Church communication is difficult, right? Anyone who has tried to communicate well on behalf of a church knows what an understatement that is.
Here are the top 10 challenges churches face in communication—and the top 3 tools to overcome them.
Let’s start with the challenges. We’ve worded these challenges using the two words “no one” on purpose … because that’s how it feels sometimes as a church communicator. (It’s called using hyperbole to make a point.)
Here we go.
- No one knows what the vision is. If the vision isn’t clear, your communication won’t be clear. It’s just that simple.
- No one knows what the strategy is. What are the specific ways you are going to ask people to be a part of the vision of the church? Attending? Serving? Small Groups? What is your discipleship strategy? If there is no clarity about strategy, all you can do is present a menu of options.
- No one knows what could happen next. Many pastors have a great strength of hearing from God and organizing people to move toward God’s call. Others just have Attention Deficit Disorder. When things change from week to week, the people who have to communicate are directly impacted—and not always positively.
- No one knows what’s most important. This is similar to #1 and #2 above, but the tension this challenge creates is felt every single week. What gets announced during the service? What goes in the bulletin? What gets prime lobby space? Many churches have never clarified how these decisions are made, which makes managing communication on a weekly basis feel like juggling flaming torches while riding a unicycle.
- No one thinks about engagement, just events. Effective communication should invite people to deeper engagement with the mission of the church and a deeper relationship with Jesus. It’s difficult to remember that this is the ultimate goal when ministry leaders are more concerned about getting a larger number of people to their specific event.
- No one has an understanding of branding. Branding is the intentional practice of using consistent messaging and consistent graphic design to build an accurate perception of your organization in people’s minds. Many churches and church leaders get bored with the same messaging and similar graphic design. About the time you feel as though you’re getting bored with it is the time you need to recommit to it, because people might be starting to get it.
- No one reports to the communications department. The communications department exists to serve the needs of the miniseries and the church overall. Unfortunately, that sometimes means that ministry leaders don’t want to hear your reasoning for why things should be communicated a certain way. This unspoken hierarchy significantly contributes to the menu approach to church communication—we simply communicate everything that’s on the menu and hope that people figure out how to engage.
- No one cares about deadlines. When do announcements have to be in for the bulletin? When does content need to be in for your postcard mailer? All too often, ministry leaders don’t realize the pressure and frustration they create by ignoring deadlines set by the communication team. This leads to last-minute, frantic effort that delivers scattered and ineffective communication.
- No one has enough money. You get what you pay for. It’s true in a lot of areas, and communication is no exception. Design is better when you can pay a professional designer. Messaging is better when you can pay a professional copywriter. And there’s a reason there are professionals in these areas—communication is more effective when put together by a team of professionals. And most churches simply can’t afford that.
- No one person can do everything well. Think about all the ways a church communicates: print design, social media, website, video, images, messaging, verbal announcements. Many times, churches expect one person to be able to handle all of those things … and do it well. It’s pretty much impossible.
Depressed yet? Or, maybe you feel validated because you’ve experienced all of those challenges in one form or another. So how about some hope?
Here are the top 3 tools to help you overcome or at least mitigate those challenges. They won’t solve every challenge you face, but you’ll have a solid foundation from which to communicate.
Tool 1—Articulated Vision and Strategy
This is essential for any church that truly wants to be effective and is especially powerful for communications. When it comes to vision, start with questions like these. What are our goals for this coming year? What are we trying to accomplish together as a church?
Then, once you know what you’re aiming for, what is the strategy to get there? What are the things we’re planning to do in the next year that will move us toward our vision? Encourage and exhort your leaders to answer these questions. Draft something yourself if you have to … and put it in front of the senior pastor and other leaders.
Clear vision and strategy are essential for clear and effective communication.
Tool 2—Comprehensive Brand Guidelines
Many people hear “brand guidelines” and they picture a document that tells what colors and fonts we can use. Well, that’s part of it. A comprehensive Brand Guidelines includes much more than that.
A great Brand Guidelines document includes parameters for using the logo, colors, and fonts. It also includes direction on the types of photos that can and should be used as well as definition of the other graphic elements that should be used (shapes, textures, arrangements).
Maybe the most important part of the Brand Guidelines, though, includes parameters and direction for messaging. What’s unique about our church … and what are the phrases we’re going to use over and over to communicate that? What is our vision and how will we talk about that with consistency, clarity, and passion?
The guidelines should then be used to provide guardrails for all communication—and you should stick with them even when you start to get bored.
Tool 3—Comprehensive Communication Plan
A comprehensive communication plan outlines every tactic the church uses to communicate and then describes how they each will be used to intentionally invite people to deeper engagement with the church and its mission. All tactics are not created equal, so determine 4-6 tactics that will be your primary means of communicating (weekly bulletin, announcements during the services, website, e-newsletter, social media, videos, etc.).
Be specific about the types of things you are trying to accomplish with each tactic and the types of content that should be included. Then, once you have an understanding of that, build a weekly calendar that shows what will be communicated in each medium. This calendar will become the roadmap for staying on track with your plan.
It’s easy to become discouraged when you’re responsible for church communications. Don’t give up! Do your best to communicate in ways that are strategic and compelling. And celebrate every little victory along the way.