Winning Ideas from the Communication Contest

Date Posted: 7/9/2015

The Conference Communications Department asked congregations: “What communication idea has been working well for your church?” Over the next few months, Cross Connection will spotlight some of the winning ideas.
 
Surprise! Something as basic as a chalkboard and as unconventional as a chicken can be part of your congregation’s communication strategy – according to the submissions that the Texas Annual Conference received for this spring’s
“Best Idea” Contest. Winners were notified via a letter from Bishop Huie before Conference, and also spotlighted on the screens in the main session room of Annual Conference.
 
TAC Communications Committee volunteer Chris Newlin, member of St. Paul’s UMC, Houston, is quick to admit it was not easy to choose the winners. “The committee had a wonderful time reviewing the contest entries and picking winners from the variety of submissions. We were blown away by the creative and resourceful ideas that were placed before us. Each church was unique in their approach to spreading their message, and each seemed to find powerful tools to do the job.”
 
Strategy Highlights
Communication Director Paula Arnold says, “We received some very creative strategies from a cross-section of individuals, small membership churches and larger churches. Congratulations to all who took the time to share their winning ideas. We are excited to share a brief recap with the readers in this article, and hope others will post their ideas to share on our Conference Facebook page throughout the year.”
 
Winner Circle

  • Christmas Offering Strategy -St. Luke’s UMC, Houston (SLUMC)
RESULT: The campaign raised $99,352 for ZOE.
For more information: Sally Penning - spenning@stlukesmethodist.org or 713-402-5043.
This case study will be featured in detail in the July 23 edition of Cross Connection.
 
  • Stewardship Campaign Strategy -First UMC Pearland
RESULT: By elaborating on the significance of stewardship and telling the story in all communication vehicles in a coordinated fashion, First UMC Pearland increased the number of completed pledge cards by 33%. The congregation has since sustained an increased level of giving both financially and in outreach and service. For information: Rebecca Llenos: 281-465-1466 or rllenos@fumcpearland.org
This case study will be featured in detail in the August 13 edition of Cross Connection.
 
  • Strategies for Connecting with the Community – Caldwell FUMC
RESULT: Through a variety of traditional and new media communication methods, Caldwell First UMC has increased awareness of the church and provided new ways to build life-changing relationships. Information: Terri Calder at tlczzzzzp@gmail.com.
 
This case study will be featured in detail in the August 27 edition of Cross Connection.
 
Honorable Mention
  • Maud UMC is using a variety of avenues to invite the community into the life of the church. They leveraged the thought-provoking movie, God is Not Dead, by obtaining the correlating Bible study materials and hosting a study group that yielded a number of visitors and new members to the church. Additionally, Maud UMC has used radio spots, TV and newspaper communication for publicity, as well as a QR code for quick registration to events and on the back of business cards to connect to the website. The church also uses text messages to get prayer request out in a timely fashion and videos and Facebook to promote special Sundays, mission projects and sermons.
 
  • After 500 members at Christ UMC, Sugarland completed the Bible in 90 days study, the church launched its annual serve campaign with a video featuring “Jesus” walking the halls of the church, through the youth facility, children’s classrooms and around the campus. This creative video, and the actor’s compelling words moved more than 450 people in the congregation to sign up to serve in some capacity.
 
  • Montgomery UMC conducted a “blitz” to promote the “Taking it to the Streets” day of service via posters, email, social media, and the local newspaper. Posters were placed in high traffic areas in town, and the church experimented with Facebook ads. Results: 16,000+ impressions, 30 likes and shares that boosted the traffic to the Facebook page. During the service event the communications team took pictures and videotaped interviews and put it together in a moving video during the wrap up service. This YouTube video drew over 200 views almost immediately after it was posted.
 
  • An e-blast newsletter is bringing positive results for Lexington UMC and Blue UMC. It includes scripture readings and the sermon title as well as announcements and has yielded a very impressive 48% open rate. The church has recently added an interactive element by offering the youth a prize if their parents open the newsletter.
 
