It seems that the Information Age has been one of the most aptly named epochs in history. The popular meme may be true, that the average American accesses more information every day than was accessed by our grandparents in their entire lifetimes. But even if it isn’t, no one can deny that everywhere we turn some advertisement, announcement, print ad, or electronic message is vying for our attention. The advent of the Internet has done nothing but make matters worse. Now, instead of a couple dozen pieces of junk mail in my mailbox, I have an email box full of “cheap replica watches,” “free iPods” and unmentionable others. Unfortunately, the church is doing a worse job at communicating that most of these spammers in my inbox. Here are 10 ideas for your church to improve communication.
The first 5 are about helping others communicate with you. The next, the other way around.
- Answer the phone! This sounds ridiculous, and it is. But the fact is that most churches do a horrible job at actually picking up the phone in the first place. I know this isn’t easy. Many churches are relatively small, and are pastored by one person who also happens to have a full time job. The problem is, that when people call, many times that is your one opportunity as a church to connect with them. Many people looking for a church, or with a real need are not going to leave a number. If I call a church and no one answers the phone (during business hours) I put them in a category in my head as being either unprofessional or non-viable, or both! We live in an age of great and cheap technology. If you can’t afford a church secretary, forward the phones to the cell phone of someone who will be available. It is easy, and cheap. If it is 9 AM to 5 PM, Tuesday through Friday someone should always answer the phone, every time.
- Respond to your messages! OK, so someone missed picking up that phone, or maybe the call came in at 4 AM on Monday and the person had to leave a message. Return the call. I know, it sounds like I am teaching a 7th grade business class. I call churches all the time. I have even done an experiment where I left messages saying “I am thinking about coming to your church on Sunday, but I need information.” Very rarely does someone call me back. There was a national survey done a couple of years ago from a major magazine, and they got the same results. If you are a busy pastor of a large church, have someone check your messages and return them for you if you can’t. My best advice is to set aside the same exact time each day to do this, so it will never be missed.
- Have someone help check your email. I know that most pastors get quite busy. Set up multiple accounts for yourself. For instance, you might have PastorBob@mainstreetchurch.net, Bob@mainstreetchurch.net, and Pastor@mainstreetchurch.net. Set some of these up as forwarding addresses so that (as in the example) when someone writes an email to PastorBob it gets forwarded to Bob and to Office@mainstreetchurch.net. That way, your secretary gets a copy of every email that you get. Let her keep you accountable, or handle those emails that you don’t have time for. Just remember, don’t reply to those forwarded emails from your Bob@mainstreetchurch.net account, or people are going to start using that one and you will be back where you started.
- Have a “No on Sunday” policy. I started doing this at my church because I realized that people were asking me to do things on Sunday, I was agreeing, and then forgetting about it. Other times people will hand me something that is “important” on Sunday, and I’ll never see it again. I solved all of this by changing my approach to people on Sunday. They might feel that Sunday is their big chance to get to you, but they can call you (because you are now answering the phone and returning messages) if it is important. When someone approaches me on Sunday, I don’t just say “No!” That would be rude. I kindly explain what a hectic day it is, and that I want to give this matter (whatever it is) all the attention that it deserves. I then ask them to call me during the week to talk about it, or to make an appointment to meet with me at the office. That makes them feel more cared about because they know I don’t want to just give them a quick answer. That time also allows me to approach the event (or whatever) while looking at my calendar or other needed info.
- Make sure you have a box accessible to everyone. I have two. One is in the church office for internal use. The other is one that anyone can access. It is an actual, literal mailbox (the slim kind with the door at the top, not the traditional round barn type) that is on the wall. People know that instead of putting something in my hand, they can put it there where I won’t forget it. They also know that they can leave me any written message there too. I have found this to be invaluable.
- Don’t use Sunday announcements to convey all your important church information. No one is going to remember that the “Alternate Thursday Prayer Meeting” is not meeting this Thursday at 7PM, but at 7:30, and not at the Smith’s house, but at the Jones house instead. Heck, I don’t even know what I just wrote. Five minutes after you have made that announcement on Sunday, everyone who should have taken note has forgotten. Everyone who isn’t a part of that ministry is now asleep. Instead, try to prioritize your announcements. Too many churches are having an announcement service where worship breaks out, instead of the other way around. Maybe that prayer meeting announcement could be better made by just a note in the bulletin, or calling the 10 people involved. If you have to make the announcement, “If you are a part of the Thursday Prayer meetings, there has been a really important change. See the fliers on the back table,” should suffice.
- Communicate important upcoming events FIVE different ways. People become quickly blind to fliers and deaf to announcements. Use all the means at your disposal for the important stuff. Make sure that at least one of those ways is unique and out-of-the-box. One ministry event that my church ran was a prom-type dance for adults (between 19-99) that would benefit a local Christian charity. Besides calls and fliers, we got a different couple to dress up in prom attire at church every week for a month. Anyone who bought a ticket was given a free “I’m going to prom” corsage. The even was very well attended. People need to be surprised sometimes before they take notice.
- Don’t overuse email blasts. I am on email a lot. I check email between 12 and 50 times a day. If I get more than one prayer request blast a day, my tendency will be to not pay attention to any of it. I know that sounds rude, but I don’t do this on purpose. I look at so much email that those prayer requests cease to be a special “stop and pray” moment of my day. If this is true for prayer request issues in a pastors email, imagine how the lesser importance email blasts are to the congregant. Do use email blasts, but save them for a regular weekly thing at the most, or for really special circumstances.
- Give others your “No on Sunday” policy too. If you implement a “No on Sunday” policy, then you have to be fair in no asking others either. Someone once told me this as a great rule of thumb. In fact, I learned this before I implemented the policy in number 4. The idea is that it communicates care and value for you to take extra time to meet with someone if you want them to be a part of something. This rule isn’t for asking someone to sign up for the Men’s Golf Tournament or anything like that. But if you want them to start leading a Bible study, you should really take time when they can sit and digest it on a less hectic day. It is even OK to ask them to call you to set up the time to meet. I forget to make important calls all the time. Meeting with them mid-week, even if it is just by phone, says “I value you.”
- Use your website to its fullest. I can think of no single current tool that is as valuable to a church (and no, the Bible is not a “tool”) than its website, if used correctly. If not, it is nothing but a detriment. Statistics show that the cost-per-view of a church website makes a yellow pages ad look about as appealing as putting a church billboard in the middle of the ocean. I’m not going to go into this too deeply. That is what my blog at ryanshinn.com is mostly about. I will say that you need to make sure that your website is both very friendly to the uninitiated, because they WILL go there first, and to the core of your church. This should be THE place where people know that they can get the audio of Sunday’s sermon (by Sunday afternoon), the entire church calendar, the “Pastor’s Pen,” and any updated important information. That old prayer-chain style of disseminating info shall never die, but it can often be done more efficiently through the web. Most churches should not rely on a “web guy” to do all of this. Make sure your website is run with a very user-friendly Content Management System (CMS) so that all of your ministry leaders can keep things up to date, regardless of their web experience. Epiphany Systems is the best there is at doing this for churches, but I admit that I am very very biased in their favor 😉