If you are a pastor or church communication leader today, you know the challenges of communicating both with the members of your congregation and with your digital mission field. The communications field is developing and changing rapidly as more and more people adapt to the wide variety of digital, social and mobile, communications tools.
It is easy to get overwhelmed by the need to manage multiple communications channels in order to get your message out. This is why my mastermind group crafted a 7-step process that you can go through with your church to develop an effective digital communications strategy. By undertaking this strategic development process, you can create a communications system that works for your church or ministry.
The first step is a communications strategy/audit. In this step, you will identify the way that your church is presently communicating. Whether you have a bulletin, a website or a mobile app, this audit will allow you to get an overall view of the current state of your communications. From there you can start to develop a strategy to bring all your communications into alignment in the following steps.
What Is a Communications Audit
An audit is a comprehensive list of every communications tool that a church is using. It should also include an inventory of the content that is available over each channel.
For example, if your church has a webpage, a content audit would include a list of each page of your site.
A content audit should also include some performance data on each communication channel. Some of this data might be readily available.
For example, the traffic to each page of your website is easy to find out from your web analytics software. You also want to note the number of inquiries you receive from your website.
Other data might require a survey or some interviews with members of your church. For example, if you want to find out how many people are really reading your bulletin, you probably have to conduct a survey of some sort to find this out.
From Audit to Strategy
Once you have an idea of how your church is communicating and how effective this communication is, then you can begin to develop a strategy. The audit will let you know about any areas of your communications that are out of alignment with each other. It will also identify content that you are creating but not necessarily using to great effect.
For example, if the pastor writes a column for the bulletin each week, but this content never appears anywhere else, then there is potential to re-purpose this content in a different way for the website, social media or mobile app.
An audit can also identify important holes in your communications system.
For example, you may not be using your social media presence as well as you could. After the audit, your church or ministry will be able to move through the remaining six steps of the process for developing an effective digital strategy.
Laying the Foundation
I am currently helping my church, Houston Central Church, with its own digital communications strategy. We have recently completed an audit (step 0), branding (step 1), content (step 2) and just getting started with step 3, website/app.
When working with a church who may identify itself as traditional (really meaning conservative), conducting an audit is also important because it gets a conversation started within the congregation about the importance of online communications. Without engaging in this conversation, it is difficult to get the entire congregation (and leadership) to buy into the project. And without the support of these parties, it will be difficult to create an effective communication system.
Many churches leave their digital communications to a single volunteer. This person might have the tech skills to set up a great website, mobile app and other digital communications. But this person often operates on his own, without pastoral oversight. The result, while beautiful, may be out of sync with the overall vision and values that the church offers. The online experience of the church may be different than the actual experience of attending the church. This is a huge problem that conducting an audit can begin to address.
At Houston Central, we also had to navigate the many attitudes that people in this congregation might have about taking their church online.
Here are just a few:
- Traditional churches have established ways of doing things. Often times members of the congregation have trouble adapting to new procedures. If the secretary of the church has been producing the church bulletin for 25 years, she may not like having to be accountable to a new Director of Communications and integrating with a team that works together to put out a consistent message. People need to be shown the advantages and benefits of doing things a different way in order to motivate changing the established practices.
- There may also be a prejudice against using digital, mobile and high-tech communication tools. People may believe that these channels are too impersonal and will not replace traditional face-to-face personal evangelism as the basis for church growth. People will need to be shown that online relationships can be deeply personal, resulting in actual church growth and real conversions.
- Another issue is simply a general lack of knowledge and familiarity with digital communications tools. The church may not really have access to the right resources to develop a communications and marketing system. The leaders and congregation will need to be educated about their options.
- One huge issue is financial. If a church wants to run a new program or build something, there is a clear budget and cost. There are also clear deliverables. It is clear what you are getting when you fund a new building or a new program. Investing in a digital communications system is different. People need to see that this is going to be worth the expense. Implementing a digital communications strategy is usually less expensive and more effective than investing in traditional advertising like direct mailings. This has to be clearly explained to the congregation.
My experience at Houston Central demonstrates that a communications audit is not only the foundation of an effective communication strategy, but it is also a great tool to educate, inform and win over the congregation and church leaders to a new approach to marketing and communications. When you help your congregation to see the value of a digital communications strategy, it is easier for them to embrace the new communications system when you launch it.