A lot of people are talking about creativity in the church right now, and it’s raising some tension in me (and maybe in you too?). We’ve been haggled on both ends of the creativity spectrum over the years. On the one hand, we’ve bought into the rationale that says, “God hasn’t called you to be creative. He’s called you to be effective.” Therefore, copy & paste at will. On the other hand, we resonate with the thinking that says, “All ministry is local.” Therefore, creative contextualization is the only way to impact a locality. It’s a tough balance to strike, really. And if you add the complexity that multisite churches bring to the table, this can be a serious monkey on our backs as leaders.
I’ve been saying this for years now, but I get tired of church marketing. The advertisements, the clever slogans, the social media strategies. Many churches try to achieve success by using the right tactics, by “appealing” to the right audience. But in some cases marketing is a barrier to the advancement of the Gospel message. It can actually be a hindrance for the church.
I’m still shocked by how bad most church graphics are. Yes, most. If you think I’m exaggerating, you’re in a cool church bubble, my friend.
I’m shocked for several reasons…
Bob Dylan once wrote “The Times They Are A-Changing.” This certainly is true when it comes to the way we communicate. Right now your phone is more than likely flooded with text messages, social media notifications and direct messages. Leaders have made themselves accessible 24-hours a day.
A quick glance at an Apple watch can connect you to a video conference with someone on the other side of the world. Despite all these changes, email still continues to be one of the most predominant methods of communication. With so many demands for people’s attention, it is essential for church leaders to sharpen their communication skills.
Lately our team has started noticing some reoccurring email mistakes. Here are 7 simple ways to improve your email communication:
1) Include contact information in the footer of your emails.
A couple of weeks ago I received an email that required a follow-up call. Unfortunately, I didn’t have their phone number so I had to write them back and ended up waiting two more days for a reply. No one has time to search everywhere for phone numbers and addresses. Make it easy for people by including your contact info in your email footer.
2) Get to the point.
Sharing life updates may be a nice gesture for close friends but if you work on a fast paced team, just get to the point. Before sending an email determine why you are writing and what you want to say. If people open an email with multiple paragraphs there is a strong chance it will never get read.
3) Use clear action items.
Don’t make it challenging on the person reading your message to know what you are asking them to do. I’ve read emails that included action items meant for other people or tasks that were hidden in the middle of sentences. Instead of assigning tasks in emails, consider using Asana. Our team has found this to be very beneficial.
4) Stop using the “CC” function to include everyone in your organization.
Lately, every time I get an email it has 9 to 11 people included in the “CC” section. What’s the deal with this? This isn’t efficient and I’ve probably wasted countless hours reading unnecessary emails. Honestly, I can’t figure out why this keeps happening. Are people doing this for accountability, to cover themselves or to let everyone else know what they are working on?
5) Reply as quickly as possible.
I think it’s much more efficient to reply quickly with a couple of short sentences than to let an email sit in my inbox for weeks. Obviously, instantaneous responses can’t be expected for emails but when someone on your team is waiting on a decision or an approval don’t just leave them hanging for days. Their email isn’t going to suddenly go away, give a response and move on.
6) Pay attention to your tone and attitude.
This isn’t rocket science but it’s probably a good idea to handle conflict and difficult situations face to face rather than through email. Mark Batterson loves to say, “The shortest pencil is longer than the longest memory.” This theory applies to email as well. Messages written in a negative and angry tone have a way of resurfacing. Email messages are permanent so always be mindful of what you are saying.
7) Proofread emails before sending.
It is very easy to overlook mistakes in text messages that were made because of autocorrect. I get it, we are all busy and there is no way to do a grammar check on every Instagram comment or Facebook post. At the same time, it only takes a couple of seconds to read over your message before sending and good email etiquette is still very important.
What do you think? Communication methods are changing, is email here to stay?
I have an issue with “mandatory volunteer meetings.” Do you hear the contradiction? Mandatory and volunteer don’t belong together in the same sentence, but churches and nonprofits juxtapose them all the time. (Need proof? Just Google the phrase!)
