inspiring creative work, we’ve missed the whole point.

Communications isn’t a standalone function you can put on autopilot. It’s not something to be delegated to the boss, the extrovert or creative. It’s a shared function every leader and every staff person needs to own and apply in their zone. But, without strategic communication direction and clarity from an executive and organizational level, individual projects proliferate and chaos grows quickly.

Communications isn’t a separate function in your church body, it’s the entire circulatory system. What are you doing to pump blood to all the parts?

A good, working circulatory systems starts with a good source. So, let’s start there – how do you define communications? (pick one)

  1. transactional department where a lot of cool project activity happens.
  2. exclusive hub where creatives hone their craft and make inspirational magic.
  3. critical growth engine for our church and our people. (hint: this is the right answer)

Communications is a critical growth engine that needs fuel

You have several departments that deal with “customers” and communications must be integrated into all of them –  not just in look, but behavior. Not just in creative and marketing, but everywhere. Communications touches everything – kids and students, missions, weekend experience, outreach, groups, leadership development, volunteer strategy, discipleship – yet, it’s often treated as an add-on function.

A solid communications strategy and some simple operator tools can unlock the communication areas across your organization that keep getting jammed up. If you’re looking for help getting the communication engine in your organization running again, I’ve got good news.

> Read more from Kem.


 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kem Meyer

Kem Meyer

Kem Meyer has spent almost three decades working with small business, big business, not for profit, tech, finance, PR, advertising, schools and churches. They all have issues with communications; for better and worse. And, learning from them all, she's developed quite a knack for finding the simple themes that increase organizational clarity and remove barriers that get in the way of our messages.

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comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Successful Communication Takes These Two Steps

I’ve been recently given the Director of Communications position and have been asked to come up with a comprehensive communications strategy designed for our particular church body, mission, and vision, etc. I was hoping to not completely reinvent the wheel and was wondering if you had any white papers that could be used as a framework for developing our strategy?

If you’re writing a communications strategy for the first time or the fiftieth time I’m a big believer in simplicity. The more pages and detail you have in your plan, the harder it is to execute. There are so many great, multi-page templates out there that are impressively robust. I’ve used many of them. I used to write them myself. I’ve also worked with some of the best and brightest agencies and consultants in the marketplace who have solid, researched deliverables with professionally designed tables, charts and graphs. They are beautiful, comprehensive strategy manuals that NASA scientists would envy. They hold a ton of great information that’s right and true, but not portable or contagious. 

In my experience, the bigger the strategy document, the more likely it is to end up in a binder on someone’s desk or lost in a network file folder. Inevitably, in these cases, there also ends up being a stressed out communications person (or team) who lives in a constant state of frustration trying to understand why nobody is following the plan! I’ve seen it countless times.

Try this approach instead. Simple rules. Simple frameworks. That’s the secret weapon to a successful strategy that everyone owns, not just the communications team.  

I’ve seen the most effective strategies gain traction and really work for the long run using a small document set of “conversation tools.” These one page documents are at a glance tools that serve as the strategy compass for your day to day work and decisions. I believe 3-5 one page documents are all you need to rally stakeholders, streamline processes and prioritize activity. It’s amazing what you can get done if you don’t over design or over produce it.

“Too often, a company’s strategy sits on a shelf, gathering dust. A strategy that doesn’t influence critical decisions on a day-to-day basis, however, is not a strategy—it is a book report.” ― Donald SullSimple Rules: How to Thrive in a Complex World

Here are two templates to get you started.

  1. Communications Charter
  2. Minimalist Communications Strategy Matrix

I guarantee, if you put the work into it, you will never regret this minimalist approach to your communications strategy. It’s the best way to equip your stakeholders (your brand handlers) to happily carry their part of the defined strategy. You’ll spend more time collaborating and less time handholding or pulling your hair out.

Read more from Kem.

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kem Meyer

Kem Meyer

Kem Meyer has spent almost three decades working with small business, big business, not for profit, tech, finance, PR, advertising, schools and churches. They all have issues with communications; for better and worse. And, learning from them all, she's developed quite a knack for finding the simple themes that increase organizational clarity and remove barriers that get in the way of our messages.

See more articles by >

COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

Discover the Largest Social Media Platform that Few Churches Are Using

In my latest book, Meet Generation Z, I detail the importance of the visual for Generation Z. In a new survey, Adweek confirmed the pre-existing research and conclusions.

Teaming up with Defy Media, they asked a group of nearly 1,500 teens ages 13-20 what they think about everything from social media platforms to digital video to the new breed of online celebrity.

The overarching headline that reflects the deeply online nature of their lives and their almost entirely visual orientation is that nearly all of them use YouTube (95%), and half “can’t live without it.” Not surprisingly, Instagram came in second in terms of usage (69%). Snapchat has now climbed to equal Facebook usage (67%), but when it comes to keeping in touch with their friends, Snapchat rules.

