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Tag Archives: Religion

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5 communication knowns about 2021, the year of unknowns

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2020 has proven that the only consistency in life is that we should expect change. And our definition of “change” certainly broadened in the last 12 months! Looking to 2021, we know that we don’t know. It’ll be a year of unknowns.

After working 30-plus years in communication, here are five things that we do know, though. And if these are understood intrinsically, as God unfurls 2021, we’ll be more prepared than we were during 2020.

1. Audience is Critical.

A church needs to understand their two audiences: congregation (internal) and community (external). This research should motivate a renewed love for them. They’re been through a lot in 2020 and that should grieve and motivate you.

Understand them now. Get into their minds where they are today. Talk to them. Fall in love with them all over again. Ministry isn’t about you. It’s about them.

2. Your Audience Expects Something from You.

If you feel like they ignore you, you’re not providing what they need or want (a solution to a prominent problem or a path to an important goal) or you’re not communicating it properly. However, most churches overcommunicate too many things, so your audience starts ignoring messaging.

When this trend begins, it’s difficult to reverse it. So, in 2021, you need to become known for something relevant and needed. One thing. Build your church brand on it and ensure it a) allows your sub-ministries to unify around it, and most importantly, b) that it points to Jesus and the Gospel.

3. Your Website Needs Work.

Why do I know this? Because in 2021, the website will still be the center of effective communication strategies. All other channels (social, text, email, print, etc.) will point to your web content. And everyone
knows that all reputable organizations have a website, and they all know how to find websites. They Google your name.

So, your SEO is essential, and that takes consistent planning, organization, updated content, and continuous care (based on SEO rules). Your online audience needs to be increasing because they’re delighted in your content — and that they did it quickly and easily.

4. Don’t Rely on One Channel.

Sure, your website is important; but for essential content, don’t rely on one channel. 2020 proved we can’t even rely on stage announcements. Instead, ensure your audience knows a primary method of communication (website makes sense) and a secondary. So, this requires intentionally promoting your URL (if it has easy-to-discover content). Then choose another channel (say, Facebook) as a backup. If your website’s down, they know where to turn. Avoid print and stage in 2021.

5. Prayer is Essential.

As we enter the year of the unknowns, let’s hone our communication strategy with the God who does know. Your church simply will not be all that God wants it to be unless you build communication and dependency with Him. Let’s create a new year’s resolution to pray more. And get other praying with us. If next year’s like this year, we certainly will need it.

Happy new (unknown) year. I’m praying for you as you read this! Let’s pray together.

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The beginner’s guide to church websites: 4 steps

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There are many communication channels for your church. You can talk from the stage, in your bulletin, through text or email messaging, on one or all social media channels, and your website.

What matters most? That you communicate where most in your congregation have access to — and where your community can discover you. Print can’t do that economically.

Your website is the easiest way. It doesn’t require special downloads; just internet accessibility. And most Americans have that. In fact, three states (Washington, Utah, and Colorado) have 90+% of their households with high speed internet, according to statista.com. Mississippi ranks lowest with 76%.

Your church needs a digital communication hub that’s trusted and known. Everything points there. If your congregation or community wants info, they know they can find it at your web URL address. Here are the initial four steps to creating a successful website.

1. Domains.

How people find you. This URL (uniform resource locator) or address should be easy to say and remember. Like www.BeKnownForSomething.com. Domains are categorized with top-level domain prefixes like .com, .org, or .church.

There are many choices (those three are the most popular, though). You can use several (they can all direct to one website or individual ones). You can’t own them — you simply rent them from a reseller. If you stop paying? You lose them.

2. Hosting.

To build a website, you produce files that are read to look like your user-interface (UI). Those files are stored on a computer that’s connected directly to the internet. Those dedicated servers are called hosts.

You don’t own them either. It’s rented space. That space is accessed via an IP address (looks like 172.16.254.1). You pay annually (like your domain) and “point” your domain to the IP address. This helps someone find your website files simply by your URL.

3. Content Management System (CMS).

Next, you can learn coding (i.e., HTML, Javascript) or use a WYSIWYG (what you see is what you get) program that takes content and formats it to look like your UI on the internet. Much easier! WordPress is one of the largest CMS services (it’s free to use). There are many other options, too.

Most proprietary CMSs charge fees because they have very easy setup and interfaces. Always choose what fits your budget, is easy-to-learn, exceptionally easy to use, with lots of functionalities and integrations (calendar, registrations, video, albums, etc.). WordPress does this, but you need a developer who can help with set up and troubleshooting. Many UIs are available (for free or extra cost) and are called themes or templates.

4. Content.

Finally, the most critical component! People click on your domain to get to the content (via your UI); but the way they expect to get it is called User Experience (UX). Be creative (within brand standards) with UI but ensure your UX doesn’t break web paradigm. No one wants to figure out how to find content. Concentrate on main menu organization (about 5 or 6 choices) and the dropdown options (again, about 5-6). Then, create content using good SEO (search engine optimization) principals and use your CMS to format the content so it looks like your church. Give people what they want, how they want it, as fast as they want it. And that’s really fast.

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How clarity builds a stronger team

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With more to do than time in the week, it’s imperative to build strong teams that can serve the congregation and community more effectively. Whether a team consists of staff, volunteers, or a combination, each individual needs to know what you expect. A fundamental way to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of any team is by clarifying expectations.

Consider this: If team members are unclear about what they’re responsible for, they’ll do one of two things. They’ll either assume they don’t have responsibility for areas you intended them to own, or they’ll take over too many things and impose on someone else’s authority.

A lack of clarity can cause misunderstandings and frustration between team members and between you and your team. You may have one idea of what success looks like, and they have a different viewpoint. While they might be willing and able to meet your expectations, they’ll have a hard time doing so if they don’t know what you want.

