How to Develop an Effective Church Communication Plan
Serving in communications is a vital way to help your church accomplish its mission in the congregation and the community. Staff and volunteers work to support ministries, promote events, and provide strategic advice to executive leadership team members. No matter the size of your church, having an effective communication plan in place is essential to engage your audiences and accomplish your goals.
What is a Church Communication Plan?
Communication plans specify the details of how a program or event is executed, promoted, and evaluated. The plan addresses who will do what, when. In addition to planning weekend services, churches benefit from designing communication plans to keep ministries organized.
Guidelines to Consider in Developing Your Plan
- Who Will Do the Work - Be specific about who will do what and when the deadlines will be. This way, it’s clear who and what is to be communicated to groups in the congregation.
- Your Church’s Culture and DNA - Every church community is unique and embraces certain areas of focus and outreach. Plus, not every church audience uses technology the same way. A church filled with mostly 20- and 30-year-olds is likely using social channels for communication that older congregations are not. It’s important to keep this in mind when communicating via various channels.
- Budgeting - There are lots of fancy church tech tools that help streamline communication, but they come with a price tag. It’s important to be a responsible steward of resources. Stewardship is the process of distributing and allocating resources.
- Scope - The entire congregation probably doesn’t need to know about an upcoming youth event. So, it’s important to segment your audiences and decide what information should be communicated to the entire congregation and what would better be targeted to select audiences in the church.
- Margin - If you’re not a megachurch, you likely won’t be able to do all the things they do in terms of marketing and communication. That’s okay, just consider the time and personnel you have to dedicate and develop a plan that doesn’t overextend your availability.
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Best Practices to Keep in Mind
- Do More by Doing Less - Instead of ten things, do three and do those three things really well. Measure your results and evaluate on a regular basis.
- Build Alignment - Get on the same page with other leaders in your church and make sure everyone agrees on how the plan will assist the program, project or event.
- Get Staff Updates - Incorporate regular communications updates in your leader meetings, staff huddles and management team sessions.
- Maintain Professional Development - Read various resources and find information that will help you keep in touch with communicating well and crafting a message that best reaches your church audience.
- Remember the Five W’s of Communication - The scientific method is useful in the practice of communications. Start with gathering the facts and everything you know about the program or event. Write down the five W’s of communication: Who, What, Where, When, Why and then add in an H, for good measure: How.
- Crisis Communications - For sensitive projects you will need to establish a crisis communications plan to keep in your back pocket. This type of plan is different from your everyday ministry promotion plan. Be aware and be ready in the event something goes wrong or is perceived negatively. Planning is the key to staying calm in the moment.
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Creating and Implementing Your Plan
- Map Out a Timeline - Plan backwards from the go live or launch date. Remember to add in extra time for when problems arise or when technology has some bugs to work out. Typically, an extra week or two built into the initial timeline will save the day!
- Meet and Plan Early - Plan times of rest when attendance is not at a peak. Keep in mind that strategic communications teams must work about three to four months ahead of the attendance curve, so the spike in planning will look different. Busy seasons for churches tend to be August-September, Christmas Eve, and January-Easter. Less happens in the summer and end-of-school-year months, but communications teams are busy planning ahead in May-August and October-January.
- Align Weekend Service Schedules and Series Plan - The preaching often drives so much of the emphasis and events happening in the church. A preaching series on social justice might take place when numerous outreach events are taking place. Or you may host your small group launch during a sermon series on community. Access your church preaching calendar so that you can align event planning and promotion timelines.
- Choose Communication Channels - Decide what channels, such as email, bulletins, or social media and how you will use each channel. Your channel strategy is the core of your communication plan as it explains what ways you will get the message out and how you will reach your target audience(s).
- Get Feedback - Discover how congregants found out about events and activities. Regular surveys of your congregants create a space for two-way feedback and provide a pulse on your communications.
- Recruit Volunteers - Empower others to lead projects and invite others to serve on your strategic advisory board, a group of experts you can call on for feedback. Additionally, use volunteers to communicate to their audiences. For example, small group leaders might communicate select information to their groups about specific church events.
- Manage the Change - So much of implementing a church communication plan involves enacting change and that is challenging work! Revise best practices for change management and be sure to get others on board.
- Adopt the Right Tools - Increase productivity by adopting digital tools for the communication team and beyond. Online sign ups help organize events and congregational needs so you have more time to spend where your expertise is most needed.
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Measuring Ministry Impact
- Capture Stories - Develop a comprehensive process for organizing stories of how people’s lives are changing by participating in your church and sharing them among ministries.
- Track Key Metrics - Create a digital dashboard for your leaders so that they can assess participation and ministry impact.
- Reflect and Celebrate - Regularly celebrate accomplishments, ministry wins, and life change, together. Revisit communications goals and document input and feedback on the plan and how it went. What will you do differently next time?
- Use the Data - Have you heard of “making data-driven decisions?” This practice bases decisions on facts and results as opposed to feelings. Try to anchor your plans in facts and research as opposed to copying what other churches are doing or going with how someone feels about a certain project on a specific day.
When everyone shares expectations, teams work better together, and congregants better understand how much work goes into promoting a specific program or event. As a communications leader, be sure to have a realistic understanding of what type of resources and services you can offer to each ministry.
If everything is a top priority, then nothing really is because you will not have time to be strategic and purposeful in your ministry. Set priorities and then learn to say a gracious “no” while you always under promise and overdeliver. You’ve got this!
Erica Thomas serves ministries across the globe with church communications expertise.