Local church communication is a ministry that shares the church’s story in ways that move people toward becoming disciples of Christ. You are part of a leadership team that brings to life your church’s vision and mission. Your role is to be a storyteller and connector, employing communications’ practices and tools to share the story of the church in a planned, compelling, accessible way. Your goal is to develop a reliable process for telling and hearing the story in which everyone can participate. This Guideline is designed to help you meet this goal.
This is one of the twenty-six Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 that cover church leadership areas including Church Council and Small Membership Church; the administrative areas of Finance and Trustees; and ministry areas focused on nurture, outreach, and witness including Worship, Evangelism, Stewardship, Christian Education, age-level ministries, Communications, and more.
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Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 Communications
Tell Your Church's Story
CokesburyCopyright © 2016 Cokesbury
All rights reserved.
Understand Your Role and Responsibilities
You are part of a leadership team that brings to life your church's vision and mission. Your role is to be a storyteller and connector, employing communications practices and tools to share the story of the church — its ministries, programs, opportunities, people, and faith — in planned, compelling, accessible ways. Your goal is to develop a reliable process, in which everyone can participate, for hearing and telling the church's story.
In its broadest sense, church communications is the sum total of everything we do, say, or show. Churches constantly communicate, whether they mean to do so or not. Intentional communication is the cornerstone of an effective communications ministry — and the essence of your job.
Your hats may include what the secular world knows as "marketing," "advertising," and "public relations," both inside the church and in the community.
As one local church communicator put it, "Communications ministry provides a way to take a large number of ministry events, needs, activities, and opportunities and package them for presentation to the congregation and the community."
You will want to interact frequently with the church council members. They are charged with coordinating programs of the church — elements of the church's story. They likely need your communications expertise. It will be helpful for you to read the other Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation in this series to learn more about everyone's jobs and to understand their communications needs.
The ministry of communications encompasses such a wide and varied arena within the life of the church that it is difficult to identify exactly and accurately the responsibilities or resources for every communications coordinator.
One size does not fit all. In general, the purpose of the communicator is to keep the congregation "in the know" about what's happening in the church and throughout the denomination and to challenge the congregation through stories of faith in action — bringing people closer in their walk with God.
It is important that you discuss with the nominations and leadership development committee and pastor(s) your role and responsibilities so expectations are clear. One challenge that communicators face is creating a manageable work life. There is so much to do! Let's look at a few areas that may be considered communications functions in the local church. One way to look at the tasks is to divide them according to complexity or responsibility.
ACTION ITEM: Use the following lists as a discussion starter with your pastor and others about what fits your role, what others can do, and where this position can go.
Suggested Basic Responsibilities
Promote the church's mission through communications.
Coordinate communications to and from members (print/electronic newsletters, announcements).
Share information about members (bulletin boards, special recognitions).
Promote church-related events and opportunities to church members to encourage their participation or involvement.
Promote events and opportunities sponsored by the church to the community.
Work with a communications committee.
Make suggestions and contributions to the church's website.
Use social media tools to create engagement, dialogue, and community.
Suggested Intermediate Responsibilities (Building on the Basics)
Provide creative communications counsel and direction for various ministries within the church as people organize and produce various events and services (e.g., identifying audiences, creating communications plans, and sharing effective presentation ideas).
Create a public relations plan for the church for both internal (congregation) and external (community) audiences.
Write news releases and maintain proactive media relations.
Write and design promotional and informational print materials.
Ensure the church building, property, and congregation communicate "Welcome!" and promote good public relations.
Coordinate "marketing" efforts of the church to support evangelism in reaching out to the community.
Plan and place regular and seasonal advertising.
Oversee the design and management of the church's Web ministry.
All these are "tasks." They are only as important as the reason behind doing them. Consider, what is the church's mission and vision? How does communication breathe life into vision and mission statements?
You will need communications and organizational skills, a sense of humor, the ability to juggle several projects at once, a little patience, a love for The United Methodist Church and its people, a sense of mission, and an occasional ability to say no.
If you are the electronic communications coordinator, your work and tools will be different from the print person's, but your focus will coordinate with that of other communications staff and volunteers.CHAPTER 2
In the Beginning
This resource will help you answer vital questions related to communications; yet, it represents one foot in the water, just breaking the surface. If needed, you will want to tap additional resources for more in-depth discussion.
If you are new to this role, we expect that you will need answers to four basic questions:
1. What is my job?
2. Where do I begin?
3. How do we reach people in the congregation?
4. How do we make our church more visible in the community?
Where Do I Start?
