Sunday, April 16, 2017

Seminary PL41: Communications

This is the tenth post on church administration in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this series, I first did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the forty-first post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).

The previous post looked fundraising. This post is about church communications.
1. The communications of churches have evolved as technology has evolved. At one point, communications within and outside the church simply took place by word of mouth. Congregations were relatively small by modern reckoning usually within tight knit communities, so you could get word around just by one person telling another and so on.

Most churches still have oral announcements of some sort within the context of a Sunday or other service. When I was growing up in a relatively small church, announcements were made either right before the offering or right before a special song preceding the sermon.

In my ministerial education, some professors urged that announcements be done before the service actually begins, so that the worship service could be entirely about worship and the focus on God not be interrupted. Now, many churches do not really speak announcements but have them projected in sequence on a screen prior to the service.

Be sure to recognize that in the modern casual church, families will stroll in late and many simply ignore the pre-service screen announcements. From a practical standpoint, the mid-service announcements were probably more effective as communication than either of these.

2. Most churches hand paper to each person who comes into a service. This serves at least two very important functions. First, in an age of large churches, this practice provides one-on-one contact both for newcomers and for those who might otherwise never make any personal contact with anyone else in the service. It is an opportunity for personal interaction, which is an essential element of what the church is.

What is in the "bulletin" or "worship guide" can vary. It often will contain an order of worship. [1] Sometimes it has a place for a person to take notes. These elements can be helpful for those like me who get bored easily. Fill in the blanks give people something to do and help them follow the main ideas of the sermon. In that respect, it can be a helpful tool for discipleship.

The bulletin is also a potential place to give announcements. Bulletins often remind the church of key events taking place that week as well as upcoming events. The bulletin can give key prayer requests. It can report on the finances of the church. Know that as helpful as this information is, many of us won't read the announcements in the bulletin.

Again, you may hate it, but mid-service oral announcements are going to be the most effective from a practical communications standpoint, despite the protests of purists and the "but, but, but, it should be this way" idealists. I am proof. For years I knew precious little of what was going on at my church. Was it my fault? Yes. Was the church effective at communicating with me? No. Each individual church must decide how effective of communication is effective enough. [2]

3. Churches often have "shut-ins" who are not physically able to attend church. Others are either on the road or have trouble getting out of bed on a given Sunday. Technology has increasingly made it possible for churches to extend their ministry to these individuals.

Some churches still have Sunday services at nursing homes. When it became possible to record services, many churches began making cassette tapes to distribute to its shut-ins and to people at a distance. If someone sang a special song or if there was a baptism, the cassette could be kept as a memory or keep sake.

Today, sermons--at least the audio--are usually downloadable from a website. For a while, churches were using iTunes for this service. Now, they are generally available directly from the church website. Larger churches usually video their services and can be broadcast over a local television station.

With the rise of YouTube and Vimeo, it has become increasingly easy to make all previous sermons permanently available and linked to a church website. Facebook Live is now an extremely easy way to livestream your service to those who, for whatever reason, cannot be with you during the service. 12Stone Church in Atlanta has a web version of its church with a dedicated pastor.

4. Another tool that developed over the years was the monthly newsletter. This tool could not only inform the church members of more strategic items and finances, but it became a way to keep in contact with people who were connected to the church in some broader way. For example, I received a monthly newsletter from a church in Wisconsin for years that I had never attended. This kept me informed of what was going on there. I could pray for them. I could give to their causes.

If a church has seasonal members, say individuals who come and go in the summers and winters, such a newsletter can keep these individuals up to date. In this day and age, the paper newsletter has mostly been replaced by email. A church should do its best to have the emails of all its members. Email contact once a month--not too much information but a little--can be a good tool of communication.

Visitor information should be collected in some way without being obtrusive (that is, only if the visitor wishes and gives permission). Often there is a point in the worship where visitors are asked to fill out cards in the pew. Email, phone number, address are crucial if you intend to do follow up. In that way you can at least text the visitor during the week (ask their permission). Calling on the phone is increasingly undesirable and personal visits are increasingly unheard of.

