An average person receives 121 emails and 1,831 texts per day. For your church, it makes it all the more difficult to cut through the noise and stand out. That is where having a powerful church communication strategy will help.
“Having a communication strategy and plan is essential to ensure that your messaging is consistent and tells a unified story that ties back to your overall mission and objectives,” says Dan Krause, chief executive of United Methodist Communications.
As Krause suggests, a powerful church communication strategy will:
- Ensure consistent messaging
- Keep the messages aligned with the church’s vision
- Engage the audience better and keep them involved with the church
This post will outline how you can get started with improving or building a communication strategy for your church.
What is a church communication strategy?
A church communication strategy is not just limited to pastoral communication. It also considers all the internal and external communication sent (and received) by the church.
A basic communication plan should give a detailed breakdown of
- what(how) to say
- when to say it
- whom to say it to
To make your church communication more effective, you can go one step further.
You can analyze the responses received and use them to inform future communication efforts. E.g., if text messages get better responses, then more communication is sent via texts.
It is the latter portion (the analysis and update) that makes your strategy unique to your church. It will help you understand:
- What kind of communication your congregation prefers (e.g., do reminders and update work?)
- What channels of communication get a better response (e.g., do text messages perform better than phone calls?)
- When is the best time to send messages for maximum impact (e.g., instead of reaching out just on Sundays, can middle-of-the-week text improve engagement?).
Based on the above insights, you can craft a church communication plan that is aligned with your mission and vision.
What options do you have for church communication?
Before building a strategy, it is important to understand the various kinds of communication modes available to you.
Knowing what they are, and understanding how they can impact your audience (church members), can help you craft a more effective communication plan.
There are two kinds of church communication. Here is a quick look at how they differ.
|Type of church communication
|Sent to members of the church or those who are already aware of the church and its activities
|* Engages the audience
* Brings the congregation closer
* Keeps the staff aware and up-to-date of the church’s activities
|* Pastoral communication
* Donor communications,
* Volunteer recruitment,
* General updates and reminders
|Sent to a new audience or target groups who are not members of the church (yet)
|* Boosts membership
* Gives visibility to church and its activities
* Provides opportunities for a new audience to engage with the church
|* Social media updates,
* Promoting upcoming events and sermons,
* Catchy signage
* Appealing website
All communication that is focused on informing members of the church (or those visitors who are already aware of the church), falls under internal communication.
The primary goal of this communication is to keep the congregation engaged with the church and boost their involvement in various activities (charities and fundraising events).
Here are a few examples of internal church communication.
- Communication to volunteers
- Updates to congregation
- Pastoral communications
- Donor emails and newsletters
Some of the popular internal communication channels are:
All church communication that is focused on reaching an audience outside of your congregation (or in the community you are trying to reach) becomes external communication.
External church communication aims to promote the church and its events to the outside world. This helps in giving it more visibility and thus boosts new member registration.
Popular examples of external communication are:
- Social media updates about events
- Advertising upcoming sermons and events
- Updates on church website
- Calling for prayer requests outside the congregation
The most relevant communication channels here are:
- Social media,
- Church website,
- Signages and posters
- Word of mouth
- Referral (walk-in with a friend)
Note that the channels of communication are not mutually exclusive. That is, a website can just as well be used for internal communication. This list is to ensure that your plan makes the best use of these channels in both forms of communication.
A good church communication strategy strikes a balance between both.
More importantly, it focuses on tying both forms of communication together and uses storytelling to present a compelling & consistent messaging.
Problems in executing an effective communication strategy
Despite having a good grasp (and having a plan) for church communication, most churches still have problems executing it. Here are the common hurdles they face:
- Lack of resources (time and staff)
- Absence of digital infrastructure
- Communication efforts take a backseat when compared to other pastoral duties
- No expertise in handling communication technology
Identifying which of these problems drastically impair the effectiveness of your communication strategy can be a good first step in improving it.
|Problems that hinder communication
|Lack of resources (time and staff)
|Actively recruit more volunteers to help with outreach duties
Focus on improving communication around volunteer recruitment
Adopt automation (start with scheduling bulk texts or setting up autoresponders) to take care of the mundane details
|Absence of digital infrastructure
|Run focused fundraising campaigns to raise money for setting one up.
You can begin with just church communication software and take it from there.
Pick a tool that allows you to grow without heavy upfront investment. A tool like CallHub allows for a pay-as-you-go pricing model that is easy to start and scalable as requirements grow.
|No expertise in handling communication technology
|Use simple tools like CallHub that need less training and can get you started instantly
For instance, though most churches use websites and Facebook pages for communication, less than half of them use a text messaging service.
Since text messages are more efficient in engaging the congregation, adding a church texting service can drastically improve your communication efforts.
A major roadblock to making the change is of course, the learning curve – learning to use a new tool or training staff, acts as a deterrent.
How to develop a good church communication strategy?
Small churches have an inherent advantage – the members invariably know each other. Their word-of-mouth communication keeps the congregation involved in a way that is enviable by larger congregations.
Regardless, having a solid strategy can help you overcome that gap. Here is how you can get started with it.
1. Identify the church’s pressing need. (does it sync with the vision?)
Most churches won’t have the necessary bandwidth to address all their communication objectives. In such cases, focus on the objective that is the most important for your church for that quarter (or year).
For instance, if your church needs to boost membership, the church communication plan can focus on external communication, with special attention to the church visitor follow-up strategy.
