Communication Contest Yields Creative Ideas, Trainings and Resources

Date Posted: 5/12/2016

When churches of all sizes share ideas and communication success stories, everyone wins. Read about several real-life examples from the 2016 contest and check out a new resource forum designed to continue the conversation.
Goodbye long boring hallway, hello blank canvas for creativity. This winning idea was submitted in the TAC 2016 Best Idea Contest as one of many communication strategies that are enhancing communication and improving audience engagement. In fact, since churches of all sizes submitted a variety of ideas, the TAC Communication Advisory Committee named seven winners this year.
Winner Idea #1: Beyond Bulletin Boards
Westbury UMC transformed a once-empty wall into an opportunity for seasonal, gallery-like communication exhibits that became a popular information center almost immediately.  “One of our main hallways opposite the church office is now a prime spot for storytelling, ministry engagement and more,” says Communication Director Kelsey Johnson. The inaugural exhibit took advantage of the space from floor to ceiling to promote a congregation-wide, multigenerational initiative called Table Groups. “Our display was inspired by the museum exhibit approach incorporating home décor touches like burlap strips suspended from the ceiling like curtains. Large format photos and FAQs were easily mounted with double stick tape and a clipboard hung with rustic twine from a screw on the wall, bearing the sign up list. “Artwork reinforced the spiritual purpose behind this small group initiative,” adds Kelsey, “and the results far outweighed the attention that would have resulted from a hodge podge of bulletin boards.” Additionally, supply costs were kept under $100 and materials remain largely recyclable for altar use or other displays.

According to Kelsey, the biggest benefit to this communication solution was the level of engagement that members of Westbury UMC demonstrated when passing by. “Table Group organizers had hoped for 50 to enroll in the project,” she says, “but the display helped garner almost double that!” Other ministry leaders are now asking to reserve the space for their messaging and stories of impact.
“I would encourage other church leaders to walk through their campus and look for areas that could be repurposed for something bigger and bolder,” adds Kelsey. “The options are endless and the displays are engaging for members and visitors alike!” Learn More
Winner Ideas 2&3: Lenten Campaigns
Instead of encouraging the congregation to give up something for Lent, St. Luke’s UMC, Houston promoted the addition of a new spiritual practice for 40 days leading up to Easter – that of reading – and sharing -- daily devotionals that arrived by text. The “You can do anything for 40 days” campaign texts were clear, bold, brief and sized to share. Messages included a scripture, thought and an added action to encourage engagement. The campaign was promoted via posters, the monthly magazine, an opt-in widget on the website homepage, two “business card” size invitations to share with others, a lawn banner and via social media. According to Sally Penning, SLUMC Communications ministry, previous text campaigns reached approximately 500 participants, yet the “40” campaign had over 1500 opt in.
St. Mark’s UMC Pecore, Houston also had great success with a social media campaign during Lent using Nadia Boltz-Weber’s 40 Ideas for Keeping Lent Holy, published in Sojourners. Results: Facebook posts engaged considerably more people than typically attend worship. To cover all the bases, organizers printed a paper version for members that are not on Facebook. St. Mark’s Pecore, Houston also uses a series of posters to communicate church news and opportunities to members and the many guests that come through the facility while attending meetings with community groups.

Adult Confirmation (PDF)
40 Ideas for Keeping Lent Holy (PDF)
Prayer Poster (PDF)
Shop for Good (PDF)