I understand — it’s a really, really important meeting. They won’t be able to chaperone that student retreat if they don’t come. They won’t be able to teach that class if they don’t participate. They can’t serve in the kitchen without the training. You have essential information to share. But telling them it’s mandatory–like paying taxes, or getting a physical before gym class? Surely we have better language than that.
Volunteers are, after all, the hands and feet of Christ, and it’s the Church’s job to equip them to do ministry, not to enforce participation at training events. Getting and keeping your church members engaged in volunteering takes excellent and inspiring communication. Here are a few ideas:
– Make It an Invitation –
Invite before you mandate. Most people volunteer because they are excited to be a part of what God is doing at your church. People also volunteer to get to know other church members. Appeal to those two desires when you communicate.
Let’s say you are sending your students to youth camp and you need to train your leaders before the trip. What about something like this?
“Let’s celebrate the record-number of sign-ups for summer camp together before we head to the beach! Join us for a fun night with your fellow leaders, and we’ll equip you with the essentials you’ll need to help your students grow closer to Jesus next week.”
Does that sound more inspiring and inviting than mandatory leader training? I think so.
– Offer Flexibility –
In-person meetings can be tough and aren’t always necessary. Don’t make someone feel rejected because of scheduling conflicts. Can you live-stream the meeting over the Internet and let people send in questions electronically in real-time? (You could with Periscope, or a number of other free apps.) Can you put together a manual that covers the key points and schedule follow up calls to make sure volunteers understand their roles and expectations so they can serve effectively? As full-time staff, the goal should be to equip as many members of the church to serve as possible, and that will sometimes require flexibility. And when you offer flexibility, communicate the options clearly without stigmatizing any of them.
The Unstuck Group’s Paul Alexander wrote a great article about getting more volunteers by making it easier to start. Every role can’t be simplified in the same ways, but there are definitely some good places to start!
– Make People Feel Irreplaceable, Not Disposable –
I’m not suggesting you stroke egos or try to make people feel important. As leaders we should always be encouraging biblical humility. However, God values every person and wants them to know it. We frequently say things in the Church like “If you had been the only sinner, Jesus would’ve died for you.” Then we sometimes treat people like God would’ve said “Eh, take ’em or leave ’em.”
The Church should be a place that communicates to people their value in the Kingdom. It’s a good thing to communicate to your volunteers that you appreciate what their uniqueness brings to the culture of your church and to the role in which they are serving.
What other ideas do you have for improving the ways we communicate with volunteers?
As a speaker, it can be difficult to relate to an audience of the opposite gender. It’s rather difficult to communicate truths about something you’ve never experienced to someone who has. I once heard a male pastor preach a whole series on womanly godliness. He tried very hard. It didn’t come out right, despite his best intentions.
Most likely, more than half of your congregation is made up of women, and on Mother’s Day, it seems like most churches try to preach a sermon tailored to them. It’s not a bad idea if you put in the time and do it right. Since most pastors in our country are men, we wanted to share a few tips for communicating your message well to women on Mother’s Day or any other time you’re addressing them specifically:
1) Plan to include a visual and/or musical moment in the service that tells a powerful story.
A powerful story goes so much further than the most compelling talking points. Did you see this Mother’s Day commercial last year from Publix? It hit the nail on the head. This is not about the stereotype that “women are emotional.” Women respond to artistic, relational, creative and sensory-engaging messages. You’ll draw them in better if you plan accordingly.
2) Involve a team of women in planning your message.
Get their thoughts on what women need to hear most on this Mother’s Day. Get their insights on what cultural myths women are subconsciously absorbing. Even better, involve a woman in your teaching that morning.
3) Don’t address women as “girls.”
This is nitpicky, but a lot of male pastors do this unintentionally. To many women, it sounds condescending. You probably address the men in the room as men, not boys. Women notice.
4) If you’re going to talk about motherhood, be sensitive to the fact that many women who are not mothers may wish they were, and many have lost children.
Women young and old will have experienced miscarriages, abortions, the loss of a child, or the inability to conceive. Help them understand how to take their grief — or regret — to God.
5) Also, be sensitive to those who have lost a mother or have a strained/estranged relationship with their mom.