2. Assess existing communication and ear-mark gaps
Most churches have at least a rudimentary communication plan (even if it is a timetable of daily sermons). This is the starting point.
Find out how you can build on this to make it more suitable for achieving your goals.
E.g., add more external communication elements to your plan to invite new visitors to the church.
3. Define who your target community is
If an ordinary person is bombarded with thousands of ads every day, they will pick and choose (consciously or subconsciously) just those that seem most relevant to them. To make sure that your church’s communication is one of those chosen items, you must define your target community and audience.
From the myriad of marketing messages, people only pick those that are relevant and meaningful to them.
Setting a fixed target community informs your outreach methods and messaging, ensuring that your communications are both relevant and valuable to your audience. Your primary target group is further divided into segments, categorized by different engagement levels, preferences, and capabilities.
Your messaging and method of communication are tailored differently to suit each group. Communications that are personalized, relevant, meaningful, and valuable have more chances of being acknowledged and responded to.
For instance, say your target audience is every church adult within a 5km radius of your church. This large group is further divided into:
- Age groups. (e.g., a millennial’s choice of communication is vastly different from older generations.)
- Level of engagement: Whether they attend church, how regularly, and if they have served you in any way, etc.
- First-time, repeat, and lapsed attendees.
4. Factor in the channels of communication your members would prefer
Millennials and GenZs prefer texts to phone calls. Emails are still widely read but garner fewer responses. The older generation prefers post (snail mail) and in-person conversations over other channels of communication.
Your communication strategy will figure out the best way to communicate (channel to use), based on the composition of the congregation.
The older generation can be exclusively reached over calls, while the Gen Zs can be contacted via peer-to-peer texts or bulk sms. Making the content more engaging – using MMS can also be an excellent way to retain an interest in your messages.
Remember to use a communication tool (like CallHub) that offers both texting and calling options. To simplify your process, you could also ask your members which mode of communication they prefer when they sign-up to receive updates from you.
5. Create journey maps to nurture prospects
It’s not enough to segment members by their preferred mode of communication. You also need to segment lists by their current engagement level and use messaging to nurture them to the next level.
Here is an ideal progression of an individual from prospect to engaged member:
Communications change as per the engagement levels of an individual. This includes the messaging, appeals, and even frequency and channels of communication.
For instance, if you message a visitor too many times a week, they may get frustrated and decide to opt-out. On the other hand, if you are still sending the message of “opt-in to get the Lord’s message on your phone, anytime” to an engaged member, you show them that your message is not personalized to their relationship with you.
Creating journey maps for nurturing prospects helps you send the right message via the proper channel and with appropriate regularity to each member.
Here’s how to go about nurturing a prospect:
- Get the pool of prospects and divide them by their preferred mode of communication.
- Send them messages on these channels, appealing for a small ask (e.g., completing a form seeking personal information, sermon or mass invitations, etc.)
- A fraction of these prospects will abide by the request. Congratulations, you have hooked them in!
- Segment these people into the next level. Send them more personalized messages, extra information about your work, and higher appeals. Continue sending lower-barrier requests to people who haven’t yet progressed to the second stage.
- Continue sending more and more personalized messages and exclusive information as a person progresses through the member journey. At the same time, send appeals appropriate for the existing levels to those who haven’t moved from their stage.
Pro-Tip: You can request engaged and active members to help you spread the word about your church as well as to nurture non-progressing prospects to the next stage of the journey map. While this helps low-engaged members progress in the relationship, it also nurtures already engaged members to get more involved with your church.
6. Do you have a follow-up strategy/communication plan for each member/visitor touchpoint
A crucial part of every communication plan is how the church responds to incoming queries or conversations.
For instance, say a lead enquires on the website about planning a visit. Does your church communication plan involve a response (and subsequent follow-ups) to that?
Remember to think this through for every visitor or member touchpoints like:
- Form filling on the website.
- Facebook message.
- Walk in with a friend.
- Filling out a church connection card.
- Texting using a keyword.
- Connecting during events etc.
7. Get feedback and suggestion from members of the congregation
An excellent way to improve your messaging (and channel of communication), is to ask your congregation for their input.
Their suggestions can help you fill the gaps better (and also introduce new channels).
The survey can be carried out using phone-banks, or even text messages – so that the response is higher.
8. Avoid redundancy in messaging (never ask for the same information twice!)
Ideally, your communication plan will have 3 different contact sequences:
- Visitor communication
- New visitor engagement
- Existing member engagement
It is highly likely the same person is part of all three sequences at different stages. In such cases, ensure that the messaging is not repetitive. That is, a new visitor should not get the ‘welcome to the family’ message twice!
So even if you build out all the contact sequences separately (and handle them differently), map them all together in one single member journey.
This will ensure that your messaging is consistent, adds value, and doesn’t overlap with other messages.
9. Check if you have covered the essentials
Your communication plan should
- Segment the target audience,
- Outline the message to be crafted for each segment,
- Mention what channel to be used and
- Specify when the communication should go out.
- Assign an owner to each task -so that there are no misunderstandings among the staff.
Clearly, the communication plan you create will be unique to your church. It will address the areas you want to improve on and also take into account your congregation.
Having a church communication software can help you streamline your communication. It can aid you in delivering a consistent message, forming a story across all channels, and sending it at the right time.
To help you with this further, here are some church communication best practices you can follow.
So all the best in developing a communication strategy for your church. If you have any questions or think we have left out some points, let us know in the comments.
Featured image credits: Brett Sayles