If you’ve spent any time on social media, watching TV, reading newspapers, or even listening to family and friends try to tell you something “factual,” you’ve likely noticed that there are communication problems out in the world. Unfortunately, those same problems exist in the church as well. Whether it be Sunday morning announcements, the bulletin, social media posts, or almost any other medium that churches use to communicate information, what the audience takes in is not always what the speaker intended.
If we’re going to be on mission communicating the Good News of Jesus Christ, let’s make sure we communicate all things well. See if your church needs help with any of the 9 obstacles to effective communication listed below.
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1. Not Leading Through Pushback
The world is an ever-changing place, and now and then, something even changes in the church. Hopefully, for the sake of your church and the people that God wants you to reach with the Gospel, your church will make positive, strategic changes as needed. The very next day, someone will question those changes, though, and you will have a choice to make. You can waffle and maybe think of a way of not upsetting them further. Or, you can stand behind the leadership decisions that have been made, speak about the positivity of the changes, the future vision, and how excited you will be to see them come along and help make it all happen.
2. Confusing Mediums
Suppose Grandma has a Jitterbug phone (or a landline. Yuck, a what!?), you know that texting her is not the best way to invite her over for Easter dinner. This is part of the same framework of thought that we must employ when communicating in the church. An effective communication strategy will lay out all the mediums you have and help you decide which ones are best depending on what needs to be said and to whom. Unless the message is “There’s a contagious virus going around, the church is closed this Sunday,” or a few other similar things, you probably do not need to put out the same message across all mediums either.
3. Seeing Social Media as Primarily Internal Communication
Scott Ball had a great analogy for this one. If you put up a beautiful Christmas tree in your house in front of a big window facing the street, who is it for? Yes! It’s for your family to enjoy, and it is also for those on the outside to see as well. When posting about church things on social media, keep in mind that you may have people not currently a part of your church seeing your posts. This goes back to the need in our churches to be guest-friendly, not insider-ish. Tip: Use a third-person point of view, and never refer people to anyone for more information without providing a way to contact that person.
4. Inconsistent Messaging
If the bulletin said the potluck was a 6 pm, and the email said it was at 7 pm, then you may have some hangry 6 pm attenders on your hands. And, nobody wants to eat that chicken noodle hot dish cold. It may not be reasonable to have one person put your messaging out across every medium. Still, one person should at least be deciding on the pertinent points so that all mediums have the same (correct) information.
This also goes for things that don’t fall into the when, where, who categories, such as mission and vision language. Marketing expert Donald Miller says, “If you confuse, you’ll lose.” There is too much at stake in the church to lose anyone over poor communication.
5. Not Staying on Point With Communication
Relatable personalities are great, but someone who cannot get to the point or stay on the point will not get the right information into the ears of the people who need to hear it. The phrase “Now, where was I?” should never be uttered during Sunday morning announcements. We may get a chuckle out of Uncle Ed’s story about missing the train, but did the parents ever hear the dates for kids camp?
6. Poor Use of Physical Space
Everything says something, so take the time to look at everything in and around your church. After the basics of making sure people can find restrooms, the sanctuary, children’s check-in stations, have a look at the rest of the space. What does that big picture of the pastor say? How about the faded, dusty old artificial plant? What does that water-stained ceiling tile say? Not all information is created equal. Always be thinking about the most important thing to say to whomever you have in front of you at the time. If they’re inundated with distractions, they may miss the Good News.
7. Lack of Vision
This is a big one. Vision drives your church into tomorrow and brings contextual clarity to your mission of making and maturing disciples of Jesus. Without vision clarity, you cannot communicate the future direction of the church clearly or consistently. What’s worse is that in the lack of an understood vision, people are naturally operating under their own subconscious ideas about the future of your church. You don’t have only lack a point of focus for the future; everyone is looking in different directions. Vision development is one of our Strategic Envisioning process components, so schedule a meeting with a TMG Guide today to learn more.
8. Not Picking Your Best Communicators
How does your congregation receive information each week? Your pastor may be able to deliver a good sermon, but that doesn’t mean he should be your weekly billboard too. In fact, it may be an awkward transition from announcements to the sermon. Have a pool of others that can provide information with good delivery. This can be a good way to utilize people’s talents too.
9. Lack of a Long-Term Communication Strategy
When you don’t know what to communicate, you tend to communicate everything all the time. If you haven’t taken the time to plan out longer periods of time and know where you’re going over the course of a year or longer, you won’t be able to plan out when the most important things should be communicated and how to speak about them.
One of the common points of pushback that we hear about long-range planning is that it doesn’t leave “room for the Holy Spirit.” Really? Are we going to put the Holy Spirit in the only-at-this-moment box? Is he not with you in your planning right now and guiding the process in addition to being with you at the moment of execution in the future? In the beginning, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, but the Word didn’t become flesh for millennia. We’re only suggesting you look into the future a few years. If you think God isn’t into long-term planning, let’s clear out some bad folk theology and invite God into our planning to direct us.
A.J. Mathieu is the President of the Malphurs Group. He is passionate about helping churches thrive and travels internationally to teach and train pastors to lead healthy disciple-making churches. A.J. lives in the Ft. Worth, Texas area, enjoys the outdoors, and loves spending time with his wife and two sons. Click here to email A.J.