As I work with churches across the country, I get to help them overcome a myriad of mistakes with their communication efforts. While most mistakes are fairly harmless, there are some that can hurt a church’s effectiveness (at best) and harm their mission (at worst). Here are a few major mistakes to make sure you avoid in your communications endeavors.
Believing Good Communication Can Compensate for a Bad Event or Ministry
A big mistake I see churches make is planning events that nobody wants to attend or starting ministries that no one wants to be a part of and expecting the communications director to get church members involved. Let me say this clearly: The best communication and marketing in the world can’t compensate for an uncompelling event or ministry.[quote]The best communication and marketing in the world can’t compensate for an uncompelling event or ministry.[/quote]
The inverse is also true, by the way: a compelling event or ministry with a strong vision and wellplanned strategy can succeed with poor communication. If your programs are strong enough, people will flock to them.
Not Thinking of Communication Holistically
Too many churches approach their communication haphazardly. If you are piece-mealing together a bunch of communication tools without any consideration for how they can work together and compliment one another, you are probably making this mistake.
For example, I know of dozens of churches that print a bulletin each week but have no digital strategy. Lots of churches broadcast announcements on their Facebook page but don’t have a plan to actually engage with people. Is your church trying to communicate to people but neglecting to utilize an email newsletter? What’s more, how does the email newsletter work together with the bulletin and Facebook page to communicate your messages in a unified way, while still leveraging each tool’s unique voice and tone?
This can even be taken to another level:
How are you using communication about the women’s ministry event to get people into small groups? How does communication about the youth summer camp tell stories that motivate people to give?
When we neglect to think about cross promotion, leveraging tools holistically, and fall into approaching communication without any obvious principle of organization, we’re doing our church a huge disservice.
Assuming People Care About What We Have To Say
They don’t. People care about themselves. Even the most spiritual in our congregations…those who do truly “consider others ahead of themselves” (Philippians 2:3)…are communication narcissists. They want to be communicated about things that interest them, in a way that is convenient for them, at a time that is best for them.
Our job is not to make them want to come around to our way of communicating or to make them want to hear what we want to say. Our job is to speak their language. Our job is to remove obstacles and barriers to their receiving the message they care about hearing. Our job is to go out and communicate where they are gathering instead of expecting people to come to us to get information. The first step in improving our communication is to realize people generally don’t care about what we have to say.[quote]The first step in improving our communication is to realize people generally don’t care about what we have to say.[/quote]
Does this mean we should “water down” the gospel or avoid communicating about difficult topics? No. But it does mean we need to vastly reconsider what others think about what we have to say.
Creating Information Silos
Churches are bad about creating information silos. For some reason I don’t understand, we hold information hostage. We make people work hard to find out what’s going on in the life of the church. We think just because we communicated something once from the stage, people who only attend once every three weeks should somehow magically know it. We assume, for example, that parents should think like the youth pastor and not have any questions about camp. Or, if they do, that it is their job to contact the church to get them answered. Heaven forbid we should do the extra work of creating a camp “FAQ” page on our website.
And why is it that just because someone knows how to use Amazon, we assume they should know how to use our proprietary registration system? Or why do we get frustrated when someone can’t remember their church database login when we, ourselves, can’t remember the login to our email?
Making the “Customer” Think
If our church members have to think in order to act on our communication calls-to-action, we’re doing it all wrong. Most of the time, the perceived value we’re offering people isn’t going to be high enough for them to overcome the resistance people experience when we’re asking them to think.
Make action steps clear. Cut the clutter and invest in user interface/user experience improvements that keep it simple for people to act. Show the immediate benefits that people will experience when they act on communication from you. Place the vital details (who, what, where, and when) at the top of your promotions. Make sure folks don’t have to think.[quote]Make sure folks don’t have to think.[/quote]
Not Clarifying Action Steps
You do a have clear call-to-action on every communication exchange, don’t you? It’s quite amazing how many churches will communicate all sorts of details but will not explain what they’d like the user to do. Neglecting to include next actions is a major mistake for churches.
Not Prioritizing What’s Truly Important
Most churches try to do too much. They attempt to do too many events. They have too many ministries and programs. In an attempt to “become all things to all people so that by all possible means we might save some,” we’ve become bland, overcommitted, and ineffective.
I get it. What we’re doing is important, and if holding one more Fall carnival causes someone to enter into a relationship with Jesus, it’s all worth it, right?
The problem is that when we’re attempting to do everything, we’re doing nothing with excellence. The same is true with communication. When everything is important, nothing is important. We can’t announce everything from the stage. Having a bulletin full of 30 items is no longer effective.[quote]When we’re attempting to do everything, we’re doing nothing with excellence.[/quote]
We have to do the hard work of establishing communication priorities based on the mission and vision of our organizations. Until we do so, our communication will be less effective than it could be.
Assuming The Same Old Media and Techniques Will Always Be Effective
Churches are notorious for having sacred cows and refusing to kill off old programs, events, ministries, and methodologies that are no longer effective. Churches are also historically bad about assuming that because something worked once it will work every time. Those coldcallvisitations probably aren’t effective anymore. The ad in the phone book, newspaper, and/or local town magazine probably isn’t all that great either. People probably aren’t reading your printed worship guide anymore.
Just because it worked once-upon-a-time, doesn’t mean it will always work. We need to take the time to find new ways of communicating. We need to invest, experiment, and explore new techniques like Facebook ads and Snapchat stories. The message might stay the same but the method needs to change (although your message could probably use a refresh as well).[quote]Just because it worked once-upon-a-time, doesn’t mean it will always work.[/quote]
Chasing the Latest Fads
It’s also worth noting that chasing the latest fads isn’t necessarily a good idea either. We need to make sure we’re being strategic and not adding a communication method simply because it’s a hot, new fad.
Neglecting Storytelling and Forgetting to Communicate the ‘Why’
Sometimes churches are really good about giving out information, but they struggle with inspiration. An important part of church communication is telling the greater story of what God is up to in your congregation. Those stories are the “why” behind what it is we do, and when we fail to make storytelling an integral part of our communication, we’re making a big-time mistake.
Not Being Proactive
The final mistake I’d like to mention is more of an internal mistake churches make: namely, being passive. Too often, we let communication happen in our churches. Communicators wait until a staff member comes to them with a communications need. Or we only become motivated to communicate well when bad things happen, such as low giving, mass influx of questions, staff changes, etc.
We need to be proactive. Anticipate the communication needs of your church. Look for stories to tell. Engage with people before things get bad. Communicate proactively to advance your mission.
Churches make a lot of avoidable mistakes in communication. The mistakes mentioned above are rampant and risk harming our mission. With a little work and some intentionality, though, we can overcome common communication problems and be successful in our efforts.