Internal/External – The Balance Problem

Internal/External – The Balance Problem
In this post:
  • The difference between internal/external communication
  • Identifying your vision and priorities for communications
  • Practical tips for establishing balance between internal/external publicity

Many churches make a distinction between their internal and external communications. It’s something I really encourage!

It’s really helpful to identify whether publicity is aimed internally (to the existing audience of those within your church family) or externally (to those who are not yet involved with the church).

This distinction allows us to communicate to a narrower segment. We can target our designs more accurately to reach a smaller subset of our audience. We may use different styles or even different language in our external communication to that which we use when targeting our own congregation. This is because our attendees are likely to possess a level of knowledge about the church they belong to.

So we can use shorthand in our internal comms. For example, we can say ‘Remember our prayer meeting at John and Sue’s home this Thursday’ and expect our audience to be able to fill in the gaps. Or we can advertise an upcoming sermon series without having to detail the exact timings of our services or the postal address of the church building. This shorthand enables us to fit more information into a smaller space – so we can have a news sheet that advertises all of the week’s events. The internal audience is already invested in the church so they’re more likely to search for the information they need.

Conversely, if we were to try to fit this level of information into our external publicity, it will be less effective. Taking posters as an example, they need to be focused and clear – attempting to communicate just one message, with obvious next steps for the reader to take.

 

Related post: Church Poster Design Tips [Audio]

 

The Problem

So if categorising our church communications as internal/external is a good idea, what’s the problem?

It’s a question of balance.

I wonder, how much time and effort you invest in your communications and publicity, as a church? Of course, every church will be different. The size of your group will have an impact on this amount, as will the skillset of your volunteers and, especially in smaller churches, even the level of interest your pastor has in producing publicity.

You may think that your church doesn’t spend much time at all on communications. But consider the time it takes to prepare your news sheet. This may take an hour or two every week – maybe more. How about the slideshow to be projected in Sunday services? Any other leaflets, posters or notices? How about social media or any videos you produce?

All these different methods of communication add up! Working out just how much they add up might be an eye-opening exercise. Whatever your total, now it’s time to run this through the lens of ‘internal/external’. Obviously, there will be some crossover – some publicity is aimed at both audience types.

However, my experience is this: Many churches end up spending so much effort on their internal communications that they have hardly any time left for external publicity.

 

Many churches end up spending so much effort on their internal communications that they have hardly any time left for external publicity.

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On the one hand, I don’t mind exactly where the balance lies. My problem is that it’s not usually because of a conscious decision – it just happens over time. In a way, we can end up like the Pharisees that Jesus addresses in Matthew 23, who “strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”. We focus on the details at the expense of the bigger picture.

 

An argument for an external focus

My hunch is that your communications efforts will be fairly heavily weighted toward internal communications.

In itself, this isn’t a problem. The purpose of your existence as a local church is not solely direct evangelism. We’re called to disciple each other – to learn, to grow in faith and to support each other. Of course, this includes teaching and encouragement to share Christ through our individual lives, through relationships with those around us.

Still, if you take a look at your church vision statement, I’m pretty sure that preaching the gospel directly as a church is just as central to your identity. So shouldn’t the balance of your communications reflect this?

Obviously, I’m not claiming that your internal publicity is pointless. It’s important to keep your own church family informed (and the bigger your church, the harder this can be). However, I would suggest that most internal publicity advertises events that people already know about and were already planning on attending. Compare this to your external publicity for an evangelistic event – you’re aiming to advertise to people who have no existing motivation to attend, and probably don’t even know your event is happening.

Moreover, this external communication can also fulfil the former aim of indirect evangelism through your attendees’ personal relationships. They can pass on the publicity to their friends and family – whether by a physical flyer or a digital share of a web page of social media post.

I believe it’s pretty clear that the church has a duty to speak the Gospel into people’s lives, directly as well as through its members. The publicity that your church produces is one way of doing this, and Paul says in Colossians 4 that we’re to make the most of every opportunity to do so!

 

A practical approach to internal/external balance

So how does your church approach this issue practically? Hopefully the following is some helpful advice for how to tackle it!

1. Your vision for your publicity

First and foremost, think about your aims. Consider your church vision and how your publicity plays into this.

Do you want more of a focus on communicating to your own people, or should your communications have more of an outward focus? Whatever your decision, write it down and use it to inform your future efforts.

As we considered in the ChurchTrain post, ‘Don’t Lose Focus’, “if the leadership does not set these priorities, they let others within the church set them instead.” So spend some time considering this, and involve others! If you have design volunteers or administrators who have input to your publicity, discuss this vision with them, and map out a plan for how you’ll take this forward.

 

2. Assess the current situation

Next, I’d restate the importance of assessing your current situation. Take an audit of how much of your current publicity caters to your internal audience, and how much is devoted to outreach. Make a list of everything you’ve produced in the last six or twelve months and classify them as internal or external. If you keep a record of your publicity, you could sort them into piles. For everything that has a crossover between internal/external, you could either record them in both sections or consider the primary role of that publicity.

Once you’ve sorted everything, compare the balance to your vision for communications – does the expectation match up to the reality, or do you have a slightly different bias to what you’d like to be aiming for?

As part of your audit, I would suggest it’s helpful to consider the time spent producing each publication as well as the number of different publications. We’ll come back to this point!

 

3. Classify your communication methods

Consider the different channels that you use to communicate information. It should be fairly obvious which communication methods relate to your internal or external audiences. Generally speaking, if the publicity is consumed within your church building, it is internal. So this probably includes:

  • Posters
  • News sheets/handouts
  • Items on the notice board
  • Slides

If not consumed within the building, it’s probably an external channel:

  • Church website
  • Social Media
  • Flyers
  • External signage

Being clear on whether a specific method is internal or external will help at the design stage, as it guides the purpose of a publication and how much information you need to include.

For the channels where there’s a crossover, the vision you’ve established will help you to prioritise how you use the channel. Your church website and social media will likely be in this category. If your vision is to use your publicity for evangelism, your website is likely to prioritise external communication. So outward-reaching messages will appear first, with internal information a level down.

 

4. Use your time efficiently

Are you being efficient with the publicity that you produce? Even if you choose to prioritise external communication, internal publications can still take up a lot of your efforts, simply by their regularity. For example, a weekly news sheet will require a time investment every week. Again, this adds up, but you considered this in step two, right?

Take a step back from your publicity and think about whether you can simplify what you’re doing. Does your news sheet need updating weekly, or could it be produced each fortnight? Or even each month? Does it need to include all of the information that’s there? Over time these handouts can become bloated. So it’s important to re-assess what’s being included and to scale it back where possible.

Aside from freeing up time to spend on other things (including your external communication!), refining your weekly handout in this way will likely serve to make it more effective in itself!

 

5. Ask questions

Finally, ask questions of every piece of publicity you produce – both regulars and one-offs. To save repeating myself, here’s a link to a previous ChurchTrain post where this is covered: 6 Simple Questions to take control of your Church Comms.

 

 

Your church will probably have a different balance to the next church – and that’s fine. As usual, the important thing is to own the decision – to take control rather than letting it ‘just happen’. Of course, this same theory has applications wider than your communications, across all church life.

I’d love to hear how you approach your internal/external communications balance!

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