Joel Snider explains that a healthy church culture requires constant attention to good communication. Effective communication requires a consistent process that begins with a healthy approach to decision making and requires accuracy and repetition when sharing messages.
To celebrate the Lewis Center’s anniversary, we are highlighting Leading Articles — some of our most popular posts of the past 20 years. We are pleased to share again this article by Joel Snider, originally published on November 14, 2018.
Want to know the best practices of a healthy church? Here’s one: healthy churches communicate well. They recognize it is almost impossible to communicate too much. Sounds simple, doesn’t it? If it’s so simple, why don’t more congregations do it well? One reason is that they fail to see that communication is more than making announcements or designing a Facebook page. In fact, it is more than any one task. It is a core process with many related components. The full process includes:
1. Quality of decisions
A good communication process begins before there is anything to announce. This fact is particularly true when communication includes information about a change or something new. Church initiatives and changes almost always derive from a decision. Quality decisions include as many people as possible in the development stage. They are collaborative.
You may wonder how joint decisions play a part in effective communication. The more people you include in developing a decision, the more people you have who can inform others about the decision. Whether you are deciding on a new ministry, a change in an existing schedule, or a policy revision, you should invite people to work with church leaders. By doing so, you enlist a wider group of informed advocates who can speak about the decision and answer questions asked by people you might never encounter. Participant buy-in will lead to some of the most effective communication possible.
2. Quantity of messages
Communication specialists estimate that it takes telling a message 16 times for the information to spread throughout an organization. That number may seem like overkill, but it rarely is. The larger your church, the more you should consider 16 times as a bare minimum.
Today, people get their news from a variety of sources: Twitter, TV, websites, etc. In the same way, church members get their information about congregational life in many ways. Therefore, effective church communication is multi-channel: Facebook page, Twitter, newsletter, group texts, website, and targeting small group leaders who can help disseminate information. Simply making 16 announcements on Sunday morning will not get the message to everyone. By increasing the number of communication channels, you improve the likelihood of reaching more people.
A corollary of this principle is the need for appropriate lead time to get information spread throughout a congregation. It’s difficult to communicate important matters 16 times in a week. If you have information vital to a decision, a new ministry, or a schedule change, it’s better to delay a target date to allow time to communicate thoroughly than it is to abbreviate communication to meet a deadline. Start early enough to give your message time to permeate the church family.
3. Clear and accurate information
Accurate facts and clear information are basic components of healthy communication. The more channels you use to disseminate information, the harder it is to keep facts accurate across them all. One person may be responsible for posting an event to Facebook, while another develops the newsletter. A third sends out an email blast. We increase the chance for factual mistakes every time we add a person to the list of those responsible for getting the word out. The process of checking and rechecking times and locations is as mundane as it is important. Facts must be accurate. Changing the time of a meeting or event may not seem like a significant issue to you, but it may be to individuals who are embarrassed when they arrived late because they received inaccurate communication.
4. Consistent practices
The next component of healthy communication is the alignment of what we do with what we say. If you don’t see this consistency as important to communication, consider an incident involving my mother-in-law years ago. She attended a church meeting where the members voted to spend money on resurfacing the parking lot. When she left the meeting, she realized the parking lot had already been resurfaced. You may think this is not a communication problem, but the message she “heard” was that the congregation’s decision didn’t matter. Policies that are unequally applied, procedures that are ignored, and information provided to a few — all these carry damaging unspoken messages that undermine relationships and trust.
All these components are parts of the same process. They are interrelated and require constant coordination. Staff meetings and calendar checks bore most ministers. I can’t imagine that any person who felt the call to ministry would have anticipated spending hours each week in such dull and ordinary tasks. There is a way however to view paying attention to these components of the communication process as a higher calling. Try seeing them as a part of congregational care. Every time you practice effective communication you are safeguarding the congregation from conflict and self-inflicted injuries.
This article originally appeared in the electronic newsletter of the Center for Healthy Churches. Used by permission.
- 3 Common Communication Mistakes and How to Fix Them by Ryan Holck
- Congregations as Political Systems by David R. Brubaker
- How to Communicate Change by Karen Shay-Kubiak