Sometimes church communication ministries don't realize the extraordinary responsibilities they have to communicate the message of salvation and the challenges of discipleship to their communities and congregations, but more often church communicators feel a tremendous weight of responsibility.
If an important event or training program doesn't get the response you anticipated, it is easy to blame yourself. You might feel your communications weren't catchy enough or your graphics not gripping or your text not as enticing as it should be.
Maybe those reasons had something to do with it, but probably not. Sometimes the reason people don't show up has little to do with what you communicated. Following are some true examples of times this happened, of course with some details changed so as not to embarrass any member of the Body of Christ.
Unknown scheduling conflict
You may find out the real reason no one comes to an event you advertised is the same as it was when one church launched a Sunday morning class for young parents. They wanted to target this group (what church doesn't), but on the day it launched 2 grandparents and no young parents came to the class. When a few informal calls were made to the target audience of young parents in the church and they were asked why they didn’t come to the class, the answer was that because the new class was at the time of the main service and the children didn’t leave for the children’s program until after the children’s sermon, which was 10-15 minutes into the time the class started. The parents weren’t going to leave their kids in the service alone to go to the class—no matter how well it was advertised and promoted.
You may be scratching your head asking why the church scheduled the class when they did when this major conflict existed. So did the church that did it.
We all make self-inflicted errors like this and communication conflicts with ministry realities are a greater challenge the larger the church and if the person doing church communications doesn’t go to the church. But regardless of your size or whether you attend the church or not always make sure people can attend when you want them to attend.
This goes deeper than looking at the calendar. In the instance above there were no other events for parents of young children scheduled at that time. The church had multiple service times, however this was the service most parents of young children attended. It took asking some of the target audience why they weren't coming to find out the answer. A little preliminary informal research such as calls to or informally asking members of the target audience if this would work for them would have saved the church and the communications staff lots of time and trouble.
The event isn't worth attending (in the eyes of the audience)
Ouch. This one may be hard, but sometimes no matter how much the church leadership thinks something will be good for people, word gets around. Some true situations of this:
A church wanted to grow people in a discipleship class, but they couldn't find someone to teach it. The discipleship committee couldn't agree on a curriculum because some members of the committee felt what was available was "too modern." The committee decided to recycle a series that was 30 years old and had been given 10 and 15 years ago in the church. The class was heavily advertised and done in a witty and attractive ways in a variety of communication channels. When the time came for the class three people outside the two committee members attended.
A church decided to do a series of lessons featuring a variety of teachers, some of whom, shall we say kindly, did not have the gift of teaching. Unfortunately these people taught the first few classes which were well attended (again great advertising prior to the classes). But the reality of the class and the pain of sitting through an hour of poorly prepared rambling discouraged the most dedicated Bible students. They told their friends. Word of mouth on the value of a ministry offered is far more powerful than any communication you create.
This type of situation can be very difficult and must be handled with care, but it does no one a favor to put someone in a position the Lord has not gifted them in. Sadly, you can't promote your way around a class or event that the church grapevine has decided isn't worth attending.
You aren't advertising in the channels your audience is accessing
Here are a few examples of this:
- You can have the most brilliant social media campaign ever, but if the majority of your congregation isn't on the social media channels you are accessing they won't respond.
- In the same way, you can do fantastic video announcements at church, but if you primarily show them prior to the service and most people are still outside drinking coffee and munching donuts, few people will see them.
- You can write a brilliant blog post on your church website about the importance of reading through your Bible every year, but if many in your congregation rarely check the website (because it has little for them and is always out of date) most people won't see it.
It is often impossible to predict who will have access to what communication channel and this is a constantly moving target. The most effective solution is to put your message in every channel possible: print, video, web, social media. YOU DON'T HAVE TO CHANGE THE MESSAGE—one message, but through many channels is the best way to be sure you reach the most people.
Today there is no ONE perfect way to communicate or that all your people prefer. It is a time of both/and, not either/or in all our communications.
Our response—grace to ourselves and our church
No one works hard to fail at their communication efforts and no one in the church intentionally works to make you feel like you failed. Grant grace to yourself and your church when things aren't as successful as you hoped.
Many of the above challenges involve church leadership decision you have nothing to do with. Pray for grace to discuss these things in a way that will benefit everyone. Work hard to not place personal blame, but to share options in ways that benefit everyone. There will always be another program, another way to communicate ministry events. Learn from challenges and press ahead in serving the Lord and your church in your communications ministry.