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Strategic Communications for Churches: Start Here

strategic communication

The last thing many churches want to be compared to is a business. Yet there are some valuable insights that can be taken from business playbooks. One of those lessons is: communicate strategically.

If we value those with whom we communicate, it’s worth taking the time to be intentional in how we communicate with them. Strategic communication is a purposeful approach to communicating. It requires analysis and planning, and while that might seem daunting at first, it’s actually pretty straightforward. Here’s how:

Know Your “Why”

Start by articulating your “Why:” Why does your church exist? Knowing this is the key to presenting your church in an authentic manner. For example, was your church created to serve the inner city? If so, that may change where you communicate, and the message to convey. Was your church created primarily with a service mission? Ultimately all your communication and your actions should relate back in some way to why you exist. Your “why” makes a difference.

Determine Your Target

Differences in age, culture and income are just a few of the many things that influence preferences for communication. And because resources for congregations are often limited, you are probably going to be more effective by focusing your resources on particular audiences. For example, if your church is in a large metropolitan area but your funds are limited, it might make sense to choose one section of the metro area on which to focus. Or, if your church is heavily focused on hands-on mission work, perhaps you’ll want to focus on recruiting like-minded individuals to become members.

Choose Your Channel

There are so many ways to deliver communication today! We’ve expanded from snail mail, flyers, and landline phone calls to email, websites, texts, and cellphone apps. Some of the newer technologies have taken hold because the cellphone has replaced landlines in many households. This reliance on cell phones means people don’t have to be in their homes or offices for us to reach them, making it easier to get in touch in a timely fashion.

Cellphone-Only Households

Wireless Substitution: Early Release of Estimates from the National Health Interview Survey, July-December 2013 from National Center for Health Statistics

While some of these newer technologies have already become commonplace among churches, others still have a long way to go before the majority of congregations have adopted them. Texting is a perfect example of a newer, less-adopted technology that has great potential to improve your church communication. Why? Because it works. Consider that 85 percent of Americans own a cell phone, and of those, 80 percent utilize text messaging. Now consider that 95 percent of text messages are read within five minutes and you realize that texting is one of the most effective and timely ways to deliver a message.

It’s tempting to use a one-size-fits-all approach, but don’t do it! Certain demographic groups will respond better to some forms of communication than others.

Demographic groups

Once you know your target audience you can pick the most appropriate channels. For example, if you’re trying to recruit young adults, you’re not likely to have success by advertising in the newspaper or posting flyers. More specifically, you can focus efforts on social media: Twitter, Instagram or Facebook for teenagers and college students, and LinkedIn for young professionals. For older audiences, you might promote church activities on MeetUp.

Also: Choose Your Channel for the type of content in your message.

The channels you use to communicate should also be appropriate for the type of content. External vs. internal, long vs. short, visual vs. written, small group vs. entire membership — these are all potential differentiation points. If you have rich visual content, Instagram is a great way to spark engagement with your church. Conversely, if your graphics are just average and you must rely on written content instead, Facebook or Twitter would be more appropriate.

For longer content — like a pastoral blog post — it’s appropriate to post it on the church website, as well as to send a one-paragraph summary and a link to the article via email to those who have signed up to receive your emails. Internal communication belongs on private channels such as a password-protected section of your website or a members-only Facebook page. It can also be distributed to members directly via automated phone, text, or emails.

Communication that’s specific to a particular group should be sent directly to those group members instead of your entire congregation. Particularly if it is time-sensitive, phone and text may be the best message. If it is less urgent, email may suffice. A prayer circle triggered by automated phone, text and email messages is a great example of how you can reach a large group quickly and effectively. Using the same technology, you can blast important messages that are relevant to your entire congregation — such as weather cancellation notices.

Here are some key considerations that will help you decide what method to use.

Is the message urgent?

Automated texts, phone calls, as well as social media, are great for reaching everyone quickly.

Do recipients of your message need to be able to respond or discuss further?

If you use automated texts you can ask recipients to respond to your message. With email messages, you can include a link for more information or a phone number that can be called if recipients have questions.

Do members need to be able to retrieve/review the information in the message later?

If the content is not easy to remember, send it in an email or text message, or post it on the website or social media sites. Phone messages are not as visible, so best to avoid them in this situation.

In a Nutshell

  1. Make sure your communication is grounded by your “Why.”
  2. Determine who your target audience is.
  3. Choose communication channels that make sense for your target audience and the type of content in your message.

This article doesn’t go into all the details of communicating strategically, but approaching communication thoughtfully and purposely is the first step. If you’d like to learn more, Phone Tree offers a number of communication guides at no cost. You can start here with a free download of the Re-engaging Millennials guide.