Communication Case Study: Strategies for Connecting with the Community

Date Posted: 8/27/2015

Through a variety of communication methods, Caldwell First UMC has increased awareness of the church and provided new ways to build life-changing relationships.
“Caldwell FUMC is a small-town church and when we realized we had a need for
a communication update, we just took one project at a time,” says Terri Calder, wife of Rev. Wayne Calder. In less than two years, the church has developed a communication plan including: 

  1. basic website,
  2. thriving Facebook page,
  3. Pastor's video blog (called a “vlog”), and
  4. large outdoor blackboard sign to post events for drive-by traffic.
The Communications Advisory Committee for the Texas Annual Conference chose Caldwell First UMC to be among the three winners in the 2015 Best Idea contest this May. “There were several unique uses of video work among the ideas submitted,” says Chris Newlin, one of the selection committee members and a member of St. Paul’s UMC, Houston. “Not many churches think to shoot videos on their smartphones to highlight inspirational messages, pastoral commentary or spiritual revelation, but Caldwell First has been very successful with this. It is a simple yet meaningful way to provide outreach that is accessible 24/7.”
Adds Terri, “Our website is very basic, easy to navigate, easily updated, and informative, with special attention given to less clutter and a simple menu structure. It serves our community and church well, and also gives us an internet presence with little to no cost.”
The Caldwell UMC Facebook page is “Our community interacts and responds very well to posts of events, and local pictures depicting our community and messages of faith. Specifically, this ice bucket challenge video post reached over 3,500 people, an impressive number in a town of 4,500.”
Caldwell UMC decided to introduce the pastor to the town through a video blog. “There was some curiosity around the new guy in town, and specifically his South African accent,” she explains. “I normally video the vlogs with my tablet and then load them straight onto the website and Facebook with relative ease. We used a smartphone, with a great video recorder, to record while on the road. I’m sure production could be more professional, but that’s what gives it a personal, more spontaneous feel.  What better way to let others get to know the pastor than to create the videos and put them on our website and Facebook page?  They see the face, hear the funny accent, get to know a bit about him, and hear his message. I believe the vlogs have been one of the things that have helped Pastor Wayne to be warmly accepted, which in a small town isn’t always easy. He’s now a Caldwellian.”
The vlogs are a stand-alone success story -- outperforming a normal social media posting.  A common vlog’s reach is usually 3 to 1.  In this case, that means that for every person who reads it, the vlog is share with 3 others so it has a reach beyond just church members.  The vlog is located within the website.
Blackboard Sign
The unique solution of using a blackboard as an exterior sign was in response to a problem of communicating to the public regarding the many events going on in the church. Ministries were clamoring for banners for Easter, combined worship, Cantata events, and a sign seemed to be a much more efficient approach. Terri suggested “adding signage that is easily changed, and in a form that is suitable to our town since we are near the town square.” Pretty clever! She adds, “Other venues in our town utilize small chalkboards outside and it adds a charm to their business.  Having this large board is great. We use liquid chalk markers, which don’t run or fade in the rain and the colors are vibrant.  At times when there’s nothing going on, I use it to also post messages of faith, community care, and perhaps a prayer or two for our great little town.” The versatile chalkboard is about 8' wide.
Partner organizations
Caldwell UMC has a great relationship with the local Chamber of Commerce and has teamed up with them and a production company to create a video which is posted on the church website and on the Chamber’s site. It features several businesses as well as highlights Caldwell FUMC as part of the community.   
Even though Caldwell UMC has made great strides in being externally focused, Terri says it continues to be the congregation’s biggest challenge. “We must constantly help our members recognize the importance of reaching out beyond our community,” she shares, “as well as utilizing and embracing technology.”
Keeping Community as the Focus
According to Terri, her most important ministry goal is building community. “Being personally involved in the community and aware of the needs of the people provides the insight as to how and where to communicate, even more so than social media insights,” she says.
Social media, website, and twitter were implemented at Caldwell FUMC, starting in 2014. Initially, it was a challenge to direct members and guests to receive their critical information via social media, however more are making it their go-to source of information. Members tend to be most responsive to videos, pictures, and events regarding youth/children's activities and events. The reason? According to Terri, “It's all about family here.”
Terri had another idea that seems to be effective: to promote the church on all media and print material as Caldwell FUMC, as opposed to traditional nomenclature, FUMC Caldwell. She explains, “The reasoning behind this was that it enhanced our internet searchability, and it says we identify with community first.”