  • Lovelady UMC submitted copies of their Flame and Cross newsletter which has been improved and expanded throughout its 14 year history. Of special note has been the feedback submitted to editors, including monetary gifts to offset costs. Three cheers for continuous improvement! Special communication effort also helped make the 100th anniversary extra special. Additionally, Lovelady UMC sponsors a number of high profile special events such as the Baby Beauty Contest, Shrimp Boil and Auction, Thanksgiving Service and works to get these covered in the local news and on flyers posted in businesses and high traffic areas in the community to keep awareness of Lovelady UMC continually expanding.
 
  • Harleton UMC and FUMC Madisonville are experiencing positive feedback from their telephone message tools (audio and texts) that give everyone in the congregation the same information at the same time. This has been very effective with time sensitive information such as funerals by getting accurate information out quickly. One of the related successes has been a savings on postage and printing. Another positive aspect is the ability to target messages to certain groups (Trustees, youth etc.).
 
  • United Methodist Temple leaders saw a need to keep individuals attending the contemporary service and those attending the traditional service in the same information loop to promote unity. The magazine, the Template, helps accomplish that goal by introducing new members and projects. Initially this was copied at the church, but it has grown to 20 pages and is now such a popular tool that it is commercially printed.
 
  • Eylau UMC has a resourceful leader who is learning how to record and stream the Sunday morning service easily and affordably. This allows the church to upload sermons to the website and YouTube. Other tools are being leveraged to project the order of service and other shortcuts to get the message of the Kingdom to more people.
 
  • Kudos also go to individuals who are being intentional about effective church related communication. In recent years, Cynthia Hinson has fostered the communication success story of launching a closed clergy Facebook page that has created a worldwide support network for pastors. Jason Huffman started a personal blog called “Changed by Grace” which offers spiritual nourishment to over 31,000 followers.
 
Selection Committee Impressed
Members of the Texas Conference Communications Committee helped review and select the winners of the spring Best Idea Contest. “Congratulations to all of the churches who participated in the competition,” says committee member Rev. Irv White, Windsor Village UMC, Houston. “At the end of the day, we are all invited to communicate the Gospel of Jesus Christ in ways that encourage, engage and empower.  There are a couple of ideas I'm considering borrowing, in Jesus' name, of course!  I especially appreciated the depth of thought one of our entrants put into their stewardship campaign.  A 33% increase in pledges seems to indicate that their congregation appreciated the effort as well.”
 
“Our committee was thrilled to see that clergy and their communications staff and volunteers are finding that technological solutions are effective, affordable, and no longer all that complicated,” notes Chris Newlin, committee member. “We saw several churches utilize email management systems to broadcast church news and newsletters to their congregations. Text messaging services and newer phone messaging tools were also popular.  Several submissions showed our group that even the tech novices were finding it easy to use the new generation of online tools; many offer templates or easy to follow tutorials on setting up various communication services. Several of our entrants involved posting sermons, reflections, or mission work on a free YouTube channel, Facebook and other social media sites as externally-focused communication strategies.”
 
Chris, a professional videographer, was pleased to see several unique uses of video. One church dovetailed a Bible study with a mainstream video, others made mini-films aimed at motivating members to give to stewardship and capital campaigns, and another made pastor video blogs -- shot on smartphones and uploaded immediately to YouTube. Adds Chris, “Just as impressive as all the technology, were the solutions that went back to basics. One church put up a large chalkboard outside, and chalked up upcoming events and church happenings for the whole community to see. A couple of churches demonstrated that well produced paper newsletters and magazines still had a place in the communications toolkit. Probably the committee's biggest surprise was reading about a church that, in an effort to support a youth-run Guatemalan farm community that raised chickens, had a Chicken Christmas Offering, which featured chicken costumes, posters, and yes, even live chickens to raise campaign awareness—and it garnered much attention!” 
 
Committee Chairperson Jill Krone was thrilled with this first effort to get congregations sharing ideas. “The ideas received in this contest resulted in a large number of amazing and innovative new opportunities for churches to be in communication with their congregations and communities,” she says. “Submissions included practical, creative suggestions which could be easily applied by others in a variety of church structures, sizes, situations and budgets—and we hope to hear – and share -- more great ideas in the future.”