5. In this age of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, most churches will want to have them. Every church should not only have a website, but it should have a Facebook page, a Twitter handle, and an Instagram account.

As for Twitter, try to get everyone in the church with a smart phone to follow the church. Just the merest suggestion can inspire certain personalities to tweet key ideas from the sermon during or after the sermon. Someone at the church should then retweet them. This can also be a way of making prayer requests and other information known to the congregation during the week.

In the old days, there were prayer chains. If an emergency happened, so and so called so and so who called so and so. In this way, a chain of prayer went up to heaven almost instantly. Today, this can all be done almost instantly. Small groups can have GroupMe accounts so that they stay connected during the week.

A church should have both a website and a Facebook page. The Facebook page provides basic information on your church and can be used to broadcast a service live. However, official Facebook pages are not good for discussion. If a pastor or key staff member has a Facebook account, discipleship by way of discussion can continue long after Sunday morning. The church can also have one or more open Facebook groups (e.g., a high school Facebook group) to keep conversation going during the week. This is a great tool for discipleship.

Instagram is a way of recording the pictures of the congregation's life. Information can be disseminated very quickly by way of Facebook and Twitter.

I've never seen it done, but it would be interesting to experiment with Twitter as a way of letting the congregation raise questions about a sermon. A pastor of course will hardly be able to address these during the sermon. And if you livestreamed them on a screen to the side, it would distract from the sermon. But you could possibly have a Q and A after each service to discuss them, and certainly Sunday School classes could process them.

6. A church without a website these days is a church that doesn't want anyone to find them. A church website should 1) give the location of the church and contact information, 2) tell about the church--what does this church stand for? What is its ethos and identity? What is its mission and vision, 3) tell about the staff and ministries--who are the pastors, what are the various ways in which I can plug into this church, and 4) perhaps give up to date information and or ways to give.

Many churches now make it possible to give online. There is still something important about physically taking up an offering, it seems. Nevertheless, while the plate is being passed, I am getting on my smart phone to give electronically. Sometimes I will remember that I haven't given yet while I'm driving. When I reach my next destination, I sometimes take out my phone and give. Churches should also have the capability of auto-withdrawals so that church members can tithe automatically.

There are individuals who specialize in creating church websites. However, you can create one for free using and other sites.

Who should people contact in the case of an emergency? This should be known. Many churches have pastors rotate being on call. Of course in the small church, the pastor tends to be on call 24/7. The pastor needs to have a sabbath, though, when he or she just isn't available except in the direst of emergencies.

7. A church should have a good sense of who is attending. It should have the names, addresses, emails, and phone numbers of its regular attenders. Many churches used to create paper directories every few years. These are great for reminding yourself of people whose names you have forgotten.

Certainly such directories could be put online these days. The danger is of course in this age of electronic stalking, you are making the people in your church potentially available to unsavory characters. Great discretion is advised. Perhaps more private and dis-aggregated Facebook directories could be created.

8. The community should know that your church is there. If you are not engaged enough in your community for it to know you are there, something is wrong. Pastors should be involved in prayer breakfasts with other pastors. People should be involved with community events and opportunities for ministry.

In earlier days, churches did door-to-door inviting of people to church. Today, this is often seen as creepy. Nevertheless, it may still be appropriate in some places. Other churches take out billboards or take out advertisements on local television. Certainly having an attractive church campus with good signage is obvious. Many churches put out something funny on their signs to draw the eye.

But nothing communicates the loving invitation of Christ better than your people being the body of Christ in the world.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 41: Facilities

[1] I lead a liturgical service for about ten years. At first, I printed a distinct liturgy for each week. Later on, we provided a generic liturgy but printed the specifics for each week on a single half sheet.

[2] This is a perennial observation in regard to so many things. You can say "it should be this way" until you are blue in the face. But if you can't get people to change, then you are the failure in the end for being unwilling to change yourself. As the crass saying almost goes, "You can wish in one hand and crap in the other, and I'll tell you which one you'll end up with."

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management
Conflict Management
Church Administration

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