Most of us live in close proximity to our smartphones.
We are constantly inundated with information, and instantaneously have access to more data than we can absorb in a lifetime.
Communication has become an art of filtering what not to read. This practice causes people to skim, scan and generally not truly absorb much of the information screaming for attention.
Unfortunately, in many ways, your church communication can become part of the noise. That’s not the heart of your congregation, they care about your church, it’s just the reality of current culture.
It is because of this reality that good communication is a struggle for most churches.
In a previous article, I mentioned that communication is a large and complex topic starting with the tension of over-communicating versus under-communicating.
Frequent last-minute changes and disorganization produce a sense of over-communication that frustrates people. All churches experience some necessary last minute changes, but when it’s a consistent practice, your communication lowers morale, and that can have a negative impact on your culture.
Lack of vision and clarity for the future produces a sense of under-communication that demotivates and discourages people. Click & Tweet! This can be about the big picture direction of your church or something as simple as a training meeting coming up in a week.
In general, people do not engender a positive disposition about anything they don’t know about. Even with neutral or good news, people’s first response is often “I didn’t know anything about that!” Their impression is negative only because they felt left out of the loop.
Yet, the answer isn’t to blast a constant barrage of information to your congregation! Thus the tension.
My hope is that these four questions, along with a few comments, will help you figure out what works best for you in your church or organization.
1) How do you know if you are over-communicating or under-communicating?
A great place to begin discerning this complicated question is to take proactive action on what you can do to build communication on an intentionally balanced platform. I recommend the following three key ideas.
- Concise – Use as few words as possible and choose them wisely. Don’t be sloppy and waste emails and texts, and clog up the social media channels you engage.
- Strategic – Stay on purpose, keep your ministry opportunities aligned with your vision and priorities. You can’t announce and “push” everything, so make the tough choices to remain on purpose.
- Engaging – Always encourage and speak to the heart. Tell the story or cast vision, and print the details is a great general starting point.
When you are concise, strategic, and engaging you are better able to measure results. So how do you know if you are under or over communicating?
2) Which is better: focused or broad?
As a general rule for your leadership, inclusivity is a good bias. However, there are many obvious situations where it’s not practical or even appropriate to include everyone in your communication.
The size of your church will impact your communication patterns. For example, in a smaller church you will likely make a Sunday announcement for a major staff change. In a larger church you will only announce that staff change to the group of people it impacts.
Timing is another factor to consider. You may be focused in the beginning as a solution, or new ministry (etc.) is being formed, and then let more people know (broaden) as it becomes appropriate. This is called sequencing information.
A final factor to help you discern how far to lean toward focused or broad is what a person or your congregation needs to know versus what they want to know. Remember, you are serving your people well when you lessen the amount of information they must sort through.
3) What style fits your message better: organic or strategic?
We know the argument “form (ever) follows function,” and yet the artist will say form is the function. Most people prefer story and art in communication. It feels personal, relational and therefore more organic to their experience. That kind of communication travels more quickly to the heart which helps gain the desired response.
Strategic communication, however, is arguably more necessary for any organization to function smoothly. It is more controlled and aligned and therefore at times less appealing, but it’s clear. And that is critical.
This question is not an either/or scenario; something can feel organic but be very strategic.
Let’s take the example of social media in student ministry. Many (perhaps most) student leaders and staff would prefer their own personally designed media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc. Choosing color and design are of high interest. It’s personal and organic, but is it wise? What is the impact on your church brand promise, ministry alignment and overall messaging to your congregation?
Knowing which way you lean and why is important and will help you communicate better.
4) Who is your target audience: internal or external?
Your website is the most common place this tension finds expression. Does your church website focus on information to people already in your church or those who do not yet attend, but might?
I will quickly confess that this is one of the most complicated nuances to resolve, but avoiding the question won’t help you. Your decision will not only reflect, but shape your church’s culture and therefore the ministries of your church.
For example, does the front page emphasize helping a guest find their way, or a long term member sign up for something? You might respond, why not both? Good question. If your front page is so busy that it’s difficult to navigate, people will “click off” in a few seconds! Make it simple and fast for those who are new and trying your church! Your faithful followers can handle a few more clicks!
The nuance may be subtle, but it matters. Which one takes the lead in your church?