Is Your Church Overdue for a Communication Audit?

3/13/2014

Vibrant churches communicate with intentional goals, clarity, creativity and consistency. Visitors and members need to know the specific vision of your church and how to plug in. Use this checklist to evaluate what and how your congregation is communicating, and how you might strengthen those efforts as the high-traffic Easter season quickly approaches.
 
If you have visited another church in the last few years, you will recall a bit of insecurity about where to park, where to drop off children, and what your worship experience might be like. Regular attenders, as well, have an ongoing need to know where the church is going and how they might participate in the journey. “Communication serves as a main artery when it comes to measuring vital signs of a church,” TAC Associate Director of Communication, April Canik recently told attendees at her workshop on Best Practices in Church Communication. “Every once in
awhile it is a good idea to do a quick audit
to consider what you are saying, to whom, and how.”
 
Several ministry leaders from around the conference attended the workshop and resonated with this concept.  Aly Eaton, M.Ed.  Director of Family Ministries at St. Matthew's UMC, Houston said “My ‘AHA’ moment came when April said that more important than communicating information better, faster or more strategically…we should shift our mindset to the question of: How is our church/school transforming people? and using that as the foundation for all communication.” Adds Aly, “I began to realize that, if regular folks in our churches or schools can't rattle off (in thirty seconds or less) who we are, what we stand for, and why others would want to be a part of something special, we've missed the boat communicating our mission and ministry!”
 
Being from a church that worships about 150 each weekend, Aly also resonated with other budget-friendly tips. “There are so many things we can do without any budget,” she adds, “such as being intentional about what we want to be known for, as a church, and finding the passionate cheerleaders among us to lead the charge executing an effective communications campaign to showcase our tangible qualities! For example, there is a photography or video buff or Facebook champion in every church that can help each of our churches tell our stories.”
 
Everything Communicates Something
Communication guidelines and many resources are provided by United Methodist Communications online and by request. The booklet, “Telling Your Church’s Story” covers tips on projecting a positive image, planning ahead, tapping resources, and accessing communication tools. “Easter is a fabulous time to consider what and how you are communicating, how that might look and feel to the public and your members and how you can make it easier on all audiences by being selective and creative to get their attention for the right reasons, “adds April.
 
Ask yourself these questions:

  • Do any of our communications demonstrate transformation? Is our church mission clearly stated (on the web, social media, bulletin, etc.) using graphics or key words that are easy to remember?
  • Do we offer a face-to-face connection area or clearly defined “next steps” for church visitors or those seeking to become a disciple of Jesus Christ?
  • What might we need to do to make our campus “visitor ready” so that we communicate excellence about God and our ministry?
  • Does our church bulletin clearly describe the uniqueness of our church and avoid jargon (acronyms and other churchy words) that only church members would understand?
  • Are we communicating to the community through relationships with area schools, churches, realtors and organizations such as the local Chamber?
  • Is our Web site current? Do we have any stories or videos of life transformation? Does it offer an easy way to donate online?
  • Do you post or send pictures and articles to local media? (Perhaps: press releases on service and disaster work, service opportunities, group meetings, outstanding youth or adult volunteer efforts, groundbreakings, etc.)
  • Do you host VBS, food pantries, camps and other events to invite the public onto your campus?
  • Do you have a way to capture email addresses to follow up with people who show an interest?
  • How might you be able to use social media to engage and share life with others possibly seeking a church home?
  • Are you using your sign/fence banners strategically?
 
Litmus Test: If we stopped 5 people on our campus and asked them what our church was all about, would we get the same answer? If we asked 5 people in the community the same question, would we get 5 different answers?
 
“Like most Methodist churches,” adds Aly, “we don’t have anyone on staff specifically handling communications, but we can all be communication ambassadors for the church. I know we have seen a renaissance here at St. Matthew’s as the church and school have been building on a shared vision and becoming more intentionally focused on welcoming new families into what was previously an older congregation. In the few years we have attended, the church has grown significantly, and I believe we could grow significantly more by being attentive to our communication opportunities, specifically around life transformation through ministry.”
 
Workshop attendee, North District Administrative Associate Anna Rhode shares this perspective. “Several of my local churches send me a copy of their monthly newsletter. One common thread I see omitted from their newsletters is what was referred to in our workshop as show me stories rather than tell me.  We have to remember that people make decisions from their emotions – what they will believe, give to, volunteer with -- or share.”
 
Anna knows the power of a story in video. “I have seen a video clip featuring college students explaining why visiting the Wesley Foundation at their campus is so important to them. Listening to their personal stories is much more moving than reading something. When churches demonstrate how their ministries create life transformation, I believe they will be more effective communicators,” adds Anna.