Lessons Learned: Building the Church Through Communication

Date Posted: 4/28/2016

Attendees from the recent Small Member Church Retreat share how blueprints, tool belts and budgets relate to building stronger communication programs.
 
When lay and clergy members from small membership churches gathered at Lakeview for the third annual training retreat in mid-April, they stepped into a classroom resembling a construction zone. Hammers, duct tape, screwdrivers, hard hats and other building materials set the scene for a four-hour communication training session on “Building the Church Through Communication.”
 
In a matter of minutes, guest speaker April Canik from the Texas Annual Conference Communication Department, was wearing a hard hat labeled “Kingdom Construction Company” and reminding attendees that building of any sort is not for wimps. “Anytime you set out to build anything with some degree of magnitude or complexity, you have to begin with the end in mind,” April shared. “Experienced builders begin with a blueprint, so as we build the kingdom of God in our churches, we should do the same by purposefully planning our communication efforts.”
 
In this analogy, she added, an intentional communication plan is a first step in capturing the hearts and attention of those seeking answers inside and outside of the church. “Even a simplified blueprint – or basic communication plan -- helps removes barriers and make sense out of the chaos of information,” she adds, “with the goal of helping people connect to Christ.” In this scenario, the blueprint would define audiences the church wants to reach, consider the type of information they would be seeking and how they would want to receive it. Blueprints foster focus and unity so that church leaders can describe where the church is going and invite others to be a part of that vision. Blueprints can help set priorities and define timelines for various milestones.
 
Blueprint: Start with a Plan

  • A plan provides focus.
  • The vision defines the unique purpose of each church and distinctive details to communicate about.
  • Blueprints/plans provide a strong foundation for communication.
  • Blueprints map out the wiring (ie: facilitate critical connections).
  • Blueprints are best implemented with a ‘crew.’ It’s everyone’s job to help communicate the good news of a church.
  • Blueprints often involve change  (continuous improvement).
  • Blueprints help builders keep guests in mind (visitors drop by but guests are eagerly anticipated).
  • Plans generate excitement by forecasting what is being built.
 
By adding a tool belt to her construction gear, April migrated the topic toward the discussion of communication tools. “A tool box or belt is a good visual to demonstrate that there is not just one super tool to build a house or some other project any more than there is just one tool to guarantee that a church is communicating with excellence,” she adds. “Chances are that many of us have a nice shiny clean tool kit at home because it is full of things we don’t know how to use – or want to use. You would think that the more tools you have in your tool kit, the better your building skills are but that is not always true.”
 
Rev. Jeff Dungan brought a team from St. Luke’s UMC, Bryan to the retreat and found inspiration from the “building theme” to take back and apply. Notes Jeff, “The workshop showed us the real need for a communications plan rather than trying to do all things for everybody.  We were already using several communication tools, but without focus and a plan, our efforts were not hitting the mark.  It was eye opening to see how easily we jump on a communications bandwagon without clearly thinking about the audience.  As a result, internal and external communications are often co-mingled, which in turn ends up being ineffective for either purpose.  Now we have the exciting, and daunting task of re-evaluating all of our communications from the bulletin to our website.”
 
Attendees learned that the list of communication tools available to leaders grows every day, many of which can help build or repair a congregation’s communication strategy. Yet just having access to this set of tools is only step one. Each tool serves a special purpose and can be used in combination with others to build life changing relationships and tie mission to ministry in a way that invites others into a rewarding faith journey.
 
Tool Belt: Decide which communication tool is best for the job
  • Websites  (serve as the front door to the church)
  • Newsletters (allow room for stories that connect heads to hearts and focus on the future not past)
  • Bulletin (first impression; ideal keepsake for guests)
  • Social media (immediate, free, shareable and relational)
  • Displays (engage hearts/ promote the “why”)
  • Events (cultivate new ‘family’ members by pursuing relationships and follow up strategy).
 
The Communication Challenge
 “Many folks are looking for inspiration and real answers but, comparatively speaking next to nothing about the church these days captures their attention,” she adds.
 
The final “B” in the building-themed training focused on the budget. The group acknowledged, however, that there are many affordable and free options in the communication tool belt.
 
Budget:  Great communication does not have to be expensive
  • “Raving fans” share and invite others into transformational environments that are blessing them.
  • Resources at www.umcom.com and www.churchmarketingsucks.com give budget-friendly ideas and links
  • Publish your church wish list in bulletin, on web, Facebook etc… (it might ignite a donor passion).
  • Send articles and photos to local paper/community calendar for free publicity
  • Consider a “signature event” or project that the church becomes known for or partner with an existing high profile event ideal for forging new relationships
  • E-communication is virtually free, instant and easy
  • Have more conversations (free) to promote lifestyle evangelism and disciple-making.
 
Rev. Ben Lohmer, Pattison UMC plans to implement several ideas from the training. “It was an AHA moment for me to realize that everything communicates something—whether that be silence or outdated information,” he shares. “It made me think about what the community is hearing from our church, and what would they say our church is known for.” Adds Ben, “I also learned that communication needs to pass the SO WHAT test, in that we need to communicate the why behind the ministry and not just the details around the what.”
 
“The retreat training demonstrated how to effectively communicate our messages both within and outside our church,” shares David E. Newcomb from St. Luke’s UMC, Bryan. “The variety of media April presented will help us reach the people who are looking for God in their lives. The most surprising fact for me was that 80% of people find their churches through the web.”