Communications and Volunteers
Do you remember that game, Telephone, you used to play as a kid? You’d line up a bunch of friends, then the person in front would whisper a short phrase to the person next to them. That would continue on down the line until it reached the last person in the chain. They’d announce what they heard, and the first person would announce what they had actually said. Everyone would laugh – because inevitably one person in the line would change one of the words to “poop”.
I want to go to the store.
An Iwoan went to the store. (An Iowan is one who lives in Iowa.)
I am one of more.
I am a big poop.
Ima Jean Poop
It was such a great game, but it was a horrible way to communicate. Sometimes you lose clarity when you communicate through too many people.
The risk you run when incorporating volunteers into your church communications is a big game of telephone with your church’s messages to the congregation and community. If you aren’t careful, a simple invitation to your Easter services can become a big poop.
That’s why you should never leave your church communications up to volunteers – at least not solely to volunteers. If you don’t have someone monitoring the message as it makes its way down the line, you run the risk of a severely messed up message.
Imagine if you left the Sunday morning sermon up to a volunteer to tackle. He might poorly reflect upon the church or even spread sacrilege. That’s why you check on him. You review his notes. You make sure he understands what your church believes, values, and sounds like. You don’t want him to screw this up – both for the sake of the listeners and the reputation and self esteem of the volunteer. Your message is important.
But I’d like to propose your church communications are even more important than the message – at least as far as your community is concerned. It doesn’t matter if the sermon is flawless and wonderful, if folks think you’re communicating poorly they won’t even walk through your front doors to hear.
So should you incorporate volunteers into your church communications? That’s up to you – whether or not you want to risk it.
But we do live in the real world. If you’re the solo church creative, an overworked communications coordinator, or a volunteer at a small church, you don’t have the option. For many, if you hope to communicate, you must use volunteers.
In that case, I’d like to suggest a few ways to make volunteers and church communications happen well.
1. Over communicate.
While our game Telephone only allows for one repetition of the message, you can repeat your message as often as you need. Make sure your volunteers understand and can easily verbalize your church’s vision and primary messages. If they can’t communicate what you tell them with clarity and consistency, they don’t need to be repeating it on down the line.
A practical way to test this is through simple role-playing. Ask them to send a sample email, sample tweet, or design a sample card. Walk them through what they could improve and what they did right. Give them a clear picture of what you need and you’ll set them up for success.
Develop a system that makes it easy for you to monitor and collaborate with your volunteer communications team. Use the CC option in email. Use Google Docs or Evernote to store standard communication pieces or messages. The more eyes on something, the more chance you have of keeping it consistent.
It takes constant vigilance to make sure communication is effective. Keep communicating. Keep CC’ing. Don’t just assume that, after you’ve done this process once, you can forget it.
When you get the right folks on your team – folks who communicate well and have truly bought into your church’s vision – it is possible to communicate effectively with volunteers. It takes work, but it’s worth it.
Because after all, your church’s communications are too valuable to let ill-equipped volunteers turn to poop.