Tucker’s Gift

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This article breaks from most we dispense because it offers not so much communications advice, as a reminder of the power of unconditional love. And the wonder of our pets. 

In Memory of Tucker: 2010-2014

“A home without a dog,” read a sign on my boyhood home, “is just a house.”

This past week, our home became a house once again when we lost our beloved beagle, Tucker.

Tucker’s loss will be with our family for years to come. As will the unconditional love he freely gave to us each and every day of his too-short life.

In my own day-to-day work, I will certainly miss Tucker’s presence. He was by my side as I worked, teased me into walks when he sensed I needed breaks, and laid beside me as I wrestled with the complex and challenging communications questions congregations face.

But it was his unconditional love for me and for my family that will be most missed. It’s the love that we as faith-communities strive to provide despite all of our human failings, and too often fail to live up to.

Our pets, however, live up to the demands of unconditional love more often than not.

Take some time today to return your pet’s unconditional love, and to be thankful for the special bond that we have with our animal fellow-travelers through life.

A New Way to Market Your Church

Perhaps the best line ever voiced about social media was never said of social media at all. It’s spoken by the no-nonsense Captain in the classic 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke.

There’s a grand failure to communicate when it comes to social media, because the vast majority of users in the church–and elsewhere–continue to think of social media tools as a way to market themselves to the world.

A Frontline piece last week will forever change your opinion about this.

Inverting the Funnel

Generation Like explores the inversion of marketing that social media has wrought. (If that sentence turns your theological ears on end, hang with me. It all comes back to you and your church.)

For as long as there’s been marketing, it’s been driven by the “funnel.” You caste as wide a net as possible, then filter prospective clients from non-prospective clients via a series for sieves, until you have people most likely to interact with you.

The classic marketing "Funnel." Caste the net, and narrow down.

The classic marketing “Funnel.” Caste the net, and narrow down.

Sound familiar? Canvassing, encouraging people to invite friends to church, community events, pancake breakfasts, mailing flyers. These are all examples of the classic marketing funnel.

Turn It Upside Down

Social media has turned this model upside down. No longer are you the marketer, but your clients become your marketers. To simplify greatly what the documentary describes, a clothing store’s best bet for selling is not the splashy ad in the New York Times, but the teenage girl who sings the praises of her new jeans to her 20,000 Facebook fans.

“But wait,” you say, “that’s no different from wearing branded clothing.” True, except it’s more complicated.

With branded clothing, you’ve convinced people to shell out large dollars for a product that improves their image with their friends.

With social media, big organizations are trying to convince individuals with the largest followings to pay attention to you.

In short, now, PepsiCo fears Tyler Oakley (watch the documentary).

From PBS documentary "Generation Like."

From PBS documentary “Generation Like.”

Bringing It Back Round to Church

So how does this apply to the church?

Hands down, the greatest concern of congregations is bringing young people and their families into the church. And everything, it seems, has failed–consistently, for 30 years.

Churches blame increasing secularization, travel sports, and a range of other issues for their failure to bring the young in.

Complaining about things you can’t control, however, will never advance your work. Worrying about the things you can control can make things better.

And your outreach (let’s call it what it is–marketing) to the young is something that you can definitely control.

Begin with the young people and families in your church who carry iPhones and tablets, and work with them to create content that they can place in the body of their photos and videos. Engage them in the process, and allow them to be your marketers extraordinaire.

Just One More Thing …

Be sure to watch ALL of the documentary. This marketing does not happen by accident. It is carefully orchestrated.

Every detail, every connection, everything.

“Viral” doesn’t happen magically.

With some love and attention, however, you may come to appreciate better how to find the solution to your communication failures.

Breaking the Communications Logjam: Content, Content, Content

Part II of IV

Creating content

Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

The most important way to get a handle on your communications is to “get real” about how many communications you’re actually handling, and then break these publications into categories. Let’s return to the list of publications that most churches have that were listed in Part I.

  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)

These are the ten separate publications that SLC has found most churches produce throughout the year. To manage this much, we encouraged people to break the content into a more-manageable list of categories. In the case above, we reduced the material 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.

And now that this has been done, the magic can happen.

Write to the Categories

Instead of writing to 10 separate publications, target your writings to your, in this case, three categories. How do you do this? There are many approaches. But the two best in my experience are the following.

  • Create a Blog. It’s the modern-day answer to the diary. Only better. Get a free blog at WordPress.com, and start writing. It’s a great way to organize your educational materials, for example. Thoughts on books you’re reading; drafts of sermons your writing; notes on conferences you are attending; and on and on. It all can go in there. It can be public or private. And it allows you to easily tag your articles for easy re-discovery, and categorize each piece. You can integrate graphics, video, links, whatever you need. When writing, keep your short-term goals in front of you, but a blog gives you the opportunity to write more long-term, as well, knowing that you can return and use the material later.
  • Keep a REALLY GOOD Calendar. Online calendars leave us no excuse for failing to keep track of everything going on in our lives. Find the one that works for you and use it. Every special date, every event, music used in worship, everything (with one exception–see below) should go in it. This “pragmatic” tool will provide a great deal of your content. For your bulletin, your newsletters, your members and newcomers. The work done to set it up and maintain it will more than pay for itself in the time you save search for it every time you need that information for a publication.

Think Like an Editor

If you’ve ever been around a newsroom, you know that editors are hard-nosed people. They have to be. With an abundance of material coming at them, and little time to prepare content for publication, they can hardly afford time to write thought pieces, or deal with pieces not directly related to what’s immediately happening in the world around them.

And you need to bring the same discipline to your church publications. Here’s how.

  • Get Organized. Before you write one more word this week, identify and implement an editorial calendar. It is good to keep this separate from the master calendar discussed above. There are many good ones out there. For a list of 14 free ones, visit this post at The Daily Egg which provides an overview of each. You’ll want to play around with these to find one that suits your needs, but find one and use it.
  • Every Word Counts. As a writer myself, I’m often asked by people, “How do I become a writer?” My answer is simple. First, write. And Second, make every word you write, count. With your editorial calendar in place, you can see all the material that needs to be filled in the weeks and months ahead. As you write, make every word count by addressing the issues coming up.
  • Re-use. Just because you’ve used material once doesn’t mean you can’t use it again. Use it, and abuse it. If you write a sermon on hunger, this material can be reused throughout the year in bulletins, educational pieces, and resource materials. You’ll need to edit it, of course, but better to spend 10 minutes editing something you’ve already written to make it fit another medium, then spend 60 minutes re-inventing the material from scratch.

Cut and Stitch

While you will never get away from writing one-off pieces for your publications, following the steps above will decrease the amount of original writing you do.

Rather than creating content, you will spend your time cutting and stitching together the information that you have already pulled together.

And any writer will tell you, it’s easier to edit something for publication–even if it isn’t particularly good–then to create something from whole-cloth.

How Much Time?

I know what you’re thinking. This seems like a LOT of work.

To set it up, it is. But once things are up and running, you will easily find the time required to produce materials for you many publications cut in half, at least, if not more.

Your publications will have a more consistent feel, gathering information becomes much easier, and your creativity will flow more easily. Add to that the time you save, and most organizations find it to be a no-brainer.

SLC can work with you to establish a more-streamlined publication schedule. Drop us a note, and let us show you just how affordable it can really be.

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.