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Plan a balanced Communications Strategy


Communications Strategy isn’t the only thing a church does, but it has a way of revealing what a congregation values – and where its future lies.

Churches also engage with new members, train their people in spiritual disciplines, raise up effective leaders, pay special attention to young adults, and do mission. They worship, they extend pastoral care, they educate, and they transform lives.

In other words, a church has a full plate. Communications Strategy tends to shape what gets on that plate.

Think of it this way: A church has three audiences. Ideally, it seeks balance as it allocates resources to each one. When the allocation is out of whack, negative consequences can ensue.

Audience 1: Inside the walls

These are the members, constituents, financial supporters, people who consider themselves aligned with you. They self-identify as part of your church. These are the people you know by name.

Audience 2: Aware of the walls

These are the people who know you exist and have some idea what you do. They play sports on your fields. They attend your concerts and harvest festivals. They think well of you because of what you do in the community. They aren’t affiliated with you, but with appropriate encouragement, they would consider drawing closer.

Audience 3: Beyond the walls

This is the larger community, the many thousands of people who are in your “draw area” but don’t know you exist. They are different from you: younger, browner, less affluent, perhaps less educated. The majority of them have no affiliation with any faith community.

The easiest conversation to have is within the walls. You have a history of speaking to each other. You share a common language. Over the years, you have developed media that connect, from digital newsletters to prayer chains to Sunday morning conversation to special appeals.

The problem, of course, is that this group is static in terms of size, and mostly likely is shrinking. If this is the only conversation you have, your future is dim. An effective Communications Strategy looks at how much time and money you spend on this internal conversation. In many congregations, it’s 100%. That’s a gross imbalance.

A better balance would be at least 1/3 for each audience. In fact, if you truly want to grow your church and serve your community, you will put the bulk of your communications resources into connecting with Audience 3: Beyond the Walls.

You can’t just send them the same newsletter you use with Audience 1. They will delete it on receipt. Each non-internal audience needs messages and delivery methods that are appropriate to who they are. E-mail is a good method, if the message is well-planned and well-executed.

For example, after you do some research, you will know that your surrounding community has certain issues, such as quality of local schools, jobs and financial insecurity, and crime. Or another set. The point is, their issues probably won’t be your issues. You can’t just project yourselves onto them. They aren’t like you.

Once you know their issues, or needs, you can speak to them. Not by announcing Sunday worship plans, but by writing a white paper on “six steps to making your child’s better,” then holding a conversation to flesh it out, led by an expert. Become involved in their lives, rather than hoping they will become involved in your congregation’s life.

You will need their email addresses to reach them, and your file of addresses will need to be large (several thousand) and constantly growing. You can’t buy lists; you must add one name at a time. That means you start creating events that can serve as address-collection.

Be sure to inform your congregation what you are doing and why. They aren’t “taking a back seat” as much as they are sharing their church with the community. They will see leaders doing new things and new media being developed, such as videos of your pastor speaking about local schools.

Your aim, of course, is to help people, not enroll them as members. Some will want to know more about you. But they aren’t likely to seek that knowing in Sunday worship. They will connect with you in different ways – disconcerting perhaps for people who think Sunday worship is everything, but eventually enlivening for all.

A balanced Communications Strategy says you value diversity, you want to engage the larger world, and you are open to fresh ideas. A narrow strategy focused mainly on Audience 1 says that you are narrow and stale.

Speaking to the larger community will change you. Speaking only to yourselves will change nothing, no matter how effectively you do it.

About the Author

Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is the publisher of A Fresh Day online magazine, author of On a Journey and two national newspaper columns.


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