An online magazine for pastors and church leaders.

For this month’s Sunday| Mag articles, we asked some of our favorite writers this one question: What’s one thing you’ve been learning all year long that you’d like to share with Sunday| Mag’s readers? In this article, Chuck Scoggins talks about the gray area of church communication “rules”. Are things actually as black and white as we like to make them?


I?m learning decisions aren?t always as easy as black or white.

Last week at my church for instance, the usher closed the section where I normally sit. At our church, we have a ?nobody owns a seat? policy. But I?m pretty sure my season tickets mean I get to sit in that section every week. Joking aside, while not being able to sit in our normal section isn?t a big deal in the scope of eternity, it did cause my wife and I some problems.

She usually grabs a cup of coffee while I drop off the kids. Inevitably, one of us gets into the auditorium before the other. But it is typically not a problem because we can always find each other in the same section. When redirected to the other side of the room, it takes some effort for us to connect and distracts those around us.

Also, we often sit with several other couples from our small group so we can get a jump-start on our small group bible study discussion during the interaction times our pastor offers during the message. There was a bit of confusion as the various couples tried to find each other in the room.

So, as you can see, closing off a section can cause quite a commotion for those entering the worship service. I?m willing to give the ushers and programming team the benefit of the doubt and assume they have a good reason for closing our section. In fact, when I was on a church staff, we (the programming team) often closed sections in the room. The goal was to push people closer together so the room had a more intimate feel. Or, when serving communion, it made the distribution of the elements go quicker if people weren?t spread all over the room.

However, just as I never thought through the impact this might have on folks, I doubt the powers-that-be in my situation last week fully considered the potential fallout with our friends and us.

But what does all of this have to do with church communication? The ushers probably thought it was wise to close my section for whatever reason (black). It caused confusion and distraction for me and my friends (white). Neither of us are right and neither of us are wrong. It?s not black or white.

The longer I work with churches, the more I?m learning that things are seldom black or white. We often have to make decisions that go against what the ?experts? say is best. Sometimes the best choice doesn?t lie in one of the extremes, but in the gray area in the middle.[quote]Sometimes the best choice doesn?t lie in one of the extremes, but in the gray area in the middle.[/quote]

For example, is it better to have a bulletin or no bulletin?
Better for a church to have lots of events or to adopt a ?simple church? model?
Better to have one Facebook page for the whole church or better to let each ministry/campus/etc. have its own page?
Better to have ?less clutter, less noise? or to have a myriad of potential next steps from which folks can choose?
Better to be a ?branded house? or is it better to be ?a house of brands??
Better for the lead pastor to be the main spokesperson for the church or better for the organization to be the brand?
Better to offer a buffet of choices or better to go with the ?progressive dinner? mindset?
Better to hire full-time staff for every need or better to outsource?
Better to block off sections of the auditorium or better to let people sit where they are accustomed?

I have a preference on each of the topics above, but they are just that?my preferences. I could make a pretty compelling argument for either side of the decision on each of the topics I just listed. Yes, there are statistics and best practices that can help inform our decisions, and we can certainly learn from what is working for others. But there are other factors that need to be considered such as your church?s mission, your local context, and the needs of the people you are ministering to.

These decisions are rarely black or white.

So how do we know? If many of our decisions go against conventional wisdom or fall within some gray area of two extremes, how can we make sound decisions? Here are a few guiding principles:[quote]Your mission can help determine the right applications and processes for your organization.[/quote]

  1. Lean into your church?s mission. If your mission falls heavily on the discipleship side, for example, you might need to offer more of a buffet of Bible study options (black). Or, if the vision is to walk people step-by-step through their faith journey, maybe the opposite approach is better (white). Or, perhaps some mixture of the extremes (gray). Your mission can help determine the right applications and processes for your organization.
  2. Follow your leader. If your pastor is into social media, leverage it and allow his or her social networking behaviors to inform how you approach branding and marketing. Let the church social accounts support the pastor?s voice (black). On the other hand, if your pastor doesn?t get social networking, let the organization be more prominent and support his vision in a different way (white).
  3. Put relationships first. If your children?s minister strongly feels that he or she could benefit from the children?s ministry having their own Facebook presence, put that relationship first by supporting their desire even though most ?experts? would say it is better to have one overall account for the church. Help them set up their account and provide size-appropriate graphics for them. Come alongside them with guidelines and pointers.
  4. Study your demographics. Are your people using Instagram over Twitter? Then the smart decision is to go where they are already gathering.

Side note: Don?t make assumptions about your congregation. I?ve worked with many churches who say, ?our congregation is older, so we don?t need to worry about a mobile responsive site or anything like that because old people don?t use smartphones.? Did you know that grandparents are one of the fastest growing demographics for smart phone adoption and Facebook usage?[quote]Don?t make assumptions about your congregation.[/quote]

To go where your audience is, you?ve got to know where your audience is and that is where knowing your demographic is more important than what any expert says.

  1. Make subtle tweaks. My bent is to make a big, fast decision and run with it, making adjustments along the way. However, often it is easier to make small tweaks to the systems and processes you already have in place rather than reinvent the wheel.

For example, if you already have a worship guide, try using it in conjunction with a mobile app instead of replacing one with the other overnight. You?ll find your adoption rates are much higher and resistance is much lower.[quote]Often it is easier to make small tweaks to the systems and processes you already have in place rather than reinvent the wheel.[/quote]

  1. Navigate change slowly. When you do need to make a complete change, do it slowly. Make sure people understand the vision behind throwing out the hymnals, hypothetically speaking (because we know you?d never disrespect the hymnals, right?), in favor of putting lyrics up on the screens. Offer both options (neither black nor white) for a period of time during the transition.
  2. Measure everything and try split-testing. I?m a big fan of testing both options when an apparent black or white decision needs to be made. Do people like a website where they have to click a few times for information or should we put everything on the home page? Does our native iPhone app get more use from our people or do users prefer the mobile version of the website.

All of the communication ?experts? have opinions on the right way to do things, and we really like to tell you how it should be done. However, I?m learning that most decisions are not as simple as black or white, and there are many factors that inform decisions in each individual situation. So take solace if you need to go against the conventional wisdom. Take liberty in considering the merits of all sides in a decision. It?s okay to go with gray. Just don?t close my section on Sunday morning.

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One reply on “Chuck Scoggins: My One Thing”

I really appreciate that you advise concessions for people/staff, even when it goes against our own expert opinions or best practices (ex. an additional Facebook page for children’s ministries). It can be really easy to “set it and forget it” with our internal communications policies. Many of us in church communications have won successful battles against “the way we’ve always DONE it” but are precariously close to becoming the people who say “the way we always DO it.”

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