Church communications is a broad-ranging topic. Even on this blog, we often think about design, websites, social media, video, strategy, and of course, the written word.
Let’s take a break from all of this variety and make things nice and simple.
Why, who, where, what, when and how?
We’re going to briefly consider each of these, on a couple of different levels – the strategy (our overall comms thinking) and the practice (each individual message or promotional campaign).
If you fancy listening to this post, you can use the player below!
Strategy – Applying the questions broadly
If you were to ask me ‘what is my one top tip for church comms’, it would be this – never ignore the ‘why’.
Far too many conversations occur like this:
Mr X: ‘We need to be on Facebook’
Miss Y: ‘Great – why?’
Mr X: ‘Well… isn’t that what everyone’s doing?’
Here’s the crux – if we don’t carefully consider the reasons behind what we do, it is very hard to measure whether they’re in fact doing their job properly. To put it another way, if we don’t properly address the ‘why’, it’s much more difficult to intelligently answer the next questions!
Publicity is always a two way process – first you need to ‘speak’, then your audience needs to ‘listen’. For this reason, we need to have a really clear idea of who our audience is. Different people react to different things, so we need to contextualise our messages to those that we want to be hearing.
Spend time evaluating the different ‘people types’ that make up your church audience. It will transform how you communicate to them!
Where do we seek to promote our messages? In effect, which of the many communications channels do we use to reach people?
This is very closely linked to the target audience with the ‘who’ question, as different people respond differently and use different media. Of course, this will vary on an individual level, but we can make general decisions based on broader behaviour patterns. For example, we may consider that email is better for reaching young professionals than it is for reaching stay at home mums, who may perhaps spend more time with social media.
For our communications to our internal audience (church attendees/members as opposed to those we seek to bring in to our church family) we may feel it is beneficial to survey how people prefer to be contacted. Not only does this help us to better communicate our messages, but it ensures we are being efficient with our time!
If we’ve decided what channels we’re going to use in our promotion, the next step is to decide what we will produce. If the ‘where’ question relates to the ‘pipes’ that we use to reach our audience, the ‘what’ is the specific messages we send down them!
This will include the types of messages, but also what content needs to be included! It’s no good inviting our people to an event but not telling them the date!
It’s important to consider what resources we have – can we afford to have a heavy visual focus if we don’t have many staff/volunteers with these skills? Can we push heavily for lots of print publicity (such as posters/flyers/direct mailings) if we can’t afford the finances to print and distribute them?
This question relates more to the digital channels we use, as we can be extremely specific about the times we send out our messages. We should consider what times work best for our intended audiences. This is something I touch on in this post on social media.
On a wider scale, we obviously need to make sure that all of our communications are timely. They need to reach our audience at a time when they are likely to be receptive (e.g. not sending out Christmas invites in July!). We also need to give them enough time to take the response we’re asking for!
The ‘how’ question may be last, but without it, everything can fall apart! Who is responsible for planning the publicity, for producing and distributing it? When does it need to be done by and who needs to approve it?
I highly recommend you document your processes once they’re decided, too, so that there’s no room for confusion. These processes will look different for every church organisation, but you’ve got no excuse – get organised!
Practice – Applying the questions specifically
Let’s use an example to see how these questions can be put in to practice in a specific situation. We’ll consider the publicity for an upcoming young adults’ weekend retreat.
It’s often quite easy to work out this answer in practice. We just need to ask ‘what is the intended outcome we desire?’
In this case, the ‘why’ is that we want to promote our event, so that people sign up, attend and are blessed by it.
Again, when looking at an individual event, this usually makes the question easier to answer. With that said, church events often apply to a broad range of people within our audience, so we may have to factor this in to our event promotion strategy.
The ‘who’ for this event is young adults within the church, specifically those aged 18-30.
Building on the audience we established in the previous question, we may consider that our 18-30s are very connected, so we could reach them in a number of ways. This could also mean, however, that they’re hard to reach, as their attention is spread across a lot of networks. This would be where the audience survey comes in helpful!
In this hypothetical situation, I’ve chatted to the relevant ministry leader and some of the young adults in question, so I know that a good number of them are on Instagram, as well as Facebook.
However, there is a cost associated with the event, and it’ll need a commitment from those who wish to attend, so we’re going to need to be quite persuasive…
The retreat will be full of gospel content but also held in a scenic location, and there are some great photos available from last year’s event. With Instagram being a visual medium, these photos will be a great place to start to spread enthusiasm!
Our posts on Instagram and Facebook need to make it clear where to sign up: so we’ll make sure to include the relevant details.
Still, given the need for commitment, I’d consider it worth printing a small quantity of flyers. These will act as a conversation starter in our offline, face-to-face promotions! Neglect ‘in person’ communication at your peril!
Our approach might sometimes be slightly different for students as opposed to young professionals. Still, to keep things simple, we’ll schedule all of our online content to reach our audience outside of work hours. Or perhaps in the middle of the day to catch their lunch hour browsing!
For the in-person persuasion, we’ll make sure to catch people after the Sunday services, as well as at the weekly student group. We might ask our small group leaders to encourage sign ups, too.
We need to make sure we have access to the photo content, as well as knowing who is responsible for writing and scheduling the social media. We’ll need to set a deadline that gives enough time for the ministry leader to review the content, before distributing it in enough time for people to respond and sign up.
We might even decide to enlist the help of some young people who attended last year’s event. They can communicate directly from their own experiences! Hopefully this can persuade people on a one-on-one basis, though we could get them to speak from the front in a service, too.
Finally, we need to make sure we have the right system in place for receiving enquiries and bookings for the event!
Hopefully you can see how the principles could apply in practice in your setting.
You’ll do well to draw on your own knowledge of your audience; as well as your experience of what has (and hasn’t!) been effective before.
This may all sound like a lot of work, and if you’re only just starting to think like this, it may take a while. Nevertheless, it will pay off as you see your audience responding to the messages you publicise.
Finally, it will start to become a natural part of your process. Before you know it, you’ll even be applying this type of thinking to each individual Facebook post or handout you produce!