The challenges of church communication

Church communication involves dealing with constant tensions… a pull between either/or. Rather than seeing these tensions as problems, perhaps we can replace “or” with “and.” By re-framing the issue, we begin to deal productively with the challenges.

Quality or and ministry

The level of quality in communication is limited… or set free by the folks who actually do the work.

Let’s take me and the First Baptist Church website as an example. I think we’ve got a pretty good website. But if it were up to me to write all the code that makes it work, the quality of our web experience would be significantly diminished. Thanks be to God, we have several folks who volunteer their time and expertise to write the code and work their magic so that the website is attractive and functional. It is my job to provide some general direction and encouragement, and then get out of their way and let their gifts soar.

In other areas, however, the lack of gifted people limits the possibilities. Then my job turns to recruiting and training. The quality of what we do may not be up to the standards I’d like for a while. But we never lower the bar. Rather, we hold up good examples, model desired behavior, and take advantage of the opportunity to ignite a spark of service and ministry in someone else.

In this context, ministry is pointing out, and sometimes creating opportunities for people to use their time, talents and energy in service to God and others; encouraging and empowering people to act; and then helping them to reflect on how their specific activities are part of the greater work of the Kingdom of God.

An overload of communications

Advancing technology or and limited money

Technology is only a portion of the communication pie. But it seems to take up more than it’s share of energy, especially if you’re involved in a broadcast ministry or do live streaming. It is a full-time job just to keep up with advances in communication technology. But we’ll never have enough money to constantly acquire the latest and greatest toys.

Here’s how we cope: get free subscriptions to Broadcast Engineering, and Post magazines; regularly visit websites like Creative Planet Network, Streaming Media Producer, iMedia Connection, and Fast Company’s Create site; connect with other communication folks in your area, or through the Metro Media Ministers Association (if you’re a fulltime church staffer); attend technology shows and fairs such as the annual National Association of Broadcasters expo in April; and find reliable technology vendors who will listen and work with you rather than always trying to sell you the latest and greatest.

Learn all you can about what’s going on. Process that knowledge through the filter of your local congregation’s mission, priorities and budget. Keep in mind that the purchase is just the first and easiest step in implementation. The hard work begins when the shiny new toy arrives and you have to make it work and play nicely with your other toys… and teach all the volunteers how to operate it.

So you’ve done your research, talked with others who are traveling the path, got your budget approved, and made your decision. Now… boldly take a step, knowing that the technology you choose today will be obsolete tomorrow. And the manufacturer will likely cease supporting it within 3-5 years.

Deal with it. It’s the culture in which we live these days.

Autonomy of the ministries or and coordinated effort

I’m a Baptist. We talk a lot about the “autonomy of the local congregation” – which means that each church governs itself and there’s no diocese or religious regional manager to tell us what to do.

In many churches, there are a handful… or perhaps dozens of ministries that operate on the same principle. If the Lefthanded Bowlers Ministry wants to put on an event and publish a brochure about it, they often forge ahead with little consultation on how their event and the communication about it impacts the whole church.

For better or worse, that’s the culture of most churches. How do we cope as church communicators?

At Richmond’s First Baptist Church, we tried to make it easy by providing some publicity resources on our website. Those resources include some guidelines for promoting events. We use the church calendar as the central clearing house. And we offer the Communication Ministry as the one-stop-shopping-center for getting the word out. It works with varying success. But it often gives us an opportunity to at least make suggestions.

Event promotion or and branding

An effective communication ministry involves much more than promoting and publicizing events. But it does include publicity, there’s no getting around that. So the trick is to take every opportunity, when publicizing an event, to connect the dots and put the event in the context of what the whole church is about.

Branding is an imperfect word to describe what we do as church communicators. I like the way Mark Borchert put it…

“Communication involves the shared understanding of a group. This alternative understanding of communication focuses attention of the issue of identity. Communication questions no longer center on imparting information but on representing the core values, beliefs, and behaviors of the group.

• Effective communication grows out of the identity and context of an individual church.

• Effective communication encompasses every aspect of church life, including worship services and events, facilities and decor, promotional material and websites, and the stories that members tell about their church.

• Effective communication involves everyone in a church, not merely the church staff.

• Effective communication focuses attention on values and stories rather than only on conveying information.”

Mark Borchert, associate professor and chair of the Communication department at Carson-Newman College, in an article in “The Doorpost”- the weekly newsletter of the Center for Congregational Health, August 20, 2012

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