In this time of ever-changing options for communicating in our churches, it is easy to be overwhelmed and we naturally want to simplify our communication workload. This is expressed by the question I get frequently in my seminars and through email when people ask me, “What is the best way to communicate with people today? Is it the web, email, or podcasting? Do we still need to do print? What works best to reach the most people?”
People may not realize when they ask, that they are asking for a ranking of communication channels including: print, online, web, small screen, and many more are the communication channels used to communicate today. When overwhelmed with channel choices, it is natural to want to narrow it down to one or two that will be effective.
I always feel bad as I answer because I know people want me to give them a simple answer and to tell them that one channel, especially if it is the one they prefer, is all they need, but I can’t do that. I can’t do that because to be effective in your church communication ministry, to fully fulfill the Great Commission, there is no one way.
Today to be an effective church communicator, you have to use every channel available to you.
It is the time of both/and, not either /or
No one channel will work because people aren’t any more alike in their communication preferences than they are in other areas of likes and dislikes. Some folks love to go online; others don’t have a computer. Some love words; others prefer images and videos. Some love to listen to podcasts; others don’t have any idea what a podcast is. Some text continuously on their mobile phones; some won’t read anything that isn’t on paper. It’s challenging because all of folks just mentioned go to your church. We can’t simply pick out one way to communicate because the Lord has put us into a body of wonderfully diverse people and it is our responsibility to create communications that are useful for all of them.
To make this situation manageable for practical application in church communications, I’ve divided the many communication channels into three overall groups. It is much more difficult to communicate in all three channels, but I trust this section will encourage you and give you some strategic ideas how to be more effective as you work.
The three channels of effective church communication
Channel #1: Print
This channel consists of printed bulletins, newsletters, postcards, invitation cards, connection cards, instruction materials, printed matter of all kinds, sizes, and quality that we create in the church. Print, in color, black and white, and all its forms is still one of the primary and most important ways we communicate with people today and will be for some time. Almost everyone has access to this channel.
Channel #2: Digital
This channel is the latest tool we have to communicate the gospel message and we use it in PowerPoint® presentations, the internet, our website, email newsletters, cell phone and small screen communications, and anything else that makes up the newest, latest, and greatest communication technology. This channel is still emerging, developing in new systems and tools, and is expanding constantly. Not everyone has access to this channel and speed of adaptation varies tremendously with age and socioeconomic groups.
Channel #3: People
This communication channel is often easily forgotten, but it is probably the most important in any church communication program. You can have the most beautifully designed bulletin and the most complete and functional website imaginable, but if the folks at your welcome center ignore visitors and prefer to chat with each other, if the person answering the phone (assuming a real person can be reached) is having a really bad day and takes it out on all callers, or if the members of your congregation ignore visitors, the most beautiful and cutting-edge communications, no matter if they are in print or digitally presented, will be useless. People are the church—the church throughout the ages is made up of people. Our people are always the primary message delivery tool of the gospel, accessible at all times to all people.
We are living in a time of great communication transition
We need to keep this transition time in mind as we consider the various channels of church communication. A few hundred years from now, things may settle down a bit and everyone will perhaps receive messages beamed wirelessly into their brain stem in a way that can be turned on and off with the blink of an eye, but right now we are in the midst of the biggest communication revolution in the history of humanity and this revolution floods us with communication options of every kind.
The church can keep up with this constantly changing communication revolution in the same way it is successful in every other ministry endeavor and that is to realize that the task is not for one person, but for the body. No one person can keep up with technology; no one person can create all the communications needed for a church communications program to ministry to all of the people at all the various stages in their ability to take in communications. In practical terms this means:
You need a communications team made up of people who are proficient with the various channels of the communication revolution
Some who love print; some who dream in HTML code; some who love images; some who love type and words in order; some who can create a great postcard and others who can text with their eyes closed.
People tend to create best and promote the channels and methods they personally love and are comfortable with. You can’t force a word-processing only church secretary to be excited about working on the website (although she might enjoy it with some adequate training). It would probably be just as difficult to have someone who communicates primarily in text messages create a detailed, printed church employee handbook.
Encourage the communication strengths of people and give them training in new skills if they want to learn new areas. A great website for inexpensive online training is www.lynda.com. On this site for $25 a month a person (and they have group rates also) can take as many online training classes as they want. I’ve taken ones on many topics from MS Word, MS Publisher, and PowerPoint to Adobe CS3, WordPress website creation, HTML, CSS, and PHP from them and have found them all to be extremely helpful.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming people of a certain age are more interested or proficient in certain areas than others or that any age can’t learn new things. There are grandfathers who have been programming since the days when a computer filled a room and there are teens who are tired of technology. There are baby boomers who run the gamut of the super-tech savvy to the completely computer phobic, as was the case in our home until I told my pastor husband I wasn’t answering his emails for him anymore. I’ve used computers as a writer from when they were first invented, in contrast, computers were not in use when my husband attended seminary. Today we have his and her laptops. I caved in about the email—I still answer most of his email, but he now knows how to read them and how to do Bible research online.
The skills and ages don’t matter; respect and mutual encouragement do
As stated earlier, age is unimportant, what matters is that the team mutually respects each other and realizes that every channel can be and is used today to communicate the gospel message. Team members must not allow expertise in any tool or technological skill to be a source of pride. Remember Jesus could at any time raise up the stones in the parking lot to praise him more effectively than any of us are able. We are to constantly build each other up in our work and to never make someone feel small or inadequate. Newer tools do not necessarily make superior communications.
Don’t worry about changing the content of your message as you adapt it to different channels
The content of your message needs to be consistent. Your communication team can then take that content and then put out the message using the various channels.
For example, perhaps your content is a campaign to get the congregation involved in small groups. The communication team members, using the same content and perhaps similar colors and images, can create a variety of communications to accomplish your ministry goals including: a print brochure, a bulletin announcement and insert, a PowerPoint® presentation, a website directory of small group times and locations, a print directory with the same information for the welcome center, an email newsletter designed to inform and encourage people to sign up. Each channel should repeat the message a number of times.