Editorial note: I found this article when reorganizing the website. It was first written in 2009 and as I reread it I fear I sound excessively cranky. Do forgive me for that, but I think there are some worthwhile challenges in it and of course the purpose of the Effective Church Communication ministry is to solve the issues discussed here.
The church today is the butt of late night television jokes, the target of aggressive atheists, and if not openly attached, seen as irrelevant to everyday life. Why is this happening when....
- We have the greatest message: that Jesus came to earth, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and offers eternal life to all who believe in him.
- We have definitive, historical proof of the truth of our message: in terms of the history of people in the Bible and the textual support of biblical manuscripts, there is no other religion that can make the truth claims made by Christianity.
- We have extraordinary tools: churches today have undreamed of power to spread their message through computer-generated print publications and the power of the internet, websites, and social media.
- We have incredible people: people who work on church communications are extremely committed and dedicated.
- We have an incredible promises: the Lord has promised to be with us in all we do and to give us the power to do the tasks he asked us to do.
So why aren't we getting our message out there clearly?
Sadly, many church communications are not created strategically, with any well-thought-out purpose or plan. We throw things together (like the church bulletin) because we’ve all ways done it that way; we put up a website (great template, little content) because at a conference somebody said we have to have one; we get social media accounts because churches are supposed to have them, but don't have the time to update them or the energy to do much with them.
Finally, because we often work without strategic goals, we have no basis for measurement of how well we communicate the biblical message, how efficiently we use our resources, or how effective we are in reaching people with our church communications.
To remedy this situation, I'll discuss the following:
- Why we are ineffective in church communications.
- A proposed overall strategic goal and approach for effective church communications
Why we are ineffective in church communications:
Reason #1: We substitute spirituality for strategy
Though we know that we do not accomplish anything of significant eternal value without the Lord's blessing and through his power, we must also remember that he uses people doing practical work to accomplish his purposes on earth. Remember:
- God did not supernaturally destroy the Canaanites when the children of Israel came out of Egypt. They had to fight long years of difficult bloody battles to possess the land.
- God did not supernaturally raise the temple up from the ruins after the Babylonian captivity. The Jews had to build it, stone by stone.
- God did not supernaturally project his message of salvation to the Roman world. Paul had to walk miles, face opposition, preach for days, and endure great hardship to share the gospel message.
- Even Jesus himself did not simply appear one day in Jerusalem, float on to the cross, and ascend into heaven. He traveled for three years from town to town, preaching to crowds, talking to people. He got tired, hungry, and discouraged. There were no shortcuts for what he had to do to share his message and fulfill his mission.
Just as the children of Israel, Paul, and Jesus could not side-step difficult tasks and expect their mission to be accomplished we shouldn't expect a supernatural bailout of our communication responsibilities, such as:
- Praying for an outreach to the under-30 crowd when the pastor assigned to the job doesn't have access to social networking sites or a web-enabled cell phone because the church doesn't approve of them.
- Praying that our people will invite their friends to church without giving them invitation cards, postcards, or providing an engaging website so people who want to check out the church have something to look at.
- Praying we'll get people to attend a discipleship growth series without publishing a schedule of when and where the classes will meet on our website and in print, plus a descriptive brochure, bulletin inserts, and a section on the website that describes what the growth series is about and why people should attend.
We must pray and prayer is powerful--but God expects us to use every skill and strength we have to do what we can. In church communication, there are lots of basic actions and strategies we must do. Then and only then can we ask God to bless our efforts.
Reason #2: We don't consider communications a foundational, core ministry of the church.
For most churches, their communications, whether they are print or digital and even though they take a lot of money and time to produce are seldom seen as a ministry of the church, core or not, but rather simply as a task to get done. As a result most church communications are created without strategy, plan, or measure of effectiveness, either by a project-by-project basis, a panicked response to deadlines or an upcoming event, or as an often desperate reaction to the latest perceived trend, as comments such as the ones below are often heard in church offices:
- "Oh my....got to get that bulletin done, not that anybody reads it, but we have to do it."
- "Shouldn't we be redoing the newsletter? Maybe more color will make it more interesting. Or maybe let's just put in online and if people don't like it, too bad."
- "A really good-looking website with moving images on the opening page--that will get people to the church."