This point is relevant for men and women in your audience. It can be incredibly painful, especially the first year after loss or a major rift/challenge.
6) Encourage and inspire women to live out their calling fearlessly.
Moms can be very hard on themselves. Most take this job seriously, whether they are home with their kids or working full-time. Don’t give them 10 things to do to be better; it will overwhelm and reinforce the idea that they just can’t do enough.Instead, inspire them with an encouraging and simple truth that reinforces their identity in Christ.
Photo Credit: Sunset Girl via Unsplash
Today, we introduce you to Amy Anderson, another of our fantastic new consultants on the Unstuck Team. Amy has 10 years of leadership experience in the corporate world and 12 years of experience developing artists, building and developing weekend planning systems and helping lead Eagle Brook Church, a large multi-site church in Minneapolis, MN, as a member of its Executive Team.
We asked Amy to share a little about how she found her passion for helping churches get unstuck, as well as some very practical tips for churches who want to improve their weekend services.
TIFFANY: At what point in your experience working in ministry did you realize you wanted to help more churches?
AMY: I often had requests from other church leaders to meet and talk through challenges they were facing. These meetings were my favorite calendar appointments! After spending an hour or so together, creative solutions were emerging, problems were being solved, and their passion to lead was returning.
I remember one lead pastor who, after our time together, took the bold step to invite input into his sermon writing. That was a pivotal shift in his writing process that brought his messages from good to great. You can bet I smiled every time he let me know how his church was growing and reaching people for Christ. He didn’t need a major overhaul; he just needed to adjust the dials a little bit on his process. And, that’s what I love helping churches do.
TIFFANY: What are some of the simplest changes a church can make to improve its weekend service experience?
AMY: These are changes any church, no matter the size, can start doing right away:
- Give your Lead Pastor time to write, prepare and develop the weekend message. Find ways to offload tasks and responsibilities that someone else can do so that the Lead Pastor can do what only the Lead Pastor can do. Giving more time to your communicator to read, think, write and prepare will instantly improve your weekend experience.
- Invite feedback. Give some trusted people permission to tell you what’s working and what’s not in your weekend service. Let them help identify the blind spots that you don’t see. This is especially important for anyone on your platform! Pastors who teach and worship leaders who lead do not have a full perspective on the effectiveness of their message or worship time.
- Assign someone to represent “the average new person.” Give someone the responsibility to take in the weekend service through the eyes of a new person. Better yet, have this person go to church with a new person. I guarantee they will see things they’ve never paid attention to before. All of a sudden it matters how long the announcements are, how good the music is, and how applicable the message is. And then…
- Commit to making the tough calls. Not everyone gets to be on the platform. Not every activity gets to be announced. Not every singer gets a solo. Excellence and effectiveness are in the details. Making the right, often tough, calls is what will move your weekend services from good to great.
TIFFANY: Last question. In your opinion, what’s the single most important creative element churches should be investing in to connect with the next generation?
AMY: When you ask what is the the most important creative element, my answer is video. And to be more specific, it’s video for the primary purpose of telling stories. Story is king with the next generation. Real stories of transformation, hope and healing.
About a year and a half ago, I Googled “churches in Greenville, SC,” which is the city where I live. My church didn’t appear in the first 25 pages of Google listings. (I have a strong feeling it didn’t appear after those first 25 either, but I didn’t have the patience to soldier on.) Those first 25 listed a lot of other churches in my city – many I’d heard of and many I had not – and I began to wonder if there was a high number of people using Google to look for a new church and never even having a chance to see our website.
There were. An average of about 1,000 Google searches per month for “churches in Greenville, SC” at the time. (If you’re curious about this for your city, check out Google Keyword Planner as a first stop.)
Now, I live in one of the fastest growing cities in the country with tons of new residents invading each year, and I was floored that 1,000’s of people were searching for a church using the Internet, and we weren’t hitting their radar. We decided to make some changes. We needed to implement a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) strategy. We needed to show up in the listings, and especially in the listings for even more specialized listings, like “churches in
I feel it’s important to note, when talking about search rankings, that optimizing is not about competing with other churches. It’s about helping people who want to find you, find you. If people are starting on the Web, you should be investing in finding out how they’re searching, what they’re searching for and how you can reach them. Let’s get more strategic than posting something on a sign outside of the building and assuming it’s “reaching” all the motorists who truck by it each day.
