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Getting the entire congregation involved in communication efforts

 

By Eric Seiberling

In a symphony, everyone plays a role and each instrument type has a different purpose. Drums keep rhythm. Horns create drama. Strings or wind instruments often carry the melody, while the conductor keeps everything in sync. It is impossible for one person to conduct and play multiple instruments to deliver an amazing piece of music like Handel's Messiah or Beethoven's 5th Symphony. While it is possible for one individual to do it all with modern equipment and software, it would be a monumental effort to make it all work.

Same is true for church communication. Many small churches expect their pastor and church secretary to handle every aspect of church communication both inside and outside the walls of the church. Unfortunately, most small church staffs rarely possesses the tools or the time needed to effectively communicate with the congregation or the community.

Just like symphonies need people to operate in different roles, churches need to break down and share the work with volunteers.

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Develop the editorial calendar.

An editorial calendar provides a guide of what will be communicated, how it will be communicated and when people will see it. Bring together a group of volunteers to develop a detailed calendar.

  • Start with the church calendar with all of the major church holidays and seasons. The Official United Methodist Program Calendar is a helpful tool to guide by providing program suggestions, liturgical colors, and dates of special days in the life of the church.
  • Overlay the sermon schedule and any major activities of the church by week.
  • Brainstorm what communication materials you need to support the events. For example, an event may require a large poster to hang in local businesses, a flyer for congregation members to share with their friends and neighbors, several social media posts and so on.
  • Determine the dates when each material needs published.
  • Publish a shared calendar or spreadsheet across the team to keep everyone in sync. Here is a sample schedule in GoogleDocs.

Identify a coordinator.

Identify who will coordinate the work getting done. Often, this will be a staff person, but could also be a passionate volunteer that can act as the conductor to get the work done and published on time. They will also often publish materials on the church's official social media accounts that others in the congregation can share and like.

Create some basic graphics standards.

Churches need a few design standards if they want to democratize design across the church. Pick one basic layout that can be used across communication elements, pick two fonts (a headline and a body copy font), and pick 3 colors (one primary and two accent colors) that you will use. Outlaw clip art and word art. Gather together everyone working on communication efforts to brainstorm and align on the basic standards.

Select "Campaign" Photos.

Looking at your communication plan, focus on creating groups of photos that fit for a sermon series, an event, or a special occasion. Start with several stock photo sites that have the type of images that work for your church and then select photos as a team to ensure consistency.

Gather the articles to support each activity.

Today, different committee chairs or volunteers will create articles for the church newsletter or bulletin. Ask contributors to post the articles in Google Docs, Office 365, or Dropbox. Recruit retired English teachers, journalism or communication majors, and individuals who report every mistake in the bulletin as "editors" to polish and focus the writing on the core message.

Produce the communication materials to support it.

Find an individual or two who feel comfortable designing some basic materials online. It is now easier than ever to create great looking materials in just a few minutes. Tools like Canva.com (all sorts of materials), Biteable.com (for videos), Visme.co (for visual information like infographics) and many other online design tools make it easy. They are available at a minimal cost (or sometimes free for churches). Listen to this MyCom podcast on storytelling tools to learn about a number of free online tools to help amplify your church's message. Dan Wunderlich, host of the MyCom podcast created an awesome video tutorial on how to use free design editors to make social media graphics.

Schedule the initial post.

Work ahead with the materials and then use the scheduling function in Facebook, your website's blog, and so on to schedule them to post ahead of time. This will keep a regular drumbeat of communications.

Get the congregation involved.

Make it easy for the congregation to spread the word and then make it an expectation of your regular attenders. This is where most congregations fall short. Make it very simple for them to act.

Start with Prayer Walking. Ask regular attenders to pray for their community as they walk, ride or drive through their neighborhoods. Any communication effort must be grounded in prayer to be successful.

Forward text messages to 2-3 people. Churches can set up group text messaging services and ask people to sign up to receive updates. Ask congregation members to forward a group text message sent by the church to 2 or 3 of their friends. One college group did this every Saturday morning to 2 friends and the group grew from 20 to over 75 in less than 6 months.

Recruit social media ambassadors. Find 10 to 15 people who are active on social media to follow all of the church accounts and share the church's social media posts. This can be a tremendous amplifier for church communication efforts and everyone can participate.

Encourage social media shares. New Facebook changes to the Newsfeed now punish organizations that specifically ask for Likes and Shares within a post. But Facebook can't stop the oral ask. So, at the end of church or choir practice, ask everyone to get out their phones and share a post that has historically done really well. You may consider boosting the post if it's particularly share-worthy or invites a lot of conversation. Explain that in order to be seen on Facebook, organizations now have to be even more engaging (more shares and comments as opposed to cursory likes).

Write reviews of the church. Ask members of the congregation to write a Google, Facebook or Yelp Review of the church. Honesty and authenticity is important. Target 10 or more reviews to help with church SEO efforts.

Welcome new neighbors.Create a new neighbor welcome package that church members can drop off when someone moves in. Provide a simple script to help people know what to say.

Practice makes perfect.

While this could feel a little overwhelming, start small and then grow people's involvement. Pick one event and follow this approach. As people become more comfortable, expand to cover more activities and involve more people until it supports the entire editorial calendar. This will help engage the church to spread the Gospel to your community in a meaningful and relevant way.

Eric Seiberling is a digital nomad blogging on church effectiveness, marketing and social media at www.flockology.com. He is also a consultant assisting Fortune 500 companies and non-profits to facilitate change using a people-centric approach.