The important term in the headline here is “aren’t always.” Ministry leaders, including pastors, leaders of groups like Young Life, and missionaries are almost always great verbal communicators or they wouldn’t be in ministry. They do great talking to groups, teaching, challenging, motivating. But in today’s multi-channel communication universe, that isn’t enough. Today you have to have additional skills and most often a team to help carry them out— and this article will help you get started.
What communication skills are needed by a leader today
When the Apostle Paul said he needed to be “all things to all people that he might win some,” he had no idea of the multitude of communication tools and effective ministry program needs today, but his words couldn’t be more true in this area.
You need a variety of communication tools because no church or ministry is a homogeneous group when it comes to what communication tools works best for each person in it. Your message stays the same, but for different groups of people to take it in and act on your teaching or call to action, you need different ways to reach them. Here are some examples:
What works in a church
In the church, some people like the traditional bulletin and print newsletter to find out what’s going on at the church. Others prefer to get their church news online. Others will only pay attention if they get a text message just before an event and others need large print format to stay informed. In the church if you want your people to know what is going on and to take part, it doesn’t matter what you as a leader like or think is useful and proper for the church. It doesn’t matter what the latest cool communication tool young leaders were using at the last conference you attended. What matters is what channels of communication are the various people in your church are responding to.
In the church we always need to remember that the majority does not rule when it comes to being a servant to all. There may only be 4-5 or 10-20 people who still need the newsletter printed out and mailed to them, but we must always remember that our Lord went after the one little sheep. He expects us to treat people the same way. You may get very irritated with the small group of seniors who won’t get on email—but you are called to serve and love them even if that means a tiny bit of extra work.
What works in a ministry
In a ministry, such as Young Life, the kids may communicate via text and Instagram, and sometimes Facebook, but if the leaders want to reach donors they need to have a solid, fact-filled website, email newsletters, and certainly a Facebook page directed towards adults. Adults, perhaps grandparents, who might be committed to the group financially and who are faithful prayers partners are often avid Facebook users because that’s how they keep in touch with kids and grandkids.
One of the biggest mistakes made by ministry communicators such as Young Life or other leaders who work with young people, is designing ALL their communications to appeal to the kids. To effectively communicate to all the groups involved in the success of the ministry from your target audience to donor support, you need to target specific communications to specific groups. These communications then often require different channels, for example, the same message may go out via text to the kids and via a postcard to grandparents. Once again, it isn’t about you or what you think is the best way to reach a certain group. Always ask what they are using and conform to their needs and communication habits.
Two more observations for both groups
One, don’t always make assumptions on what channels people in a group prefer based on age. Some Baby Booomers are very tech savvy—they invented much of the technology today and have been around since it started; however some still can’t figure out how to use a mobile phone.
You have to know your people. Knowing your people is a pastoral task that involves asking them what channels they use both verbally and in periodic surveys. Again, yes this is more work, but if you want to communicate effectively you must know their preferred communication preferences.
Two, don’t get too comfortable with targeting certain channels to certain groups. New communication channels are constantly being created and current ones constantly changing in features and use. Facebook was a very big deal with young people when it first came out, but the demographic who uses it has since added many parents and grandparents. Young people are using whatever is new and primarily visual to share instant images of their lives. People in different parts of the country may use different channels in different ways—again, no one size fits all solution works for every church.
What ministry and church leaders need to do
Who could have imagined how pervasive and essential mobile phones, the web, and all forms of digital communications would be in our lives today and that ministries and churches would need to make the most of all of them to reach their world for Jesus? However, who has time to learn to use and become proficient in all the channels?
Obviously not the ministry leaders. With the people and leadership demands their schedules are full. But lack of time to create the needed communications doesn’t resolve the ministry need for comprehensive communications that reach all the necessary audiences. So what are leaders to do?
As in every area, the answers are in the Bible and in this case Paul’s teachings about the church being a body with different gifts are useful. To translate this teaching into the area of communications means that you need to create a communications team. Not every member will have the same skills or be good at the same communication channels.
You need to create a team of church communicators to effectively communicate all things to all your audience so you might win some.
Next month we’ll talk about creating a communication team, but for now, get to know what your people use so you’ll know what skills to look for in your team.
For more on this and other topics related to effective church communications, please go to: www.effectivechurchcom.com