Sunday, August 28, 2016

Seminary PL20: Good Communication

This is a post about communication in the church. We are in a series of posts on church leadership and management. Last week we looked at the dynamics of a healthy team of leaders.

This is the sixth post on church management in my "Seminary in a Nutshell" series. In this seminary series, first I did a section on the Person and Calling of a Minister. Now this is the nineteenth post in a section on the Pastor as a Leader (see at the bottom).
1. Communication is an obvious component of any church. How will the people in the church know when to come to services and other events if that information is not communicated? How will the staff and ministers of the church know when and how to do their jobs if that information is not communicated? You could have people who want to come, whom you want to come, who do not come because they do not know to come. You could have people who want to do things, whom you want to do things, who do not know to do them because they do not know what to do.

The importance of communication is obvious. Some aspects of communication fall more under administration as I am defining it, the day to day operations of a church. Nevertheless, I am treating it under management because in the big picture, good communication is essential for good leadership and church managers must make sure takes place.

2. From a big picture perspective, good communication is an essential ingredient in trust and belonging. If things are going on in the church that you are interested in or value, but you do not find out about them until after the fact, you may feel excluded and marginalized. On a leadership team, this is even more true if things are going on that relate directly to you.

It's true that the larger a church gets, the less everyone can know everything going on. In Sticky Teams, Larry Osborne tells of how a church can reach a size such that the church board cannot oversee or even preview everything going on. He also mentions that a church can reach a size where key employees cannot know everything going on in another area of responsibility in the church.

But it goes without saying that an employee of a church should know what is expected of him or her. It goes without saying that an employee needs to have the information he or she needs to be able to do the job.

3. In this day and age, people expect information, and a lack of information is often viewed very negatively. There is often the assumption that a leader is trying to hide something if information is not provided. Indeed, some (mostly bad) leaders deliberately withhold information as a power move. It seems to me that it was fairly common in older generations (e.g., Boomers) to withhold information. However, younger generations now view such behavior as sneaky and suspect. Open disclosure, at least for now, would seem to be the name of the game.

Sometimes leaders provide information but not the information that is wanted or needed. I heard of a situation once where a leader was always initiating projects and relationships that those in the organization only heard about incidentally or when they were necessary to move the projects further. The train, as it were, had already left the station by the time they became aware the train existed.

This situation raised two questions. On the one hand, did they need to have this information or be aware of it in the first place? Certainly they would have been more on board if they had known what was coming down the pike. But if they were not intrinsic to the new projects or relationships, was the problem theirs or the leaders'?

Again, in this day and age, people want more information rather than less. A culture where things are not hidden from the rest of the team is a healthier, more vibrant team than one where plans are difficult to find out. In the case of the leader in question, the secrecy of new plans engendered significant distrust. When the team asked for more information, they were given information but not the information on developing plans that was causing the tension in the first place.

However, there is a second question. There are times when a leader is trying to maneuver around potential opposition or to minimize resistance to plans. You simply cannot always have everyone reach consensus on a plan. At such points leaders need to figure out whether the benefit of the goal is worth the amount of future opposition and resistance. There is a time to back off on a good goal because people just aren't on board for it.

In other cases, the good goal is seen as worth the opposition and the leader may feel the need to work around irritants against the plan. It should be emphasized that hiding things is never the optimal situation. It needs to be a really good goal (or the opposition really carnal or misguided) to resort to hiddenness. However, there are times when it is best to be incommunicative to certain parties until the project or mission is too far underway to sabotage or a certain party just has to be brought in.

4. As far as the more administrative aspects of communication, a church of almost any size should have the basics--a website, a calendar, an email system, a presence on social media. A church without a website in this day and age is a church that doesn't want to be found or visited. The website should give information like where the church is located, who the pastor and staff are, phone numbers and email addresses, when the services are, what the identity of the church is (what you believe, what groups you are associated with). The possibility of giving is also highly recommended.

A presence on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram can be set up in a few minutes. If you want to push out emergency information and prayer requests, having a Facebook prayer group and other groups is incredibly helpful at this moment in history. GroupMe is incredibly helpful for emergencies, and having a group that receives text prayer alerts is hard to beat. It may be surprising how much esprit d'corps such "trivial" media create.

The church should have an email system and someone should be checking their email daily and responding. Pastors and staff, of course, may have to establish systems if these channels get too clogged. Lots of time can be wasted doing email and engaging social media. In this day and age, it's better to err on the side of communication than non-communication. But pastors shouldn't get too sucked into the "email buddy" that wants to hash out every sermon by email every week.

Email sabbath is also important and perhaps might coincide with whatever a pastor's day of rest is.

Gmail and Google calendar are free services that a church may want to consider. Someone of course will need to maintain it, but the calendar is essential for the congregation to know what is going on in a busy church. Top staff might consider having a common calendar as well, which provides a kind of accountability so that everyone knows where everyone else is at a given time.

5. It's possible to over-communicate, of course. As someone has said, words are like currency. The more you have, the less each is worth. Of course a lack of currency also leads to economic crisis.

The higher the leader, the more valuable each word should be. A leader's words should not be spam. In general, the level of leader should generally match the level of communication. We may not like it, but this is usually the way human perception works, and perception is a reality, for good or ill.

Huge churches often protect their head leaders from a good deal of mundane communication. While this may seem strange for a Christian world where everyone is equal in God's eyes, it has to do with the mission and not status. It is not that senior leadership is better than anyone else. It's just very hard for the work to get done if senior leadership spends what would inevitably be a great deal of time responding to what would inevitably be a large volume of mundane communication.

6. Some leaders feel very strongly about layered communication channels within an organization. They feel that subordinates should not skip levels to communicate with higher administration. In general, it is important that your immediate superior not feel you are backstabbing or undermining them by jumping over them. Some also feel that you should only communicate with others at the same level as you within an organization.

These are not absolutes but they are good defaults. Beware the blind carbon copy (BCC). Keeping confidences is essential to trust and good relationships. Some conversations are better had in person. Anything written down can and will be held against you, possibly. Decisions should usually be made in person rather than through email, although sometimes email can save time when you do come together to make decisions. Also, email may be necessary if one is one a short timeline.

Next Week: Pastor as Leader 21: Hiring, Firing, Recruiting

Leadership in General
Strategic Planning
Church Management

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