Communicating Church Vision
As a communications person in your church, you have an important job. Whether you are a volunteer or a full-time professional on staff, you are charged with communicating the mission of your church. Your job is to inspire and challenge people to grow deeper in their walk with Christ through the communications channels of the church.
As children grow up, they learn different things and encounter new experiences as they move from Kindergarten through College and on. The curriculum of each grade level has been carefully planned to build upon their previous learning and compounds to develop your children into adulthood. It is important that the educational system has a plan in place to grow the math skills of your children from grade to grade. If your First Grader is confronted with Algebra, they will be lost, as they don't have the foundation of Elementary Math to think abstractly in dimensional ways. If your Third Grader is asked to develop an English sonnet of their own, they won't understand the grammatical structure itself that defines what makes a sonnet a sonnet. Our experiences grow upon one another and produce growth.
Likewise, your church staff should all be intimately involved in participating in a spiritual growth plan through the design of their ministries. By presenting opportunities in a coordinated way, and communicating these opportunities to the right people at the right stage in their church involvement and place in their personal journey of faith, you're leading them on a spiritual growth plan.
- An introduction to Christ (addition and subtraction)
- Making a decision to follow Christ (basic Algebra)
- Living out faith in spiritual growth and continuously seeking Christ (College Calculus)
Church ministries and programs should be carefully designed in order to provide the right opportunity at the right time.
Growing Deeper: Engagement
A stairway is comprised of steps that lead somewhere. "One step of a time..." Bill Murray reminds himself in the movie What About Bob? Provide clear “baby steps” to newcomers for initial involvement. As relationships grow between your newcomers and those already involved in the mission of the church as members, these newcomers will encounter opportunities for beginning a relationship with Christ and/or growing in their faith. There will be a defined plan for these new attenders to take steps in experiencing Christ and your church, share their faith, and grow spiritually, all through the opportunities that you present them. The right opportunity at the right time.
Explore / Attendance
An initial step for a newcomer would be to attend a social event like a coffee hour or a formation event such as a membership class or a new believers group. These groups will provide a foundation to meet new people, an opportunity to learn about the church and the people who are a part of it, and a way to experience what it means to have a relationship with Christ. These groups should also communicate the vision of the church and the passion of the people who serve in it. They will be able to start casual friendships with others in a comfortable environment.
Have a way to capture the information of inquirers to these groups in a sensitive way that clearly states what your intention is with wanting to connect with them. Connection cards are a great way to connect with people interested in exploring life in your church. Communicate the importance for hosts or leaders in these first-time involvement groups to follow up with the attenders of these groups afterwards. During the course of this initial involvement group, your hosts should invite newcomers to sit with them during a church service the next weekend, go out for lunch with them after a service, or have dinner at their house soon. Even just a phone call afterwards will show these newcomers that you care about them. Also during these opportunities of meeting, invite them to try a second opportunity for involvement. If their experience at the Membership Class or the New Believers Group was great, they'll be excited about the personal invitation to another group.
Learn / Participation
Ministries designed for people to meet others in their stage of life and life situation is important. These ministry opportunities should be comfortable environments in which true personal connections are made and solidified. Every church differs in their offering of these opportunities. Some smaller churches may simply have an "Adult Formation Hour" between services. Some larger churches may have capacity to sustain a variety of adult groups broken out into life stages: Men's Group, Women's Group, Singles, Young Adults, 30Somethings, 55+Seniors, Single Moms, Divorced, Newly Marrieds, etc. Each ministry should have events that are designed to be great opportunities for newcomers to experience the ministry. New people will shy away from being asked to show up to a big women's group or men's group by themselves. Nobody enjoys being the “new guy” who doesn't know anyone. Instead, a personal invite should be made to accompany those opportunities in the church to an event and there, introduced to others. To have a “wing man” is like a security blanket and those who are in this stage of learning and simply wanting to just participate in the ministries of the church will feel comfortable with attending other ministry events independently. Newcomers lose their title as newcomers and become involved regular attenders and will naturally make stronger connections with others in the church through these groups.