All of you Millennials still using Pinterest will find only 33% of Generation Z even know what you are talking about. Even Google is used only by 37% of their peers.

The combination of growing up online and their orientation to the visual has led them to value online, “social” celebrities more than mainstream celebrities. They trust their advice/endorsement more when it comes to everything from beauty products to tech gadgets.

But make no mistake: it’s all about the visual, and they are getting that visual primarily (for now) through YouTube.

It’s the primary way they get their news, tied with Facebook (23%).

It’s the number one place, by far, to get a good laugh (51%).

It’s the top go-to for shopping recommendations (24%), followed by Instagram (17%).

So what does this mean for the church?

Let’s go for low hanging fruit here: start using YouTube!

Here’s five simple ways to begin using YouTube to reach a YouTube generation:

1. Start a YouTube Channel.

It’s increasingly common for churches of all sizes to self-produce videos that are used in weekend services, student ministry and children’s ministry. Why not start your own YouTube channel for those videos? At Meck, we are developing multiple channels, and probably putting the most energy into the one for MecKidz, our ministry to children birth-fifth grade. This not only reinforces what they learned/saw on the weekend, but is in an easy way to share it with friends.

2. Use YouTube Videos.

If the most popular form of communication and discourse is visual in nature and housed on YouTube then, for goodness sake, use what people are talking about! Viral videos can be used as sermon illustrations, talking points, even for the basis of showing a point of view you wish to disagree with. If I can “show” something instead of “tell” it, I go for “show” every time. Sometimes they can just be a fun way to get into a topic that everyone can identify with or enjoy. For example, I did a 4-week series titled “Viral Verses” on the four most popular verses popping up on Bible apps and social media. Each week, I began by showing the most viral comedic video trending that week.

3. Develop YouTube-Style Videos.

When you develop videos – and as mentioned, many churches of all sizes find this feasible – consider the kinds of videos that are popular on YouTube. Most are not polished, but they do have identifiable styles and cuts, angles and vibes. Our children’s ministry team continually studies the most popular YouTube channels oriented toward children to stay abreast of style, and then develops our videos in similar fashion as a cultural bridge. For adults, think of the enormous popularity of DIY (do-it-yourself) videos, or TED talks. Take cues from what’s clearly popular when you develop your own.

4. Study YouTube Videos Culturally.

If we are an increasingly visual culture, and YouTube is the primary medium housing those visuals, then start studying YouTube culturally. Consider it “Missiology 101.” If you were to be dropped deep into the Amazon basin to reach an unreached people’s group, you would intuitively study their language, dress, music and more. The reality is that you are a missionary. And in most Western countries of the world, that is going to mean studying YouTube. When you do, here is what I would suggest you look for: 1) topics that seem to be of interest; 2) how people communicate, both stylistically and actual verbiage; 3) what are the most popular/viewed videos, and what seem to be their themes; and 4) obvious ways of thinking being manifest that you can either take advantage of or must learn new apologetics to counter.

5. YouTube Your Website.

Generation Z won’t read an ad, but they will watch one. They may not read a book, but they’ll see the film. So when it comes to your website, they may not read much of your written copy, but they’ll watch a short video. So rethink your website and move away from extensive writing to numerous short videos that present information about the page they are visiting. Emphasis on short. If you visit Meck’s website (mecklenburg.org), you’ll find very few pages that do not have an embedded video.

This is, of course, a very narrow set of suggestions related to one visual repository. The idea of becoming more visual in light of a culture that is increasingly visual can take on any number of forms – how you present music, how you illustrate a message, how you convey a story, how you capture attention, and how you move someone emotionally.

But let’s state the obvious:

… start with YouTube.

> Read more from James Emery White here.


Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn more about your communication strategy.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

James Emery White

James Emery White

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. He is the founder of Serious Times and this blog was originally posted at his website www.churchandculture.org.

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Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

A Simple Strategy for Church Communication: Inspire

This post concludes a four-part series on church communications planning and strategy. I’ve previously written on engaging and informing your members and potential church guests. Today, we turn out attention to inspiring them.

It’s not enough to simply inform an audience. Ultimately you want them to pass on the information as well. These three elements of your church communications will help motivate your church members to share information about your church.

