Breaking the Communications Logjam: A Four-part Series

damn traffic jamPart I of IV

The Publications You Need

Before reading the next paragraph, take a minute and write down all the publications that your church produces.

[Sound of clock ticking]

Got it? Good. How many are on the list? Two? Four? Five?

Now think a bit harder. On average, I find that churches have no less than 10 distinct categories of publications they produce:

  1. Church Bulletin
  2. Social Media
  3. Website
  4. Sermons
  5. Audio-visuals for services
  6. Miscellaneous posters/hand-outs related to classes
  7. Print newsletter
  8. Bulletin Inserts
  9. New Member materials
  10. Special publications for special services (Easter, Christmas, funerals, etc)

And within these categories are subcategories. Broken out this way, even small churches can find themselves juggling 15, 20, 30 or more publications every month. That’s a tall order for anyone–it can break the backs of a congregation that depends on volunteers and a limited staff.

Making Choices

Despite how overwhelmed most congregations I visit are, I find it interesting that more times than not, I’m asked how they can add something to the mix–usually, social media.

The first step to getting control of your publications is to limit yourself to the ones that you absolutely must have. Two, three at most.

Of the list of ten given above, one could make the case that they’re all essential. So how do you choose?

Step One: Stop thinking about publications in terms of pieces you need to produce, and begin thinking in terms of the type of information you require. The difference is not semantics. Returning to the list above, we have listed 10 pieces that have to be filled with information. But the types of information required to fill them can be boiled down to three:

  • Educational (teaching information for new members, theological information for sermons, spiritually uplifting materials for newsletters and special events)
  • Audio visual (graphics for Sunday service, photos to place in newsletters [print and electronic], designs for signs)
  • Pragmatic (Details of events, special days [birthdays, anniversaries, etc], and assorted events happening in and around your congregation.

Step Two: Rethink the publications you require. Now that you’ve switched from thinking in terms of publication pieces to types of information required, look anew at what you publish. What two or three tools can capture the types? They may, or may not, be publications the church sees.

Looking at the three types above, a congregation could conceivably gather the majority of this information in a blog, a well-maintained calendar, and a Pinterest account.

Step Three: Start collecting. Writing and collecting, like sermon-writing and visitation, are habits. Begin carving out a set amount of time everyday to collect and write materials that fill the types of information you require. Again, these efforts may or may not lead to publications you put in front of parishoners.

So how does the work of filling the publications get done?

That’s Part II of the series. But this week, give it a try. See if you can name all your publications, and then reduce those communications down to types. Develop your own distinctive writing/collecting methods for gathering the information to fill the types and begin disciplining yourself to use them, daily.

In two weeks, we’ll show how this leads to more-effective publications that require less time, and increase accuracy.

Advertisements

Chasing Youth: Can You Win?

Face book declineChurch Mag recently released a story that is often imitated in church circles. This story, The Facebook Exodus: Where Are All the Teens Going rattles the cages of congregations desperate to attract young people and families by getting more engaged with their social media tools.”Again,” the writer concludes, “we see that the Church will need to look beyond Facebook to reach this generation of users online.”

Let me spoil it for you. This is an arms race you are not going to win.

Give the article credit for unearthing the newest trend of social networking tools making the rounds among the young. If you have children, most of the new tools will be no surprise to you–your kids are already using them, and you’ve probably seen the icons if you haven’t used them yourself. Certainly, it helps to stay on top of what’s new and developing in this world.

But to think that using these tools will attract youth to your church is akin to thinking that wearing a particular pair of shoes will make you a better athlete. (It’s gotta be the shoes).

Using KIK or SnapChat or Vine is not something you build an outreach program on.

Rather, you build an outreach program on being true to yourself, being clear with others about what you are, and living that essence out in the world around you.

This is not to say that you should be ignorant of new technologies–we’re all for it and encourage it. Nor or we saying don’t use them.

All we’re saying is, don’t confuse the tools for the message.

Something about this feels relevant …

… so began the email I received recently from Anna Belle Leiserson, the genius behind the best blog I know for churches about developing websites–FaithAndWeb.com.

“This” is an article in the New York Times titled “Faulty Websites Confront Needy in Search of Aid.” The bottom line of the article is this: if you think the new website for the ACA is a mess, spend some time poking around the websites for states’ unemployment compensation. In short, it’s a crap shoot.

To those who work with these systems, there is no surprise. Companies, government agencies, and, yes, even churches (large and small) have a long history of making poor decisions about websites at the very earliest stages. And never find their way out.

One fairly large nonprofit I advised in years gone by was dumping tens of thousands of dollars annually into a website that 1) couldn’t be updated by most people in the office, 2) regularly messed up online transactions, and 3) broke down more than a working website should.

And yet, they would never change, and kept throwing good money after bad. The reason? We’ve invested so much, why change now? It’s laughable in print. Not so much in reality.

A Heavy Price

Your church website–though certainly not as complex as that described in the New York Times piece, or even that used by many organizations and nonprofits–must work and work well. And when it doesn’t, you pay a heavy price. Including:

Communications Paralysis. Whether you use a website alone, or have Twitter, blogs, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and whatever happens to be all the rage in your community, your website probably plays a big role in anchoring the content. I have seen first-hand more churches whose websites are seriously constraining their ability to communicate well. They buy inexpensive programs that limit their number of pages, their ability to adapt their sites, and on and on. As a result, they end up creating a greater communications log jam with each online tool they add.

Lost Income. People love to give online. We pay for everything else online, so why not make our contributions online? But if you set it up poorly, or select poor software, or your software and website are constantly battling one another and keeping people from giving, they’ll quit. Quickly. Out of frustration, or out of security fears. Either way, you and your congregation lose.

Lost Visitors. People looking for a church to attend (or looking for anything else, for that matter) look first to the web. Your website is their primary window into your world. Select one that is cheap-looking, or acts like one that is cheap, and you are costing yourself visitors. And you can measure this. Google Analytics tracks new visitors who come to your site and then go away. See what those numbers are. If your site doesn’t support Google Analytics, you have bigger problems with your site.

No Excuses

There was a time not so long ago that there were legitimate reasons that churches skimped on websites. Hiring private developers was expensive (and no guarantee of success), and they required people who knew how to code.

Those days are long gone. Today, companies like iPage make launching a sophisticated, good-looking website easy and affordable. And you don’t need to be a coder (but you still need to be a tweaker).

Yes, it takes work. No, you shouldn’t try and do it alone. And yes, it’s a bit scary to go from what you have–no matter how flawed–to something new, no matter how much better.

But you must.