Grow / Commitment
When a visitor comes to your church, communicating the message “Welcome to our church! Please join our 9 month Catechumenate class or volunteer in our children's department!” doesn't work. It's not the right opportunity at the right time. After parishioners have explored opportunities in the church, and learned and participated in low-commitment opportunities, both social events and faith formation opportunities, they are ready to make higher commitments with their time. Now they are ready to explore opportunities to grow in deeper ways, with increased commitment. If you and your spouse/partner already know another couple in the church or you've made some acquaintances through groups previously mentioned as you've participated in church activities, then you'll be more open to accepting an invite into a small group experience, a catechumenate class, or opening up to even more personal encounters like a Men's Retreat or Women's Retreat.
Serve / Empowerment
As parishioners have moved from newcomers, to participating in events and opportunities, to deepening in their commitments, they'll have caught the vision of the church and begin to live out the mission of the church. They'll want to start serving! Hopefully the church will empower these new leaders with opportunities to step into. Imagine, you won't be begging for people to volunteer! Church ministries will communicate their opportunities for serving through these life groups or adult formation groups and people will serve together because they want to, not because they were begged to do so. They'll be comfortable and they'll begin to take ownership of the church. It is no longer just the church they attend, but it is now THEIR church--an important distinction. They'll want to invite their friends and they will want to help with introducing newcomers to your church. Your church is thriving because the church's mission is being fulfilled and spiritual growth is occurring throughout the church body.
How Do You Communicate These Engagement Steps, Or Do You?
As a communicator, you are communicating "next steps" to spiritual growth. Be creative in how you brand your individual ministries and be intentional about how these ministries compound upon one another to fulfill the church's vision.
A point to consider is whether or not you should communicate a "spiritual grown plan" in the first place to your church body. Sit down with your first grader and draw out the educational system and create a syllabus to life learning for how they'll first learn addition and subtraction, then multiplication and division, percentages, quadratic equations, algebra, calculus, and trigonometry. They don't care, they'll be lost, and they'll want to go play outside with their friends. In Hebrews 5:12, it says "For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food;" It is important that the educational system has a plan in place to grow the math skills of your children from grade to grade.
Again, your church staff should all be intimately involved in participating in a spiritual growth plan through the design of their ministries. By presenting opportunities in a coordinated way, and communicating these opportunities to the right people at the right stage in their church involvement, you're already leading them in spiritual growth. This is a leadership document and is not a plan that is shared widely to visitors/newcomers, members, or the congregation at large. It is a plan for leadership to be intentional about presenting "next step" opportunities; the right opportunities at the right times. Be intentional and honor God with your prayer and consideration of God's leading in how to guide your church body, and follow that call into action.
The Communications Plan
I’m guessing that you feel that your church is doing way too much stuff. Are your ministries constantly battling for promotional space in the bulletin, on the website, in your newsletters, or in whatever other communication channels you use? Are parishioners so overwhelmed with opportunities to get involved that they just freeze up and don’t do anything at all?
First off, there is only so much you can do as a church to communicate “stuff.” Imagine your total communications as a pie chart. What percentage gets what? Does your Newcomers Reception get 20% promotion? Where 20% of the time, in any given publication, this first step for newcomers to engage with the church ("explore / attendance" engagement step...low commitment) is promoted? An appeal for joining the adult choir gets another 10% of the church communication. Children’s Ministry gets 15%, Outreach gets 20%, The Book Club gets 10%, the Centering Prayer group gets 10%, your church picnics/potlucks/special events get 10%, and the high school youth group gets 5%. That’s 100%. Right now, write down your main ministry areas and events and figure out what percentages of current promotions belong to each.
What about the Vacation Bible School for that summer? Or the special marriage seminar for couples? Or the night of worship that your worship team is putting on? Or the Advent Retreat that the diocese has asked you to promote? What other events or groups are asking for promotion? Now the Boy Scout troop that your church hosts wants promotion. So does the Parents of Preschoolers group that meets. Don’t forget about Women's Book Club on Tuesdays, and the Seniors Ministry. Whatever group it is, whatever ministry it is, it wants a piece of that pie.