  1. Use high quality graphics. The graphics you choose can be the difference in someone sharing your content and not sharing it. When it comes to social media (especially Facebook), posts with good graphics are shared more than those without. Having a well-designed post and graphic can be the difference in someone sharing your information or not. And that can ultimately mean the difference in someone seeing it and taking action or not.
  2. Use the right tools. We recently dropped a podcast episode on tools of the trade for pastors and church staff. The tools we listed help make ministers more effective and more productive. When it comes to graphics and communications, using the right tools can make a huge difference. Here are some recommended tools:
    • Email: Mailchimp, ConvertKit
    • Graphic Design: Photoshop, Canva
    • Stock Images: Pexels, Lightstock, iStockphoto
    • Social Media: Hootsuite, Buffer, Sprout Social
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask, but use caution. Sometimes we are too hesitant to “make the ask” with church communications. If it’s needed, don’t be afraid to ask for the audience to take action. However, if every post or message is a hard sell, then people will tune your messages out. Use discretion when making the ask, but do it in a way that encourages them to act and doesn’t shame people for not acting.

What tools would you add to this list? Do you have certain language that you use to make the ask?


Need help with your church’s communication strategy? Connect with an Auxano Navigator.


> Read more from Jonathan.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Howe

Jonathan Howe serves as vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. He oversee all SBC Executive Committee communications including SBC.net, SBC LIFE, Baptist Press, social media initiatives and other media and messaging strategies. Howe was formerly the Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.

A Simple Strategy for Church Communication: Engage

In a previous post, I outlined three essentials of a church communications plan and promised to develop the three points further. Today, we begin with the keys to engaging your audience. Remember, your audience includes both church members and potential guests alike. So it’s imperative that you craft messages for both and to each segment.

Engagement is most successful when you start with the goals of your communication in mind and work backwards: consider the desired result, decide the best platform to reach your goal, and word your message accordingly. This can be seen more fully in these six strategic steps:

  1. Keep the audience in mind. One main reason for communications failure is not considering the audience for the message. When you don’t think from the audience’s perspective, you tend to miss details or context clues that are needed in communications. A good example of this is using acronyms. Members may know what you mean, but church acronyms are often lost on guests. Simplify your messaging to reach the widest audience possible as clearly as possible.
  2. Decide on the best channel for communications. Not thinking about the audience often leads to using the wrong channel of communication. Not every message has the same audience, and not every message requires the same channel. Some announcements are better made in print, others are better online, and still others need to be communicated verbally.
  3. Find the best timing. A major church event needs weeks of lead-time when you’re communicating to your members and guests. A Wednesday night supper menu doesn’t. But for weekly events, don’t wait until the last minute or the day before to promote them. Promote them early and often. Finally, when using social media, consider posting at times when you know people will be online and able to respond or share your posts.
  4. Think about the wording. Every word matters. How you label something or the words you use to communicate will have an effect on how people respond or digest the information. A pastor I know once referred to “tithes and offerings” as “church revenue” in a blog post. He received several angry emails and letters as a result. It was an honest mistake, but it goes to show how using the wrong wording can cause the message to be missed.
  5. Use appropriate imagery. Images should compliment the message, not distract from it. There are several free or low cost image sites online for churches to use. If you use imagery wisely, you’ll better communicate with your audience. Please, no clip art. Please.
  6. Proof relentlessly. Some mistakes will slip through. It happens. But you should do everything possible to proof everything that is sent out from your church. Find someone other than the creator to look over something before it’s sent. Familiarity with a document or message will cause you to miss errors. A fresh set of eyes is always best to catch spelling, grammatical, or typographical errors.

Once you’ve moved through this progression, you should have a more fully developed and engaging message to communicate.

How do you engage your audience with your church’s communications? Is there something that is particularly effective for you in your context?


Connect with an Auxano Navigator to learn more about engaging your church through communication.


> Read more from Jonathan.

Download PDF

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jonathan Howe

Jonathan Howe serves as vice president of communications for the Southern Baptist Convention's Executive Committee. He oversee all SBC Executive Committee communications including SBC.net, SBC LIFE, Baptist Press, social media initiatives and other media and messaging strategies. Howe was formerly the Director of Strategic Initiatives at LifeWay Christian Resources. Connect with Jonathan on Twitter at @Jonathan_Howe.

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COMMENTS

What say you? Leave a comment!

Recent Comments
comment_post_ID); ?> I agree 100%, you can tell if a church is doing this it grows, if there's no growth there's poor leadership..
 
— Dennis Whiterock
 
comment_post_ID); ?> Great work Bubba! Its exciting to see how God has blessed your faithfulness over your lifetime into remarkable, fruitful, Kingdom expansion! Jesus DID say, "without Me you can do nothing!" (John 15:5). No surprise that He rewards "thick and thin" prayer with great fruitfulness! :)
 
— Mike Taylor
 
comment_post_ID); ?> I loved this presentation. It helped greatly as I organized an Outreach Ministry of The Shepherds Care. Thank you. Esther Callaham Mahgoube Emmanuel Pentecostal Church New Jersey
 
— Esther Mahgoube
 

Clarity Process

Three effective ways to start moving toward clarity right now.