- "What about postcards? I was at a conference where they said direct mail is still the most powerful outreach tool--of course their business was about selling postcards."
- "They told me I had to create a Facebook page for the church, nobody said who would update it. Are pictures from the last event enough?"
This haphazard approach does not create effective communications and because of that many ministries of the church accomplish far less than they could because of communication failures. We must realize that church communication is a foundational, core ministry of the church. If we don't communicate well about a ministry, people won't know what is going on and they won't respond. Communication is a ministry worthy of strategic planning, persistent prayer, and careful evaluation for effectiveness.
Reason #3: An incorrect emphasis on technology.
In addition to much church communication being created as simply a task to get done and not a foundational, core ministry, much of church communication activity focuses on execution: on the skills, tools, and techniques needed to actually create church communications. Though important, your church might execute a design flawlessly by secular design standards, using the latest tools available with expertise, and at the same time be a partial or complete failure in terms of spiritual success.
This focus on technology is understandable. We are in the midst of a communications revolution that, should our Lord tarry, people a few hundred years from now will look back on our time in awe of church communicators as they balanced print and digital communications and tackled the new tools the computer has given us. The new technology and tools are difficult to master, demanding, and always changing, and that can exhaust and frustrate us. But when tool mastery and not ministry results, become our focus, our communications lose their power and effectiveness.
A recent example of this emphasis on technology alone was in a special report put out by a national Christian communication organization (I don't want to be too specific because overall they are good folks). This special report was on how to create a website for a church. It listed hardware, software, sections (all tech-based ones), it went on and on and not once did it talk about biblical content, ministering to people, or what it should accomplish in spiritual terms. You might protest, "But of course all that would be in there, churches would figure that out."
But many don't. Again and again I see websites designed with flashy (pun intended) opening pages, neat design, and scrolling something or other and no helpful content in a spiritual or biblical sense to be found. Check out your website--anywhere on it, do you explain what it means to be a follower of Jesus? How to trust him as Savior? How to grow in your Christian life? Though there are many wonderful church websites that truly minister to people, this often does not happen when the emphasis is primarily on simply how to make the technology work or the most impressive way to advertise events.
In the church, though we want our communications to be pleasing, to be up-to-date and professional-looking, we have other goals as well.
The solution to these causes of ineffectiveness is a strategic goal that goes beyond panicked production and an emphasis on technology.
I propose that we require our communications to be measured by their effectiveness if they do these two things:
- Help people come to know Jesus as Savior
- Help people grow in Christian maturity
These above two goals in summary are another way of saying that our communications are to fully fulfill the Great Commission, Jesus' command to us to go into all the world and make disciples.
These goals are not accomplished automatically just because you create your bulletin with the computer or have a website with moving images on it or that you pray a lot that people will figure out what you didn't have time to tell them. You must intentionally make fully fulfilling the Great Commission the foundation of your communication strategy and measure all your communication effectiveness by them.
Design execution builds on a solid strategic foundation
Once your strategy is solid, you can then execute based on the style, size, image you want to portray of your church. How your communications look and the tools used to create that look are always secondary. Your heart, your ministry focus, your desire above all to be obedient to the call of Jesus, are the most important aspects of your communication ministry. Communication ministry is not just about cranking out the bulletin on time and getting out a fancy brochure printed for an upcoming event. You are handling the words of eternal life.
Because of the content of your communications and the eternal impact on the people receiving them, staying close to Jesus is the most strategic decision you can make. He is the Alpha and Omega; he sees the BIG picture; he created the universe long before you touched a computer keyboard. He understands complexity. He is the creator of quantum mechanics and infinite galaxies. Yet, in all his power, he stooped to become human, to wash his disciples feet when they were dirty, and to cook fresh fish for them when they were hungry. He understands our every need and fear today in church communications, as he does in all other areas of life, and he is with us to help.
With this biblical foundation in mind, a desire to fully fulfill the Great Commission and a reliance on divine strength and wisdom is the strategic basis of this ministry of Effective Church Communications, and I pray that strategic foundation will guide the communications ministry in your church.
For advice on strategy to help you fully fulfill the Great Commission, go to this article on The Five Steps of Effective Church Communications and Marketing: https://wp.me/pDky9-7EB