As part of your work, ask yourself, "What do communications for this church look like? What should communications look like, and how do I make it happen?" The answers will change over time, but the questions are a good point from which to launch a journey of discovery.
You know the adage, "It's not what you know; it's who you know." That is also a good place to start — finding the people who will support your efforts. The United Methodist Church is connectional, which means all United Methodist churches connect in various ways, and help is available through the connection.
Get clarity on the expectations of your position.
Learn about your annual conference.
Contact the conference director of communications, the district office, and other local church communicators.
Understand what you bring to the position and develop a concept of what local church communications means for your local church.
Form a communications team.
Know Your District and Annual Conference
As a brief review, your local church is in a district within an annual conference. A district superintendent oversees several churches in the district. Get to know the superintendent and administrative specialist in your district office.
The district superintendent and administrative specialist likely publish a newsletter and maintain a website. It is critical for you to access this information for promotion of district events and ministries, as well as local church events through the district. Ask for placement on newsletter mailing lists — and ask how you can serve the communication needs of the district.
In the United States, an annual conference may include churches in one, part of one, or more than one state. A bishop leads each annual conference. The United States has nearly 60 annual conferences; the number changes as annual conferences merge. The number of churches in annual conferences ranges from 200 to more than 1,000. (Europe, Asia, and Africa include about 70 annual conferences.)
Tap into the Annual Conference
The annual conference office employs a staff that works with all aspects of ministry, including a director of communications. Early in your new position, call the director. (You should be able to obtain contact information from the conference website or from your pastor.)
Ask the conference communicator for advice with the following:
Which programs, resources, and workshops would be useful to a new local church communicator?
When the conference is promoting ministry opportunities or sponsoring events, for example, what is your role in terms of promotions?
What criteria make a story in your church a good subject for conference news? Check the conference website and Facebook page often for ideas and resources.
Who are the other local church communicators with whom you could visit? Learning how others walk the path will save you time and stress.
ACTION ITEM: Visit your annual conference's website to gain ideas from its content.
Get Acquainted with General Agencies
The annual conference is part of the general church, along with 13 general boards and agencies. United Methodist Communications in Nashville, Tennessee, the denomination's official communications agency, tells the church's story around the world. United Methodist Communications offers tools, services, training, and resources that inform, inspire, and engage local churches to carry out the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
ACTION ITEM: Visit www.UMCom.org and check out the websites of other general agencies, such as Discipleship Ministries, the General Board of Global Ministries, and The United Methodist Publishing House. You will find resources to support many of your assignments. Find a full list of agency website and contact information on pages 37 and 38 of this Guideline.
Build a Communications Team
Because it is difficult for one person to plan, implement, and evaluate local church communications effectively, a team-based approach is the best option for brainstorming ideas and spreading the work and opportunities.
Consider the following as you build your team:
Who should serve on the team?
If the size of your congregation allows, include members on your committee who work and/or volunteer in communications fields such as:
* digital/social marketing/communications,
* public relations,
Include people who are new to the church.
Invite members from various age groups who enjoy trying new strategies. Youth and young adults should have their own communications conversations and have a voice on the team. (See the Guideline for Small-Group Ministries for ideas on working with your committee.)
After assembling your team, decide how often you will meet and for what reasons. If the team is a working group, empower members to take on assignments. The next order of business is to create an understanding of local church communications.
ACTION ITEM: Give all team members a copy of or access to this resource. In addition, you may want to invite a communicator from another congregation — or from the annual conference office — to visit and provide insights.CHAPTER 3
Identify Communication Needs
Performing startup research will help your team to chart a road map for success. One way to find your destination is to ask an important question: What do we want to happen or to be different because of effective communications?
Take three important steps during this process:
1. Ask church leaders. Spend time with the pastor, communications team, and church council to learn about their goals for more effective communication. Afterward, establish your agreed-to goals in concrete terms and write them down. Here are a few examples:
We want 10 percent more of our congregation to be involved in hands-on mission work.
We want to increase Special Sunday offerings by 5 percent.
We want the congregation and others to have access to daily devotional resources.
We want to have our special services included on community calendars in newspapers and on radio.
2. Listen to the congregation. Specificity will help your team choose effective communications strategies. Ask church members what information they want and how they want to receive it. What do they want to know about the church and its ministries to help them grow spiritually as disciples of Jesus Christ?
