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Churches can empower members for ministry by keeping them in loop with current informationcomment (0)

September 26, 2013

By Grace Thornton

Brian Harris couldn’t believe what he was hearing.

“When I was a communications director at a church, I had a church member ask why she hadn’t heard about a particular event,” he said.

His first thought: “Have you not been at church?”

It “was a churchwide event, and she was literally standing beside a poster in the hallway when she asked me the question,” he said. “In some cases, you just can’t win.”

But in many other cases, church members have legitimate feelings of being out of the loop about what’s going on in church and their concern is legitimate, said Harris, an associate in communications and technology services for the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions.

“I definitely think it’s different on a church-by-church case and often the openness of communication is a direct reflection of the leadership in the church,” he said. “I think most church leaders want their congregation to be informed of everything but a lot of times it just doesn’t happen.”

And much of the issue comes from the preferences of the congregation — leaders will never get everyone to agree on what is the right amount or method of communication, Harris said.

“With that in mind, you have to open several channels and be constantly aware of new opportunities,” he said. “At the same time, you have to be able to maintain these channels of communication. It’s almost just as bad to have a presence on social media or the Web, for example, and never update it than it is to not be on it at all.”

Charles Malmede, director of media services for Whitesburg Baptist Church, Huntsville, agreed.

Whether Facebook or other Web-based communication, “no matter which you choose, the most important thing is maintaining it with current information,” Malmede said. “If you don’t, people will not trust it and they will stop using it to find the information they are looking for.”

It’s vital for the church to have trustworthy communication, he said. The goal is to have every member involved in ministry, and that can’t happen if they don’t have the information or aren’t confident in the information source.

“We cannot achieve our goal of getting every member involved in ministry if we can’t effectively communicate with them,” Malmede said.

Harris offered some tips on communicating with church members:

Listen to the congregation.

“They will help dictate what is needed,” Harris said. “If it’s a younger church, then you have to be on social media. You’ve got to have a well-maintained website.”

If the church is older, printed materials will likely be valued, he said. “A lot of churches are right there in the middle, and you end up having to do it all.”

If that’s the case, church leaders who primarily communicate in print should be willing to experiment with an email newsletter option for those who prefer it, Harris said.

Speak where people are listening.

Harris said most people expect churches to have a Web presence at this point, and Greg Golden, associate pastor in media ministries for Cottage Hill Baptist Church, Mobile, agreed.

“If we hope to get and keep their attention, we must do so in a relevant style that meets them in their patterns of daily life,” he said. “We as a church are competing for their attention and their time, so we should put our best face forward on all the methods of conveying information so that our members can be fully informed and more completely engaged in their church.”

In Golden’s church, that means using a monthly bulletin handout, a weekly handout, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, a text service, a weekly email blast and video announcements that are shown in the services.

At Whitesburg Baptist, it includes some of these as well as a “top four” announcements each week during the services and posters in the major thoroughfares, Malmede said.

Don’t forget the bathrooms.

Restroom facilities offer a prime opportunity to communicate, Harris said.

“I visited a church and found that they were even taking advantage of the time a person was in the bathroom to tell them about things that are going on,” he said. 

“It sounds crazy, but virtually everyone is guaranteed to visit the bathroom at some point while they are in the building.”

He loved the idea so much that he installed plastic paper holders in each spot an individual might see them while in the bathroom.

“People thought I was crazy at first, but then members started telling me stories about how they saw it in the bathroom and it really helped them to learn more about a particular event,” Harris said.

Adapt your plan to fit your church’s size.

Larger churches may have staff dedicated to communication, but in smaller churches, the responsibility can fall to the pastor or secretary, who already have full plates, Harris said.

“You really don’t want to take on too much and end up sacrificing your health or home life, so it becomes important to grow and nurture a strong and supportive volunteer staff to help.”

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