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.

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Unleashing Staff Creativity with Data

As leaders of congregations, it’s important to remember that as you come to see the significance of what understanding data derived from electronic communications can mean for you and your staff, your staff may not feel the same.

Data, properly used, can have a liberating effective on staff creativity and energy. But very often, at the outset, your staff may well feel threatened by the emphasis on numbers.

It’s not hard to understand. Unless you’re the top person in the organization, any attempt to introduce data—which is objective and, to many, feels cold—can seem like a threat: to their ability, to their self-esteem, or to their job.

Removing the sense of threat, and bringing about the creativity, can take some time.

Change Comes Slowly

Anything new and different takes some getting used to. Though I have experienced this in my own professional life (as we all have), and have helped employees overcome their apprehension about analytical data, even I need reminders of how hard it can be.

Data, properly used, can have a liberating effective on staff creativity and energy.

I was reminded again on Monday night, July 15, as I watched Yoenis Cespedes of the Oakland A’s put on a clinic in the All-Star Homerun Derby—crushing shot after shot deep into the New York night.

Afterwards, as he was presented awards—always in English—the non-English speaker’s fear was palpable. And when an ESPN analyst asked him a probing interview question, I began to feel for the young man. It could have been a disaster. Instead, it became a shining moment. After asking the question in English, the analyst, on national television, asked the same question in Spanish. Cespedes answered in Spanish, and the analyst translated for the public.

What an extraordinary change from our not-too-distant past. As a child, I recall watching Roberto Clemente, and listening to announcers consistently call him Bobby, refusing to use his real name. A subtle, and at the time, pervasive racism fueled by fear of a culture few European Americans understood.

Change has indeed come—but it has taken a lot of work on both sides. And the same will be true in your congregation as you begin using analytics.

Pick at Yourself

The most important thing to remember is to be quick to pick at yourself.

When in staff meetings, be the first to point to something you did for the website or the newsletter and point out that it didn’t do very well numbers-wise. Then listen to your staff. Do they say things like “I’m sure it wasn’t your fault,” or, “it was a really great piece, don’t feel bad.” If they do, chances are good they are projecting their own fears of offering pieces that don’t do well—and they are watching to see how you handle it.

By being quick to point out your own failures, and then ask the probing questions why (Did I word it well? Was this the best time to run it? Do people really want this material? Was it placed poorly on the page?) staff members will begin to see that data is not a tool for judging them, but a way of learning more about their own work and thinking about ways that they can do things better.

So long as you treat your staff members the way you treat yourself when their article numbers are down, you should begin to notice something powerful: the staff taking ownership of the work, and being willing to risk more and more to produce quality material.

By using data to reflect, and not punish, you give people room to expressive their creativity and learn for themselves.

It’s a great gift for you; most important, however, it’s a greater gift to your church.