To improve your team's listening options, consider these ideas:
Survey the congregation by written/electronic questionnaires and/or listening sessions.
Distribute printed questionnaires to reach a large portion of the congregation.
Encourage participation in information gathering with a note or statement from the pastor.
In your surveys, list your current methods of communication and ways you might communicate in the future. Ask for preferences and comments.
Because differences in age, background, and level of church involvement will affect responses, ask demographic questions (age, frequency of church attendance, church activities, etc.) in a respectful manner.
Consider holding listening groups to glean preferences and new ideas. As a side benefit, people participating in these groups often are motivated to take an active role in creating solutions. If you do not want to be this formal, just ask people what they think during normal conversation.
Include church leaders, such as Sunday school teachers, United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women, lay leaders, youth leaders, and, of course, the pastor(s) to find out what communications they need to do their jobs better.
3. Share findings among the communications team. As a team, study the surveys and identify trends. Through this effort, the types of communications people want and the ways they prefer to receive messages should emerge. Note differences in the demographics of responses. These will become your different audiences (more on that later). With experience and this information in hand, you and the team will become the experts in addressing your church's communications needs.
Now, combine the goals from leadership and the needs from the congregation to create a plan. Going forward, the team will create, implement, and evaluate that plan. Speak to your leaders and to the congregation about the survey results and your plans for reaching strategy goals. Survey participants will appreciate the communication as confirmation of their partnership in ministry.
Communications is about not only providing information but also building community among the congregation and other people associated with the church. A veteran local church communicator points out, "People can only get involved if they know what's going on. Ministry and education are done in community, and communication is what creates and helps maintain that community."
Effective communication makes people feel valued and provides connection to meaningful experiences and relationships. Being a valued member in a community of believers inspires people to share the same love and caring with others. This is what John Wesley called a response to God's transforming grace in our lives.
Communication helps the congregation:
feel a part of the church community,
participate actively in the life of the church,
make informed decisions (about giving, for example).CHAPTER 4
Assess Your Communications Tools
After learning your church's communications needs, audit the communication tools your church currently uses or may plan to use. This is an effective way for team members to express their opinions and their passion for communications. Discuss the ways to share information and to build community through communications that fit your church's unique needs.
ACTION ITEM: Break into small groups and assign the group a few of the tools until you have assigned all the tools. Report and discuss in the large group. For each tool, identify:
Are you using the tool?
How does it meet identified needs?
For print and electronic pieces: Are the look, feel, and message consistent? (Do all pieces contain the church logo, for example?)
How do you rate its effectiveness?
Should you keep it, improve it, or drop it?
If not in use, is it applicable in the future?CHAPTER 5
It is time to plan for the next 18 months. By creating a "big picture" plan this far ahead, your team has greater assurance of implementing its plans. While January may seem too early to make detailed plans for a June vacation Bible school, it is not. Here is how:
Develop a Calendar
With your pastor, church council chair, communications committee, and a large 18-month planning calendar, identify the important times and major events in the church year, including Special Sunday offering times. The official United Methodist program calendar may be useful (see Resources). If you are not certain of exact dates, indicate the month in which they are likely to happen.
Determine if your publicity should center on one event (vacation Bible school) or multiple events and activities (Advent and Christmas season).
Identify the audiences for your communication and what tools you will want to use. Estimate what budget you will need — and plan how to fund it.
Set a date to make your plans and dates for implementation. Note: It is common to begin planning even before you finalize all details.
Within a week or two following an event or season, evaluate your efforts — and begin planning for next year.
Excerpted from Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2017-2020 Communications by Cokesbury. Copyright © 2016 Cokesbury. Excerpted by permission of Cokesbury.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsBlessed to Be a Blessing,
Biblical Basis for Communications Ministry,
Understand Your Role and Responsibilities,
In the Beginning,
Where Do I Start?,
Build a Communications Team,
Identify Communications Needs,
Assess Your Communications Tools,
Develop a Calendar,
Create a Communications Plan,
Create the Tie That Binds,
Know Your Audiences,
Select the Right Vehicle,
The Church Newsletter,
Website and Web Ministry,
Interpret Connectional Giving,
Project a Positive Image,
Create Visibility in the Community,
Public Witness as Public Relations,
Body Language as Public Relations,
Telephones as Public Relations,
Welcome as Public Relations,
Assist People with Special Needs,
Media Ministry: Send the Word,
Maintain Good Media Relations,
Explore the Media,
Publications and Resources,
UMC Agencies & Helpful Links,