Communicating is not as easy as it might seem. The more complicated the message and the greater the audience, the more likely it is that timely and accurate communication will be impeded. Given the utmost importance of their messages, it is, therefore, imperative that churches develop plans for all communication, not just sermons.
A communication plan is a blueprint for how, when and to whom specific information should be given. In addition, it outlines what means of communication will be used to disseminate information. “Having a communication strategy and plan is essential to ensure that your messaging is consistent and tells a unified story that ties back to your overall mission and objectives,” said Dan Krause, chief executive of United Methodist Communications.
Most Americans are constantly bombarded by a myriad of messages every day. If the church wants to have a voice, it has to be clear and intentional in its communication. A strategic communication plan can help you define your audiences, clarify your communication goals, and maximize your outreach. In addition, it can help avoid redundancy and omissions by outlining staff and volunteer responsibilities and help you be more intentional.
Of course, communication takes many forms. While you might automatically think of the sermon as being the primary form of communication within a church, there are many other avenues as well. Think of these categories and the variety of forms of communication that fall into each.
- Word-of-mouth: audible announcements and phone prayer chains
- Print communications: bulletins, newsletters, fliers, Sunday school curriculum, small group studies
- Broadcast media: sideshows, radio or television programs
- Internet/Electronic avenues: social media, website, emails, texting
- Advertisements: print advertisements, radio and television ads, billboards
Basically, communication can be divided into internal communication and external communication. Internal communication would include that which primarily involves communicating with/between members of your congregation as well as staff communication (that which is directed towards employees and volunteers of the church). External communication would include messages directed towards people outside your congregation or in the community you are trying to reach. Obviously, how and what you communicate with church staff will be very different from how and what you communicate with your congregation. Similarly, how you promote a church event or sermon series among members may differ from how you promote the same thing among the community at large.
Given the diversity and amount of communication a church handles, the task of organizing it all can seem overwhelming. Here are a few basic steps to break it down into chewable bites:
- Determine your purpose/goal. For example, you want to preregister 150 students for this year’s VBS.
- Decide your audience. In this case, you will want to target parents of children in grades K-6th (or whatever age your VBS hosts) both in the congregation and in the community.
- Create the message. Include specific and relevant information. In this case, time, date, place of VBS, and where/how parents can preregister.
- Choose the avenue(s) of communication you will use: Since the message is being sent to members and the community, a VBS message would most likely be included in church announcements, the Sunday bulletin, and perhaps the church newsletter. In addition, you would want to post information on social media, the church website, and possibly in text reminders.
- Plan the implementation. When will you start promoting VBS? When will preregistration start? How often will you speak/send/post information and reminders? Who will be in charge of each form of communication?
- Follow-up. After VBS, check your numbers. Did you meet your goal? How many people actually preregistered? Which form of communication was most successful in helping you reach your goal? Do you want to send “thank-you” texts or notes to those who registered? Take notes to improve the process next year.
In addition to these steps, you may also want to plan for problems. Brainstorm issues that might arise and think about how you can prepare for them. For example, in this scenario, you would need to consider whether the registration process would be online or via paper forms, or both. You would also need to determine who would be in charge of collecting the registration data. And, since, internet communication can bring about a wide range of issues in itself (such as privacy issues), you may want to pay particular attention to the online part of your communication strategy.
As you can see, establishing a communication strategy is no easy task. In fact, it can seem a little daunting. Many businesses can provide you with services for a price, but thankfully, there are also a lot of free tools available online. For example, Community Tool Box can walk you through each step of developing a communication plan and Mind Tools even offers a free, downloadable communication planning worksheet.
You might also want to consider that a communication strategy works best as part of an overall church marketing plan, which can help you turn squishy ministry goals into clear measures. Take advantage of the resources provided by the UMC to help you market your church and create a plan to effectively reach your community.
In addition, Courageous Storytellers and Multiply Leaders have teamed up to create an EXCELLENT TOOL called the leaders planning bundle. It helps church leaders strategize, organize and manage their goals so they can more effectively communicate. It includes the following worksheets:
- SWOT Strategic Analysis
- Monthly/Weekly/Daily Planners
- Action Step Planners
- Life Wheel Assessment
- Replenishment Cycle Planner
- Scenario Planning Guide
- Succession Plan Profile
- … and more!
Bill Gates once said, “I am a great believer that any tool that enhances communication has profound effects in terms of how people can learn from each other and how they can achieve the kind of freedoms that they’re interested in.” While Mr. Gates was not referring to the church, the truth still applies here. If you want people to hear, if you want people to learn, you must utilize available tools to help promote and enhance the message you are trying to share. Start planning your church communications today.
Summary: The more complicated the message, the greater the audience, and the more diversified the channels, the more likely that clear communication will be impeded. It is, therefore, imperative that churches develop a plan for communication.