I write the following statement as someone with an undergraduate degree in Biblical Literature and a Master of Divinity degree who serves as a lay youth-minister in his local church.
Pastors and church leaders are often not very effective at mass communications.
I don’t list my qualifications to impress you, but to make it clear that I am not pointing fingers at any group of people of which I am not a part. The fact of the matter is simply that, outside of executive pastors, most pastors simply aren’t the type to prioritize effective communication strategies in their ministries outside of what happens on Sunday mornings.
It’s important that pastors and church leaders recognize this often-ignored blind spot. When churches recognize they have poor communications, it can then be addressed and fixed.
But, how can churches adequately evaluate their communication with their members, attendees, or those in the community? Every church is different, which means every church needs to evaluate their communication plans and effectiveness in different ways.
So, here are three simple questions you can ask about your church and its communication strategy:
1. Do you know how your congregation prefers to communicate?
It is a tired cliché, but it is a tired cliché because it is true.
Communication is a two-way street.
At least, effective communication is a two-way street. You can communicate with someone who isn’t listening until you are blue in the face, but it wouldn’t be very effective.
When you are designing or auditing a church communication strategy, it is important to consider how your church members, attenders, and community prefer to communicate.
Why? A church located in rural Iowa is going to probably communicate using different methods than a church in the heart of Silicon Valley. An urban church may prefer to communicate differently than a suburban church. People are different. Communication is complex. This means we have to listen and adapt.
As you are evaluating your communication strategy, you need to take these dynamics into consideration.
Do your congregants prefer to hear about church events via mail, email, phone, social media, the church bulletin, or some combination of all of that?
It is likely a combination of a few of those types of communication. A church does not, and should not, operate at the mercy of its congregation’s preferences, but in order for communication to be effective, a church must consider the preferences of the group of people with whom it wants to communicate. For example, if your church is made up of mostly senior adults, communicating with your congregation via social media probably would not be wise nor effective.
The next question you should ask has less to do with how you communicate and more to do with how often you communicate.
2. Are you communicating too much or too little?
This question is important to address, but it can be difficult because there is not necessarily a “right” answer. At least, there is not a uniform “right” answer that can be applied to every church everywhere.
A precursor to this question should be, “How often are we communicating information to our congregation?” Obviously, a pastor communicates from the pulpit weekly, and perhaps you have some midweek programming, all of which is technically “communication.” But how often does your church communication information or vision or other key messages to the congregation?
Do you have a bulletin and announcements every week? Do you send out a monthly newsletter in the mail? Do you post daily on social media?
After you have addressed that question, you can move on to the question above: “Are we communicating too much or too little?” Like I wrote before, this can be difficult to answer because there is no ironclad communication frequency for churches.
Obviously, if you are planning programming and no one is showing up, you probably are not communicating enough about the event. That would be a pretty clear indicator that something is wrong. But short of that, what do you do to gauge if you’re communicating enough or too much?
It’s really simple: just ask people.
Why try to guess or wonder if people feel like you’re communicating enough when you have the ability to just ask them? Hand out an anonymous survey or ask around in your small groups ministry. Just talk to people and tell them you just want to better serve them.
The last question, of many more that could be listed here, has to do with one of the newer forms of communication that many churches simply do not use enough.
3. Have you invested enough time and energy in social media?
A significant part of my job is helping churches and other Christian ministries better use social media to communicate with the people who want to stay connected online.
Look, I work in social media for a living and I get it; social media can be a pretty toxic place to spend our time. I truly have a love/hate relationship with social media. The more I use it, the more I don’t want to use it again -- and the more I recognize the need for churches to have positive, gospel-saturated content on these platforms.
We need to take great care in how we use social media. Intentionality and crafting a plan for its use, whether for personal use or ministry use is key, so that we can be positive and proactive with our posts.
Most people in our churches are on social media every single day. Basic social media usage data tells us this. Earlier this year, Pew Research Center reported that 74 percent of Americans use Facebook at least once per day. Sixty percent of Americans use Instagram daily.
Social media is the 21st Century town square. It is where ideas are exchanged, people are connected, and culture is made. Every local church as the opportunity to contribute to this town square and get involved in the important conversations happening there. Why would a church pass up such a great opportunity to minister to its community?
Church communication is difficult. Many church leaders simply don’t like taking the time to invest in an effective, systematic communication strategy that serves the congregation and the community well. To be fair, pastors and church leaders deal with major life crises and issues almost every day, so they have a lot on their plates.
But, in order to be good stewards of the ministry we have been given in our communities and as leaders of God’s people, we need to do all we can to be sure we are communicating well and enough.