How to better communicate with your congregation
By Tricia Brown
Communication is essential to the health of a church. But even in this digital age, when communication is supposed to be faster and easier than ever, it can still be a struggle.
Check out these ideas to help make sure that all your messages — from the Sunday sermon to event announcements — are being clearly and consistently communicated to everyone in your congregation.
Take it seriously
Communication seems deceptively simple, but it isn’t. Especially in a church, there are a multitude of ways in which communication is taking place every day and just as many ways that messages can be miscommunicated. For that reason, it’s always a good idea to establish policies to help regulate the channels of communication within your church.
Every church should have an excellent communication plan. Since this is a big task, you may want to establish a committee and designate a person who manages daily communication issues. For larger churches, this may be a staff member. For smaller churches, you may need a well-trained volunteer.
Among other issues, such a committee would need to consider or prepare:
- The logo, design scheme and other branding issues that will be used for the representation of the church.
- The person or persons in charge of social media posts and updates.
- What information will be included on voice mails and answering machines and who will do the recording.
- The dissemination of a “cheat sheet” that refreshes writers on grammar rules, as well as inclusive language reminders, and proper formatting principles.
- The creation of a communications calendar that outlines the need for larger communication efforts throughout the year.
Practice the power of seven
Seven isn’t just a popular number in the Bible. It’s also a popular marketing strategy. “The Rule of Seven,” in terms of marketing, means that a message will need to be communicated seven times before it is “bought” by a consumer.
For pastors and church leaders, this means that if you want to communicate well, you should try to repeat your message through several (preferably seven) different avenues. For example, if you are preaching on giving, then you should reiterate that message in some form in your weekly email, monthly blog, Facebook post, Sunday morning bulletin, church website and church billboard. Cover your bases to communicate with the “plugged in” and those who are “unplugged” by using both print and digital forms of media.
The more times a person sees or hears a message, the more likely it is to “stick.” However, there is a reason that it is a rule of seven and not 14. Too much of a good thing is still too much, so don't overdo it.
Make it personal
Real communication takes place in real relationships, when two people know each other well. If you want to communicate with your congregation better, you have to know them better.
This is great news if your congregation is small. It is an encouragement to spend more time developing individual relationships with the members of your congregation in order to ensure that your exchanges of information are both mutual and beneficial. Use every means available, including face-to-face interactions as well as social networking to connect with the members of your congregation and community. Become friends with these people, because when you are sincerely friends, you will speak to them as a friend instead of an emissary, and messages from a friend are always more readily received.
But what if you pastor a larger church? In the 1900s, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar proposed that humans can only maintain about 150 stable relationships at one time. So, according to Dunbar, it is unlikely that you can honestly befriend more than 150 people. However, there is still benefit to this proposal. While you may not want to physically divide a larger congregation into smaller ones, you can take this information into account when it comes to staffing ratios and other church policies.
As a pastor of a megachurch, it will not be physically possible for you to know every member of your congregation or develop meaningful relationships with them. However, you can make sure that for every 150 members, there is a church leader dedicated to their well-being.
“Buddy systems” and small groups are two more ways to make sure that no one is overlooked. When those leaders report back to you about the members in their care, you can get a better overall view of the needs and desires of your flock.
When you know your congregation, your communication becomes more personal. So, get to know them as best as you can. Know their faces and their names. Know their general likes, dislikes, passions and pursuits. And when you are preaching or communicating with them in some other way, take these things into consideration; speak in a way that is understandable to them. After all, it doesn’t matter what you are saying if no one understands it or remembers it. Make friends with your congregation, and communicate with them as such.
Keep it fresh and appealing
Whether you are designing a website or sending out a newsletter, make sure that every form of communication your church has is presented in the most appealing way possible.
Put thought into your church website design, making sure to avoid common mistakes. Include pleasant images, make sure it is easily viewable on mobile devices as well as computers, and keep it well-maintained. Consider giving your bulletins a face-lift, as well as your newsletters and other forms of print media. Always make sure they are skillfully crafted, proofread carefully, and printed on high-quality paper.
Of course, it’s easy to overlook the importance of traditional forms of church communication, but don’t! For example, church signs and reader boards are important tools to reach people in your community.
Outdoor signs should be:
- Thoughtfully positioned
- Visible from a distance
- Kept in good repair
- Well-lit at night
- Updated often.
Indoor bulletin boards should be decorated with attention to detail. They should include bold and colorful visual images with intentional messages, and they should be changed frequently so that they will continue to attract viewers.
Use technology wisely
Even answering machine and voicemail messages are forms of communication and should not be handled haphazardly. Often these are the first pieces of communication a non-member may hear.
A phone tree, an automated telephone information system that gives callers routing options to choose by pressing certain keys, may be beneficial for larger churches. For smaller congregations, simply make sure that the information provided is brief but informative, professional-sounding but also friendly.
For churches whose congregations may not be as heavily involved with social media or texting, phone-tree services may be a great way for you to stay in touch. With prices ranging from under $10 a month for some plans, this is an affordable way for many churches to quickly disseminate personally recorded information regarding special events, announcements, and cancellations.
Some phone plans offer SMS text messaging as an option, as well. And, depending on the plan you choose, you may even be able to organize your calling list into groups. So, preschool parents can receive the “Bring your teddy bear to Sunday school” message, but the senior class won’t.
In addition, many churches are creating apps to keep everyone connected. Since the majority of Americans now own a smartphone, a church app can give your congregation an easier way to connect with you and with each other.
A mobile phone app ensures that users can access your website, social media pages and even your email almost anywhere they happen to be. With instantaneous access, church members can more readily stay informed of prayer requests, church events and congregational needs and be able to share their own concerns as well. Now, more than ever, there are lots of great tools for building your own app, even on a limited budget.
So remember, communication isn’t just a byproduct of your ministry. It is a ministry in itself. Whether you are preaching on Sunday morning or sending an email to the church staff, effective communication is essential to the mission of your church.
— Tricia Brown has been a freelance writer and editor for more than twenty years, ghost-writing and editing for individuals as well as for health, education and religious organizations. She enjoys reading, writing and public speaking commitments in which she teaches and encourages other women.