An Even Better Reason…
I’ve written before about making the Gospel viral. And here is further evidence it’s necessary. Tens of thousands of people use Google each month to ask questions like “Is God real?” and “Who Was Jesus?” and “What Is Christianity?” And they find all kinds of answers – some good and some not-so-good. Chances are, there are people who attend your church who are asking the basics in their hearts but are afraid to ask out loud. Could you proactively answer their questions? You may also answer the questions of people you’ll never know.
We Got Results
Our church went with a new custom, WordPress website (there are plenty of other options, but this one worked well for us), and paid special attention to the titles of pages, copy on the homepage and other areas that impacted our search engine ranking. We started a blog and ramped up social media posting. After several months, we’d moved from Nowhere-to-be found to Page 2 of the search results for “churches in Greenville, SC.”
Tips for Getting Started
In the time since I worked on my church’s website, I’ve talked with a significant number of pastors who have admitted they had no idea if their website was working for them. I am not even close to being an SEO expert, but I know this to be true: Every person searching for an answer to a question in our culture today starts with the Internet. I believe word of mouth is still the driving factor for new people visiting your church, but if you live in a growing area like me, ignoring search engines is a miss. Here are a few tips for getting started.
- Hire an SEO expert to take a look at your website or pay for SEO training for someone on your staff who manages the web content.
- Google your church and searches like “churches in [city, state]” regularly, depersonalizing the search so you see what other people see. (It’s difficult to completely depersonalize your search results, but logging out of your Google/Yahoo accounts, browsing in an Incognito window or using a public computer are a few ways you can try.)
- Set up your Google Local listing. If people search for “churches” while in your city’s downtown, they’re going to get a different list of churches than when in the suburbs because of Google’s Maps integration. You want to show up in those lists. You can also ask your church members to add “reviews” they feel would help a newcomer understand what they love about the church. (E.g. Outstanding children’s volunteers and facilities!)
- Maintain a blog and write answers to the questions people are asking. You won’t see overnight results from this, but if even one person searching for answers about God finds it through your writing, that’s a win in my book. Plus, there are probably people in your church asking difficult questions they are afraid to ask out loud.
- Take social media seriously. Your social media accounts help spread your blog and website content, creating opportunities for more and more people to see it.
- Work with a Team to Plan Your Message – Sharing your notes and rough outline with a trusted team can help you identify the most impactful parts of the message and cut supporting material that doesn’t reinforce them.
- Boil It Down to One Main Point – Think quick: Can you recall the three main points of the last sermon you listened to? If you can’t, your congregation likely can’t either. Try boiling your message down to one big truth and then giving listeners practical ideas about how it should impact them.
- Cut That Introduction – Long-winded stories to set up your message can get you off track very quickly. We like to recommend a three minute introduction. Stories are powerful, but keep them short.
- Minimize Lists – Lists can add unnecessary length, especially if you comment on each point.
- Practice Your Message – If you take time to preach your message out loud, you will be able to test the length and potentially discover points that are confusing, too long or boring.
- Know How to Land the Plane – You don’t want to ramble at the end of your message and distract the audience from the main point you have been working so hard to make. Have a plan for how to wrap it up.
- Push Yourself to Critique Each Message – This isn’t easy for any speaker, but it makes a world of difference. You’ll catch crutch words you’re using too often. You’ll notice your rhythms. If you want to become a more effective communicator, there really isn’t a better way to help yourself grow.
Do you have other methods that help you keep your message short?
We recently paused to ask 186 churches about the ways in which they communicate. Our goal was to take the pulse of church communications and help leaders like you grow in this area. The infographic below illustrates some of the key differences between how larger churches and smaller churches communicate.
For more findings from our most recent church study, check out the Full Report.
Click here to Download Say What?! Infographic as a PDF.