By: Susan Becher Schultz, Communications Coordinator for the LCMS NJ District
When approaching the ever-evolving world of digital, the task of putting a digital communications strategy in place at your church likely seems completely overwhelming. The questions I hear around putting a strategy in place go a little something like this:
Only in this case the problem persists and worsens. If we reject all forms of digital communication, we reject opportunities to connect with not only the outside community but on another level our own internal church communities. There becomes a ‘them’ that likes one way of communicating, and a ‘they’ that likes another. Good communication, digital and nondigital, is inclusive, authentic, and evolves to continue to meet the needs of people. The goal here is to create healthy communication in our churches that loops everyone in, not only those who love a hard copy and not only those who prefer to use online giving. Good communication is meaningful and designed for everyone.
Start Where You Are
The key to finding a healthy way to communicate that works for your church is about finding balance; this isn’t a race or competition to be the fanciest high-tech superstar church, but to find the best ways to communicate with the congregation, the community, and those you hope to bring through your door on Sunday morning. People can easily see through when you are trying too hard, but on the other hand, there is a level of expectation as we come into 2020 to have a functional website, a digital newsletter, and at least one social media platform utilized regularly.
This is where I extend an invitation to start looking at what is already in place at your congregation. What is already in place that can be improved upon? Most likely there is a website, but maybe it hasn’t been updated in a number of years. Maybe there is a printed newsletter sent out monthly that does a great job communicating to some members, but likely there are many who prefer to view everything on their mobile device. Set aside time to write out the communication channels you currently have in place and keep these in mind as we move to the next step.
Find the Right People
Along the same line of starting with what you’ve got, it’s a good idea to start with who you have as well. All churches are different; maybe you have an employee or a few employees interested in expanding their job roles into digital communication. Maybe you have congregation members that would love to help out in this arena. Maybe there’s a high school student who is looking for an internship to add to their resume (call it something fancy like Digital Communications Manager). There may be one person interested in social media, and another in the website, or one person who would love to do it all.
Think through who you view as a good fit for this role, but also consider if this person is skilled, willing to commit, and has the time to give to this role. Extend a friendly invitation to this person to join the communications team, but make sure you give the space for them to say no or take time to think it through. You will need someone entirely dedicated and interested for this to be successful.
Keep in mind it’s best to keep this team small, whether it’s one person who has the skills to manage all channels of communication, or 2-4 people who agree to take on different channels, we want as few cooks in the kitchen as possible. Clear communication easily gets bogged down if too many people are in the room giving their thoughts and opinions. By having only the pastor and communication team/person involved, strategy is much easier to discuss, put in place, and improve upon going forward.
If you haven’t caught on yet, it’s best if the pastor is not in charge of the entire communications strategy. By putting a team or point person together, it takes a huge workload off of the pastor, and allows the pastor to attend meetings and provide content, but otherwise focus on their many other responsibilities. Once a team is in place it’s time to move to the next step.
Put a Simple Strategy in Place
You’ve taken stock of your current communication platforms and gathered the right people, now what? This is a great time to contact your team or communications person and set your first meeting time. Even if you have one hired communications person, meeting with them on a regular basis is necessary to have a successful digital communications strategy. It’s a good idea to pick a time and day that is good for all involved parties on a recurring basis. If you have volunteers on your team, I suggest once a month in the long-term and possibly every two weeks for the first couple months as the ball gets rolling. If your communications person is a hired employee, ongoing weekly or bi-weekly meetings may work best to keep progress on track. This isn’t going to be a one-time meeting, but a continuous effort in order to improve and maintain communications on a regular basis. It’s imperative to continually improve which may mean phasing out what’s not working and trying something new that does.
This first meeting is a great time to invite me as the district Communications Coordinator to join in. Not only is it my job to effectively communicate for the district, but also to provide tools and support to congregations as we navigate the modern world of communications. I am happy to take a look at your current communication channels and help guide the conversation during the first meeting.
This first meeting will lay the foundation for your wider communication strategy, so it’s important to have a very focused first meeting. Below is a list of suggestions for the first meeting agenda:
If you’d like me to join in for a few meetings after the first to review new content and communication channels, I’m happy to help. I do expect within a few months your team will be up and running on their own. As you continue to meet with your communication team, slowly but surely a full communications strategy will form as your team or point person tracks engagement and learns what’s working, and not working, at your church. While it may take time to develop the team and make sure the right people are involved, it is entirely possible to have a manageable communications strategy where the pastor is involved on a very small level.
While I am fully aware the phrase ‘digital communications strategy’ may come across as menacing, when it’s broken down into small steps and customized for your church it’s all completely manageable. The beautiful thing about digital communications is we now have the full capability to connect with our communities in a more direct, meaningful, and far-reaching way than ever before. Now is a better time than ever to get started.
I hope you’ve found the information in this blog helpful! Keep an eye out for more blogs from me that will dive deeper into free/affordable communication tools to use, comparing social media platforms, using analytics, website design, creating digital newsletters, and other relevant information on communications in the church. If you have a question, a suggestion for a blog topic, or would like to loop me in on a meeting with your communications team feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.