For many years, implementing the communications strategy for the church was simple.
Using familiar tactics, church leaders shared information about new studies or initiatives during the worship service and in print materials. These promotions catered to members who regularly attended services or classes.
Here we are in 2020, and so much has changed in how people receive messages from the church. Unfortunately, many churches have not changed the way they communicate in the last 30 years.
Thankfully, tools like this MyCom article, United Methodist Communications training courses and ResourceUMC.org leader aids help you navigate the evolving communications world in your local United Methodist Church. (If you need help coming up with a specific plan to better connect with your community, turn to UMCom’s local church services.)
Missionaries within and to a digital culture
In many instances, the person the church wants to reach has changed. People attend services and engage with the church much differently than in previous decades. These cultural changes impact how the church shares its message.
Today, you need an intentional strategy to reach people inside and outside the walls of your church.
In Matthew 28:19 (ESV), Jesus calls us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” Jesus gave us a mission and a message. It's up to us to think like missionaries within and to the digital-first culture.
How you proclaim the gospel message may look different than it did in the past. Never before have we had so many evolving tools to engage with a global audience about the message of Jesus — all at the click of a button. You’re no longer bound to one hour a week, reaching only those who attend worship services. You can reach people during the other 167 hours of the week.
It’s not the message
We don't have a message problem in the church. Ultimately, what we have is a message delivery problem.
As you prepare for upcoming ministry efforts, I want to challenge you to rethink communications for your church. Invest in strategies and tactics like never before. Embrace the greatest opportunities and methods we've ever had to communicate the gospel. The first step: Invest time to clarify WHAT you're communicating.
What’s the first thing most churches do when a new initiative is planned?
- Announce it during services
- Print details in the bulletin
- Put up signs
- Email the church
- Add information to the website
- Share details on social media
When we jump straight to promotion, we make the mistake of assuming the message is as clear to our audience as it is to us. (You — with all your leader knowledge — are not your target audience.)
One of the most important investments you'll make toward effective communications is the time spent clarifying your message before you promote it. I suggest walking through three questions to answer before you proceed to the next phase:
- Who is your target audience? Define specifically who your message is for (day care families, seniors in the community, etc.) to be more intentional in how you communicate to them.
- What's the win for your message? Get specific about the benefits for your audience and church.
- What are the barriers? What will you need to overcome to allow your audience (including your church) to receive and respond to the message?
Invest in HOW you're communicating your message
If you're passionate about your ministry and its effect, how you communicate is more important than ever. Some of your members may attend your hourlong services only eight to 10 times a year. However, that same person is on social media nearly 2.5 hours a day.
Thirty years ago, the church's greatest communications opportunities were inside the walls of the church. Today, it’s outside the church. With the cultural shifts, we need to engage people when they attend church (physically) as well as throughout the week (digitally).
Most churches that I coach and consult with direct their messages to attending members using traditional methods. Digital is an afterthought. We must invest more time, money and resources into engaging the majority of people through tools like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, apps and mobile-responsive websites.
To illustrate, the church I serve is able to reach well beyond our weekly attendance through the megaphone of digital tools. On Facebook alone, we're reaching an average of 200,000 people per week. To accomplish this, we've had to rethink how we invest time and resources to reach as many people as possible with our message.
Now is the time to invest in how you communicate beyond your walls.
Invest in The Who
Communication isn't someone's job. Everyone has a role to play. Whether it’s the high schooler making a TikTok video about a youth event or the senior sharing the church’s most recent Facebook inspirational meme to her connections, each member has a role in being a megaphone for your church’s ministries.
With the power of new tools comes great opportunity and reach.
For far too long, churches have considered communications a service rather than a ministry. Invest and equip creative leaders who are leading and recruiting for the ministry of communications at your church. If you don't have someone leading the charge, make this the year that changes.
What needs to change for you and your church this year? Change is never easy. For what’s at stake, though, it's well worth it.
To help you navigate the greatest communication shift in over 500 years, Phil Bowdle recently wrote a book for pastors, ministry and communication leaders called Rethink Communication: A Playbook to Clarify and Communicate Everything in Your Church. He got his start as a pastor's kid making faces at his dad as he preached. Growing up, Phil had no desire to go into ministry. Now, there's nothing he'd rather do.