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Leaders claim churches don’t communicate

Charles Niedringhaus

SUMMARY: According to a recent survey, United Methodist pastors and leaders give the denomination low marks for communicating to them about church programs and ministries. 

Forty-four percent of respondents describe church communications efforts as “fair” or “poor,” compared to 56 percent “good” or “excellent.” As a result, 38 percent rate their overall knowledge of programs and ministries at a similar low level.

Unfortunately, these evaluations fall further when individual program areas are measured, particularly those that involve some of the denomination’s highly visible ministries.

Limited Program Knowledge 
While knowledge of United Methodist programs is important to their role, more than 3,000 pastors and local church leaders surveyed believe their knowledge is limited. Among the topics on which respondents feel least educated are those associated with the “four areas of focus” and other high-visibility ministries.

 

Percent of Respondents Rating Knowledge of UMC Programs as Fair or Poor

Pastors 

Lay Leader or Finance

Teacher, Leader, Other Volunteer

Welcoming

28

40

41

Leadership Development

32

47

46

Ministries with Poor

48

61

57

Youth Ministries

49

61

56

Global Health

51

67

65

Church Revitalization

52

62

63

New Church Development

53

69

69

Economic and Social Justice

54

63

59

Environmental Protection

57

70

69

 

About one-third of pastors and half of church leaders say they are unsure where to go for information on programs and ministries. 

A common thread in the study’s open-ended question suggests pastors and leaders “don’t know what they don’t know.” Many pastors comment that Web-site navigation and structure make it difficult to learn about new programs and ministries or major changes to existing ones. They suggest annual conferences develop methods to “push” needed information to them. Expecting them to find the information is too much of a burden. 

Key UMC Information Sources
Pastors and leaders cite Interpreter magazine as their most important source of program information. Pastors also mention Circuit Rider as a major provider, while leaders consider The United Methodist Reporter the next best place for ministry information.

 

Percent of Respondents Indicating Very or Somewhat Important

Pastors

Lay Leader or Finance

Teacher or Leader

Other

Interpreter

82

56

53

51

Circuit Rider

72

8

9

8

Good News

30

10

12

10

United Methodist Reporter

37

26

24

22

New World Outlook

23

15

18

17

Response

21

21

25

24

Newscope

18

7

7

6

United Methodist Men

15

11

10

9

 

Electronic media, such as Web sites and e-mail, also are important sources of program news. About 35 percent of pastors visit their annual conference Web site five or more times a month for information, while about 20 percent visit www.umc.org or agency Web sites with the same frequency. Leaders are relatively infrequent visitors to United Methodist-affiliated Web sites with approximately 30 percent visiting annual conference or board Web sites two or more times a month.

Preferred Communications Method
Despite the mixed marks for Internet-based communications, pastors and leaders prefer to receive information by e-mail or through e-newsletters. While the numbers may reflect the fact that evaluators conducted the study online, the results mirror those from other projects, including some by phone.

 

Preferred Way of Receiving Information on Ministries (%)

Pastors

Lay Leader or Finance

Teacher or Leader

Other

E-mail and E-newsletters

44

43

45

42

Central UMC Web Site

16

14

12

13

Annual Conference Web Sites

13

6

5

5

Monthly Printed Publication

9

11

10

13

Mail and Newsletters

5

10

11

10

Agency and Board Web Sites

4

1

1

1

Agency and Board Web Sites

4

1

1

1

Events

1

3

3

3


Implications for United Methodists
Communications within the denomination rely heavily on pastor and leader efforts to obtain information. Annual conferences and boards may believe putting information on Web sites suffices; however, the study indicates these methods are not working. Poor Web-site organization, ineffective search mechanisms and lack of knowledge of what is on a site have a great impact on effectiveness. Organizations need to look at their communications as an integrated whole. The various pieces must work together with the Web site as a depository of well-structured information. Many Web sites reflect a “build it and they will come” attitude. Now, however, e-mail, e-newsletters and social media, such as Twitter, should supplement Web sites to help get information to users on a timely basis.