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Connecting with the “unplugged” in your church

By Eric Seiberling

Your goal is to make sure every church member is informed about meetings, events and volunteer opportunities. While today's technology allows for richer communication options than ever before, studies have shown that "the digital divide is still a very real issue."

According to former Mashable writer Alex Fitzpatrick, "while 91 percent of Americans as a whole have access to wired broadband speeds, there is a very different reality if you lack a college education, if you're poor or if you're Hispanic or African American." The same disparity exists in rural and urban areas versus the suburbs.

Here are ways to improve your communication with those who are "unplugged."

Reinvent the church bulletin

The format of the church bulletin has remained relatively unchanged over the past century, except from moving from hand-drawn art to clip art. Take a fresh look at the bulletin and redesign it from the ground up. Think about the experience from when people receive it from an usher, use in a worship service and possibly save it afterward.

According to a survey by Thom Rainer, CEO of LifeWay Christian resources, congregants want a high-quality bulletin with the order of worship, sermon notes/outline, attendance/stewardship statistics and brief announcements. For the announcements, focus on the key three to four opportunities to which you want worshippers to respond and ensure they have a way to act on it.

Make pre-worship announcements

Many churches take the first 15 minutes of their worship service to review the announcements in detail. Use PowerPoint to enhance announcements. Create an "announcement reel" to play 15 minutes before the service starts. Keep announcements simple and well designed. Limit in-person announcements to the most critical items for the church. Use a "ministry spotlight" approach instead of reading announcements that are already in the bulletin.

Spruce up church bulletin boards

Often, church bulletin boards contain a mishmash of different ministries and activities. A single bulletin board needs to focus on the single objective of communicating the WHO, WHAT, WHY, HOW, WHEN and WHERE for a single event or ministry. Design each bulletin board as a billboard for a specific ministry. Can people walk by it at a fast pace and get the basic idea? If they stop, will they find enough information to grab their interest and move them to take the next step? Use the same concepts of designing a great billboard, get creative and provide a way for people to get more information using a take-away brochure.

Create a congregational post office (or c-mail)

Many churches are stopping residential mailing due to the rising cost of postage. One way to save on postage costs is to create a church mail system. Purchase one or more mobile vertical file carts. Create a vertical file for each household in your church and color code them based on self-identified interests to make it easier to target your information delivery. Use this system to distribute fliers and other relevant information to each household. Check the folders every week. Follow up with those who may have been away from the church for several weeks as a way to improve pastoral care. This approach can save postage costs while improving communication and accountability.

Take the time to identify church member communication preferences

Some people love receiving information in the mail; others would rather get their information electronically. Create digital and physical mailing lists and send the information to members in the manner they prefer.

Focus direct mail with the right message for the right audience

Direct mail can be costly. Plan your mailing calendar for the full year and determine how you can combine mailings to improve efficiencies. Take the time to create clear and compelling mailers to make it worth the cost to send it. Mail materials only to whom it is relevant based on their needs or life stage. Learn more tips for reaching people through their mailboxes.

Summarize the state of the church using a quarterly report

Create a quarterly church report that summarizes accomplishments of the past quarter and highlights what will happen over the next three months. Create a worship section to highlight upcoming messages, church seasons or sermon series. Include a report on attendance, giving and the church budget. Present educational, mission and outreach opportunities and provide methods for individuals to sign up. Create this document to distribute physically via church "c-mail" or through individual email. These reports will be a great resource for writing your church history.

No one should be left out of the communication loop at church. Take the time to identify individual communication preferences and information needs and design the right strategy to reach them. The "unplugged" are not difficult to reach, but you must be intentional and focused to connect with them.

Watch for Part 2 of this series next month to learn how to create a comprehensive digital strategy to communicate with your congregation and to help those who are not "tech-savvy."