Too often, churches unintentionally introduce a level of competition by scheduling events that overlap. Or they schedule too many activities in a month for the same audience. With so many contributing (and competing) messages, church communicators like you take on the challenge to promote each event in a way that connects with its audience, generates interest and, hopefully, results in strong attendance. Yes, the struggle is real!
As you face what seems like a perpetual mountain, here are a few overarching keys that I hope will help.
1. Many Parts, One Body
In 1 Corinthians 12:12 (NIV), Paul says, "Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ."
One time I approached one of our ministries to help them with their annual event promo materials. As I reviewed a marketing piece they always present, I knew we could come up with an improved approach. As I made suggestions, the administrative assistant continually dismissed the ideas. She seemed to think that the target audience was unique, that I didn't understand their audience, and that I was not able to use the same methods as I did with others. This thought was intriguing to me, and it revealed a flaw I had never appreciated before.
Church leaders make the mistake of assuming their audience is somehow unique from those involved in other ministries and, therefore, requires a unique communication style. But this siloed view fragments a church's communication and diversifies its identity.
For example, parents of students are not a unique audience with unique communications needs. In actuality, a parent of a student may also be a small group leader, is a church member, and potentially for men's ministry or couples ministry opportunities. A parent isn't a unique audience but merely a segment of the one audience — your church body. Understanding the fundamentals of segmentation will help you and your ministry leaders avoid silos and communicate more consistently.
2. Building Community
Many churches see small groups as the primary way to build community within their church. At the same time, they might consider communications merely as an important administrative function. If that's the case for your environment, I'd like to suggest an alternative view.
Think of it–what is more essential in building a vibrant community than communication? We can communicate poorly or in ways that are healthy and life-giving, no matter how large or small the audience. If pastors and church leaders would invest in the area of communication as a ministry, there's no telling how their congregations would grow in community. Remember this: communication builds community, but the lack of it alienates people. If you are a church communicator, see yourself as a minister and builder of healthy community!
3. How to Know What to Say
It's hard to know what and how much information your audiences need. There is a balance between keeping people in the loop and information overload. The best advice I feel I can give is this: share what your audience segment would want or need to know at their level of understanding to build community and move them from outside in.
Presenting too much info can overwhelm a person or create confusion, like jumping onto a moving train. But not providing enough — or worse, not communicating at all — could make a person feel like the church is leaving them in the dark. Here are a couple of techniques I learned that might help you expand your approach.
Once you know something, it's tough to "unknow" it. The curse of knowledge is trying to present something you know to someone who doesn't as if you don't. Ask yourself, "If I knew nothing about this, what would be helpful for me to know, so I felt well informed?" Somewhere there is a healthy balance between "more than you really need to know" and "nothing at all." The more experience you gain, the better you become at this.
In her 2011 Harvard Business School blog post, "Eight Ways to Communicate Your Strategy More Effectively," Georgia Everse shares her Inspire/Education/Reinforce framework for communicating. This approach has been so helpful for me over the years. Applying it can help you determine what your audience needs to know while establishing the reason for the communication.
As a communicator in the local church, see yourself as a minister of community building. If you are good at what you do, you will contribute to building a community of believers. Where you need to improve, do it because what you do matters.