Winner Idea #4: Creative Use of Social Media
Committee member Lisa Martinson says, “Communications is always evolving, and a basic component of ministry. We have to communicate to invite others to participate.” Rev. David Dorn from Marvin UMC realizes Facebook and cell phones are a big part of our lives and can thus be a big part of sharing our church life with others. His contest submission illustrates how powerful it can be to encourage your congregation to check-in, as the ‘new evangelism.’ Reminding folks to do that in worship is just as important to outreach as is the passing the peace.”
Indeed, as the video link below attests, the contemporary worship service (“CORE”) for Marvin UMC is creatively utilizing Facebook to communicate and reach new people in Tyler. Rev. David Dorn shares that their “Facebook story” began at the early part of 2016 with encouraging attendees to “check in” on Facebook at the beginning of the service. “I was shocked after looking at the analytics the first week, that the simple process of checking in reached some 14,000 of our digital neighbors with the awareness that we were in church. I can’t help but think that when some of those people are searching for more in life they will know where you are finding it,” he suggested to the congregation. CORE members now check in as a part of the service each week and have since added sermon point graphics and ministry results to their social media posts. Adds David, “We have also had some fun along the way by posting music for our audiences, including a special song performed with child size toy instruments.” The feedback and metrics have been strong and David anticipates additional success, admitting, “We have just gotten started!”
Winner Idea #5: An App for Youth/Kids
Using the Subsplash Platform (a paid program) Churchapp division, Rev. Lisa Michelle Wilson, associate pastor to children, youth and families of Chapelwood UMC-Lake Jackson set out to develop an app that could be used by church families, volunteers and youth. The goal was to increase communication and resource the users with scripture, event registration, media and a way for them to share with others what is going on at church. “It is not a plug and play,” she shares. “It requires you use their platform to design the app and then you put in content. It took about a month to design and fill with content.
Results have been immediate. Notes Lisa, “Those who use the app are appreciating the ease of knowing what is going on, registering for events and receiving push notification with scripture and reminders about deadlines/events. I no longer have parents, volunteers or teens wondering what is going on even though most information is communicated in seven other ways.” The app also demonstrates that participants have started listening to Christian music, reading the devotionals and sharing events with others. “The parents and volunteers love how it is organized and the teens just think it's cool that their church has an app. We also have flash cards for catechism and Bible knowledge so that wherever our families go they can plug in to faith forming activities. We have a prayer request section as well as a media section for commercials, music videos and other items that go along with our current series.” According to Lisa, the app has increased overall communication and engagement. The APP is available for download on smartphones at:
Winning Idea #6: Creative Use of Video
Mark Eaves - Director of Media Ministries for Good Shepherd UMC,
Is sharing a video project HERE that was designed to help recruit male singers to join the choir. “Our traditional worship choir has more women than men members and the music ministry was wishing to balance it out more,” shares Mark. “At the time this was shown, our pastor was preaching a sports-themed sermon series entitled We Came to Play.  As a compliment to that, this video was produced with the intention of being a humorous way to make it seem more manly to sing in the choir.”
With strong visuals, no dialogue and bold, brief scenarios, the video was shown in worship during the sports theme sermon series. Notes Mark, “The congregation seemed to love the funny approach to drawing men into the choir, and sure enough a few more men had the courage to join!”

Winning Idea #7: The Power of Visual Consistency
Kristen Hilliard of FUMC Lindale helped recreate the church “brand” as a result of the Vibrant Church Initiative coaching and a related ministry and communication audit. “We were inspired to recreate our logo, slogan, website, signage, online presence and printed material to appeal to visitors and the unchurched, as well as more consistently describe our church vision,” she explains. The logo, designed as a series of four “Ls” in sync with the Lindale name, forms a cross and symbolically mirrors the large stained glass window in the sanctuary. “This all led to re-imagining our website to feature key values of Connect, Serve, and Grow, as well as redesigning a new bulletin format that was streamlined to save costs while appealing to readers.” Leaders strategically designed a connection card to welcome and engage visitors and added a QR Quick Response code on printed materials as a short cut to more information as they worked to build new relationships with newcomers and increase the number of volunteers. Notes Kristen, “VCI and these improvements have helped increase every vital sign of our church. Worship attendance has jumped from 250 to 350 and giving has increased by about 9%. More professions of faith and first-time guests are being celebrated and membership has increased by 88 members in recent months.”

Connection Card
Events Postcard
Welcome Brochure

Announcing: A New Facebook Page for Communication Resources and Ideas
At the recommendation of The Texas Annual Conference Communication Committee, the conference has launched the UMC Church Communicators group on Facebook – where these contest idea links will also be posted. According to Paula Arnold, Conference Communication Director, “While this is a private group in terms of social media, it is open to all that wish to discuss communications and share ideas within our conference – whether they are pastors looking for ideas, church secretaries curious how other churches design their bulletins, or tech arts personnel or volunteers seeking new ways to enhance worship.” Adds Paula, “If you work or volunteer to help your church communicate more effectively, please join the conversation here.”
Irv White, Windsor Village UMC, Houston is energized by the ideas gleaned through the second annual contest, and to share them with others in the conference. “One of the greatest discoveries in ministry is finding how to connect with and engage the people you are called to serve.  As a member of the TAC Communications Committee and an associate pastor, when I see the many creative ways our churches are inviting non believers to Christ and encouraging greater involvement in ministry for those already in Christ, I get excited,” he says. “Filling the empty space on a wall can resurrect productivity in the under used areas of your church.   Pointing out that barbequing for the masses and singing in the choir are equally “macho” can add numbers to your male chorus. And enhancing the look and feel of your major publications will strengthen the credibility of your message. I encourage churches leaders to visit our new Facebook resource page, borrow ideas and customize them to work for your congregation.”