Find Your Communication Evangelist (Part 2)
In part one of Find Your Communication Evangelist I highlighted the fact that churches would benefit from identifying a professional working in the communication field.
This communication evangelist is already leading and communicating with volunteers effectively, and is a natural network-builder. This is your go-to person for counsel to lead your communication campaign. This person knows your church family, is deeply invested, and has the skills you need.
Although most churches don’t have this luxury, any other organization with hundreds or thousands of members would undoubtedly have a full-time, credentialed communication professional on staff to align the internal and external messages with the mission of the organization. Church leaders are leading in decidedly difficult times with critically high stakes, and of particular concern to me is the difficulty in creating a margin for substantive response and feedback in the wake of change.
Think about it. Church leaders spend untold hours studying, praying, discerning, working, and many other holy -ing verbs as they make decisions about how to lead their church family forward into God’s work. Moving forward means change and for some of us, change is not so welcome. Possibly after months and months of toil, a decision is made about selling the current property and moving locations. “Whew! Glad all that work is over. Now let’s tell the church.” But wait, this is not a surprise birthday party. Do we really want to spring this huge decision on hundreds of unsuspecting people? How does that possibly have a chance of succeeding? Clearly, you can’t debut this big news on Facebook, Twitter, or your church app. But what other channels are available for this big announcement: sermons, pre‑worship elder announcements, small groups?
In a perfect world, we could back up and bring the communication evangelist on board to strategize when this idea of selling the property and moving is gaining traction. Because a communication professional is highly relational, she will understand the risk of botching the communication of a big announcement and will also understand that hard decisions are necessary for a church to grow. This combination creates a relational and rational perspective in how decisions are made and communicated. First, back up about a mile. Do people know if or why this decision is even being considered? Is the mission of the church truly understood by the entire body, and has it been communicated that we are working on different options to be able to fulfill this mission? What are all the options, and what questions are we asking? Are there other questions we should be asking, and are we asking for input from a variety of demographics? How does this relocation option fit the mission of the church? What exactly are we trying to do? Who stands to be hurt or to benefit the most? Who has the most invested? What emotional fallout is likely?
Can you find a way to appropriately inform people of what is being discussed and create some space for some feedback along the way? Yes, you can, and your communication evangelist can help you by being creative about providing venues of openness. It isn’t wise or appropriate for all people to know all information. But can we get a group of diverse opinion leaders and start there? Have we asked the church to pray as a task force starts to explore how we can serve God more effectively? Would a survey be helpful? Is there a role for small groups for substantive listening and conversation? Has anyone talked to the teenagers? Can we create space on Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights to update, explain, and ask specific groups or the church at large for feedback along the way? The whole point is to facilitate input, opinions, and pushback along the way, so that in the end, when a decision is made, people will know that their leaders made every effort to be inclusive and to listen. That requires strategy and skill, and the whole process will create a necessary tension to ensure the best decision and inclusivity possible. Yes, it takes longer and yes, it is harder. However, a positive process like this is exponentially more energizing than being attacked by the opponents after it is too late.
If we don’t keep our people informed, we are contributing to a bad storm. When people who are deeply invested in a church family are surprised with big decisions, it will end badly. Leaders not only need to explain motives about decisions, but need to communicate what is on the table long before decisions are made. If people are not appropriately informed along the way, they will make up information and make up motives, likely negative and incorrect. These inaccuracies will lead to a negative character judgement of the leaders which hurts credibility, trust and the core of the relationship. The mission of the church is in jeopardy, not because of a bad decision, but because of ineffective communication strategy. Your communication evangelist is waiting; go find her.