Killing the Sacred Cows of Communication
Every church, whether they care to admit it or not, has sacred cows when it comes to how they communicate. These cows may come in different shapes and sizes, but I’ve observed a few key ones in churches over the past few years. While I’m not exactly calling you to kill all of these, I am asking you to think critically through why you do certain things when it comes to communication and challenge you to look at them and how you do them differently.
The Weekly Bulletin
Let’s just go after the jugular from the outset. I don’t think there is anything more sacred in the church communications world than the weekly bulletin. For many churches, they suck up a majority of the yearly communications budget and, in many cases, can be the only consistent form of communication a church has with their church. So much time, energy, and resources are invested in a tri-folded piece of paper that either gets left behind in a pew or lost under a pile of papers on a countertop. For church communications directors, creating the bulletin can be a redundant weekly task that feels more like a game of Tetris – moving around the same content and trying to make it all fit.
I’m not hating on the bulletin, but I do think there is another way. A few years ago, I killed the weekly bulletin at Park Community Church, where I served. Instead of doing a weekly bulletin, we made the switch to a monthly format. By going monthly, we were able to cut our print budget by 75%, were better stewards of our budget and the environment, and the switch forced us to be more organized and timely when we planned and communicated about events. Going monthly also forced us to be more creative and intentional when we communicated events. It also allowed us the opportunity to find new avenues of communicating like a weekly e-newsletter and using social media.
By killing the weekly bulletin, your church will be more attentive to what you put in your their hands. Instead of glossing over or glancing at a repetitive handout, they’ll pay attention when you’re only giving them something once a month. Less does more.
Wars have been waged in church offices and service planning meetings over in-service announcements. Those few golden moments on a Sunday morning can be life or death, in the eyes of ministry leaders, for their events. “If it’s not announced, how will people know?!” And yes, the pastor mentioning anything can usually have a ‘golden’ effect.
Here’s the truth though. In-service announcements can distract from the flow of the service. And in a few short minutes you can bombard people with too much information – most of which may not even matter to them. I’d like to suggest you scale back on what’s announced. Rather than focusing on what matters to the ministry leaders of your church (however great or noble it may be), focus on what matters to the people in the congregation.
I’m a firm believer that what’s announced in services should matter to the whole congregation (or a least a very significant portion of the church). Also, what’s announced in services should be natural next steps for people to follow.
Example: If you’re teaching on marriage or relationships, that would be a key time to highlight opportunities your church has for couples.
The Website Homepage
Like the weekly bulletin and in-service announcements, the website homepage can be another sacred cow of church communication. Those precious few pixels people see when they first access your webpage are valuable visual real estate. Rather than cluttering it with links or buttons, think about your homepage and what’s on it differently.
Your website can do a lot and offer some incredible content. But the good news is that you don’t have to put it all on the homepage for it to work.
Learn from Google. Create a simple homepage that lets people naturally find what matters to them instead of bogging them down with a million different options. For most churches, the key content for their website homepage would be links to information for first-time visitors, links to service times/info, calendar/events, and media. And, if you opt to feature more content, I would employ the same rule of thumb for the homepage as you do for in-service announcements: only things that matter to a majority of the church.
Brochures and Handouts
I’m not against print and I don’t think that churches need to shift everything online. I am against clutter and am all about churches thinking strategically about what they design, create, and put into people’s hands. Print is expensive – especially if you want to do it well. So, rather than trying to go all out with individual brochures for all of your ministries, or a whole portfolio of brochures for the different groups and offerings your church has, why not condense?
If your information desk looks like a brochure rack at a hotel, maybe it’s time to scale back a little. It’s not about doing away with brochures or handouts. It’s about being more intentional with what you put in people’s hands. First-time visitors definitely need information and it’s always good to have a listing of the different ministries and groups your church offers. But beyond that, think critically about what you print.
People in your congregation notice how you spend money. The great glossy stuff looks cool, but is it good stewardship of the resources God has blessed you with? Again, less does more.
Ministry Logos and Branding
Every ministry in your church wants an identity, but a church should be a branding house instead of a house of brands. Individual ministry identities can complicate and clutter your communication.
If you have to explain what a ministry is or hand people a dictionary that defines all of the acronyms and clever names used for your ministries, it may be time to reevaluate what gets their own logos and identities.
Having so many different logos and identities can take away from the brand of your church. In general, I like to employ the idea that the ministries that get their own logos and branding are ones that minister to a significant demographic of your church community and have regular services. That would apply to your youth and children’s ministries and other ministries that have a large reach.
Try Something New
Church communication is a demanding role that is constantly evolving. We have the timeless, unchanging message of the Gospel. But the ways in which our culture communicates are continually changing and adapting. What used to work doesn’t always work today, and doing the same thing over and over again won’t yield the same results. The few “sacred cows” I’ve mentioned represent just a handful of things that churches get stuck in a routine of doing – out of habit instead of out of intentionality. The goal isn’t doing away with these things, but doing them differently and in a way that truly engages people.
The one thing that does need to die when it comes to church communication is the phrase, “Well that’s the way we’ve always done it.”
Try something new. Take some risks. Do things differently. And do all you can to connect people to the next steps in their spiritual journey toward Christ.