What is most important to the church leadership? If you are a church that is heavily focused on social justice and advocacy, then that piece of the pie might be bigger. If your church is all about Adult Formation, then that piece will be bigger. Whatever piece becomes bigger makes another piece smaller. You have only so much space to promote. Start with your vision and work backwards. Be intentional about creating space for ministries that accomplish your vision.
What is the goal?
Focus is the key component in communicating. You’re leading people in one direction, hopefully, of where you’d like them to go. But if there is unorganized, unplanned promotion of all events and groups in the church, to an attender it may seem that you’re asking them to go in 6 different directions.
Just as your promotional space is limited, so is the time of each of your attenders. How much time can you expect out of your church families to be involved in church activities? More than ever, kids have increasing amounts of homework, parents have jobs that have schedules that are ever-changing, and school activities pile up upon one another. As a church, you’re asking people to attend church, serve an hour or two in a ministry in the church, be involved one or two hours a week in a “life group” ministry like a Men’s or Women’s Ministry, be in faith formation/adult ed group, attend seminars/workshops that will better their lives, help plan a mission trip, etc. Too much! Your people are currently saying “They’re asking so many different things of me and I can only commit to church things for a few hours per week. So what is the most important thing?” Mixed messages are being sent when ministries don’t realize they are competing for time and involvement of their attenders.
Decide what your pie chart is going to be and stick to it. It should reflect who you are as a church and what you feel are the most important areas to highlight. This pie chart should tell the story of how you plan to move people from your front doors, from warming a pew seat, into an environment which begins or grows their relationship with Christ, into serving and involvement.
How does it work?
Now that you’ve decided your communications pie, decide how this translates to your different communications channels. Start communicating only a handful of events or groups in your church program/bulletin. If you commit to doing 5 promotions in each bulletin, then you have 260 available spots for the year (5 X 52 weeks of the year). Of these 260, multiply that by the percentage of promotion of how you’ve divided your pie. For your newsletter, decide that you’re only going to promote 10 things weekly, 520 available slots of promotion. Figure out how many promotional slots each ministry gets for the year. You may want to only do this on a monthly schedule—for a ministry that has 20% of the pie, two promotional spots per week in a 10 slot newsletter.
Schedule it out!
Next, begin a calendar of all your promotions in a spreadsheet. Keep track! You’ll be able to plan out well in advance all of your promotions weeks, even months, in advance. You can negotiate with your ministries what they each view as being the most important events in their ministries. The best part is that they’re not allowed to have more promotional spots than previously decided upon by the pie chart. Again, more promotion of one ministry equals less promotion of another.
Having a plan in advance allows you to say "No." "No" is the hardest part of being a communication leader in the church. Ministries feel that you’re saying "No" to not just their ministry, but them as a leader. Many take it personally. Your leadership in communications is designed to oversee the big picture. Ministry leaders are passionate about their area, and think continuously about how they need more promotion to ensure success of their ministry. By having a cap on their promotions through an overall plan, they will pare down to what they feel is most important events to promote. You have now empowered the ministries in your church to work with their volunteers and other leaders to decide what their goals are and promote them accordingly. No longer do you need to say "No." You can say “most definitely! …If you have the promotions spot, then let's make it happen!”
Having a plan makes your job easier. Without it, people perceive that you play favorites as to what ministry you like the best. Their perception is their reality and their approach to your communications leadership becomes difficult. Sometimes, as you may encounter now, they go over your head and try to bring more enforcement to their need. Your church leadership can now say when approached about promotion for a ministry or event, “(Name) has a plan in place. You’ll have to speak with them because I’m not sure what other things are scheduled to be promoted at that time. I know they schedule promotions out way ahead of time, but give them a call to talk about future promotion."
Also, we all know the squeaky wheel gets the grease. You may have tried to control overall communication without a plan and it is easier to give in to those that squeak the loudest, just to get them to stop squeaking. You hate to give in, knowing that there are other ministries that have far greater promotional needs, but you do so anyway.
It is all in the power of the pie. Stop saying "No" and stop giving in. Start with the plan!