Pastors and other ministers want to know the best practices of a healthy church. Here’s one: healthy churches communicate well. They recognize it is almost impossible to communicate too much.
Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If it’s so simple, why don’t more congregations do it well? One reason is that they fail to see communication is more than making announcements or designing a Facebook page. In fact, it is more than any one task. It is a core process with many, related components. The full process includes:
- Quality of decisions. A good communication process begins before there is anything to announce. This fact is particularly true when communication includes information about a change or something new. Church initiatives and changes almost always derive from a decision. Quality decisions include as many people as possible in the development stage. They are collaborative.
You may wonder how joint decisions are a part of communication.The more individuals included in the development of the decision, the more people who are involved in the creation of the information itself. Whether it is a new ministry, a change in an existing schedule, or a policy revision, invite people to work with church leaders. By doing so, you also enlist a wider group of informed advocates who can speak for the decision and answer questions from people you might never encounter. Participant buy-in is some of the most effective communication possible.
- Quantity of messages. Communication specialists estimate that it takes telling a message sixteen times for the information to spread throughout an organization. The number may seem like overkill, but it rarely is. The larger your church, the more you should consider sixteen times as a bare minimum.
Today, people get their news from a variety of sources: Twitter, TV, websites, etc.In the same way, church members get their information about congregational life in many ways. Therefore, effective church communication is multi-channel: Facebook page, twitter, newsletter, group texts, website, and targeting small group leaders who can help disseminate information. Simply making sixteen announcements on Sunday morning will not get the message to everyone. By increasing the number of communication channels, you improve the likelihood of reaching more people.
A corollary of this principle is the need for appropriate lead time to get information spread throughout a congregation. It’s difficult to communicate important matters sixteen times in a week. If you have information vital to a decision, a new ministry, or a schedule change, it’s better to delay a target date in order to communicate thoroughly than to abbreviate communication in order to meet a deadline .Start early enough to give your message time to permeate the church family.
- Clear and accurate information. Accurate facts and clear information are basic components of healthy communication. The more channels you use to disseminate information, the harder it is to keep facts accurate across them all. One person may be responsible for posting an event to Facebook, while another develops the newsletter. A third sends out an email blast. We increase the chance for factual mistakes every time we add a person to the list of those responsible for getting the word out. The process of checking and rechecking times and locations is as mundane as it is important. Facts must be accurate. Changing the time of a meeting or event may not seem like a significant issue to you, but it may be to individuals who are embarrassed that they arrived late because they received inaccurate communication.
- Consistent Practices. The next component of healthy communication is the alignment of what we do and what we say. If you don’t see this effort as communication, consider an incident involving my mother in law years ago. She attended a church meeting where the members voted to spend money on resurfacing the parking lot. When she left the meeting, she realized the parking lot had already been resurfaced. You may think this is not a communication problem, but the message she “heard” was that the congregation’s decision didn’t matter. Policies that are unequally applied, procedures that are ignored, and information provided to a few — all carry damaging, unspoken messages which undermine relationships and trust.
All of these components are parts of the same process. They are interrelated and require constant coordination. Staff meetings and calendar checks bore most ministers. I can’t imagine any person who felt the call to ministry anticipated spending hours each week in such dull and ordinary tasks. There is a way, however, to view attention to these components of the communication process as a higher calling. Try seeing them as a part of congregational care. Every time you practice effective communication you are safeguarding the congregation from many, self-inflicted injuries and from potential conflict.
If these tasks seem too simple to be vital, check in for Part Two, when we see how ignoring pieces of the communication process leads to avoidable problems in a congregation. We will also see how paying attention to a healthy communication process is easier than repairing the problems of failing to do so.
Thanks to fellow CHC Consultant, Bill Owen for his collaborative insights on communication.