Here are three key reasons to clarify roles and responsibilities for your team:

No. 1: Clear expectations inspire

  • What’s the vision of your church leadership?
  • Where are you headed as a congregation?
  • How does each staff member contribute to achieving that goal?

Knowing the answers to these questions can motivate people as they see how their efforts contribute to the vision. Whether someone is cleaning between services, teaching children, creating sermon graphics, or checking in volunteers, each person’s efforts can significantly support the church’s vision. They may not realize that on their own, so you may need to help them see it.

No. 2: Defined roles provide boundaries

Do you have an ambitious, driven team member who means well but keeps going a bit too far? If you’ve never clearly defined the role and communicated that to her, she may not know why you think she’s off-track.

She might even feel overworked but doesn’t realize she’s taking on more tasks than you ever intended. When you define the role, get her feedback, and settle in on boundaries, that will reduce the stress and strain on both parties.

No. 3: Documented expectations reveal the desired outcome

Does each team member understand what success looks like for his role? Are your team members ever surprised during a performance evaluation? If a team member doesn’t know what you expect, it’s difficult for him to meet (or exceed) those expectations.

Provide documented expectations in a job description to new employees. Review that document with each individual and confirm he understands each item. If a team member fails to meet an expectation, tell him as soon as possible. This may reveal that he didn’t fully understand or that he made a mistake. Whatever the case, he can correct the issue quickly if you point out the error right away.

Developing, documenting, and communicating role expectations may not be your favorite ministry tasks. However, it is part of any leader’s responsibility to make sure the team knows what their leader expects and how they can contribute to the vision. Set your team and your church up to win by clearly communicating expectations. This effort can reduce tension, increase productivity, and bring a greater sense of purpose to your team.

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How to cultivate a problem-solving culture with your team

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This year has brought several challenges. Many of these have forced church leaders to get creative and develop new ways of doing things. While we all hope life will settle down soon, it’s best to hone our problem-solving skills so we can handle whatever comes next.

Thankfully, even if you’re the senior pastor, you don’t have to figure this all out on your own. You have a team, whether paid or all-volunteer, who can help you handle the next challenge. However, developing problem-solving skills takes intentional practice and action.

Here are a few ways to help your team grow in this crucial skill:

No. 1: Ask “why?”

When COVID-19 hit, and we went to all online services, that raised several questions regarding how to minister to a remote congregation. There are many aspects of a traditional, in-person service that are hard to replicate online. Furthermore, it might not make sense to try to replicate it all online. So, we start asking, “why?”

  • Why do we do this part of the service?
  • Why haven’t we engaged our volunteers in this process?
  • Why can’t we try <insert new method here>?

Another tool to use is the “Five Whys” approach. It’s a simple way to get someone to think critically about a statement or opinion they’ve expressed. When they mention a reason why something can’t work, keep asking why. This might annoy them at first, but it should also get them to consider more options instead of just, “that won’t work.”

No. 2: Request opposing opinions

When you’re the senior leader in the room, most team members will want to agree with you. They might be intimidated or they’re looking for your approval. This means that when you say you’re thinking about trying a new approach to an issue, they might all nod in agreement (even if they’re not completely convinced).

To ward off their tendency to simply agree, don’t announce your idea as “let’s do this.” Instead, start with a comment such as, “I wonder if inviting small groups to meet outside at the church campus would help them get back into a regular meeting routine?”

If staff members all agree initially, mention a possible drawback to that idea to get their reaction. “Of course, dealing with weather issues and ensuring we have enough chairs for them could be a challenge.” You could also try asking them to give you the pros and cons of that approach.

Make sure you tell the team that it is OK to disagree in this forum. Ask for their input and listen more than you speak. Let them know that after you’ve weighed their input and decided on the next step, then you need their support once they leave the room. In the meantime, you’re counting on them to be completely honest with you, even if they think you won’t like what they have to say.

No. 3: Read and discuss

Carve out a few minutes each staff meeting to read a short article and discuss the author’s points. Consider assigning a book to read during the month and talk about the content each week. Ask pointed questions and have others prepare discussion questions beforehand to spark conversation.

The idea here is to expose the team to new ideas and viewpoints. We all need to challenge our thinking on occasion to make sure we aren’t just “doing what we’ve always done.” Learning how other leaders handle difficult situations or what other churches are doing can lead to new ideas and great solutions.

No. 4: Don’t accept problems

If staff members don’t have a problem-solving mindset, they might bring issues to your attention without any potential solutions. Talk with your team about being problem-solvers.

Tell them you’re happy to discuss issues, but they shouldn’t bring a problem to you without also offering 2-3 options to fix it. The next time someone brings a problem without mentioning a solution, ask how he/she recommends fixing the issue. That will help bring the point home that you’re serious about them developing options to fix problems.

Every church leader needs a team of people who can think critically and come up with creative solutions. While completing tasks is valuable, high-performing teams excel at overcoming obstacles and finding solutions to new challenges.

Encourage your team to bring their ideas, feedback, and solutions to the table. They’ll appreciate a leader who values their input, and you’ll gain access to more ideas than you could ever come up with on your own. That’s an excellent combination for any team.

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Stop developing your church website until you do these 3 things

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You’re trying to achieve a great online presence. You’re looking at other websites and wondering why they’re so informative and entertaining. You even get pulled into clicking around and finding several things that capture your interest. Why can’t you? Why does your website feel lackluster?!

It’s not as simple as it looks. The world is browsing through the internet. Half the population of the world says they search the internet daily. It’s estimated that Google gets 63,000 searches every second. A lot of people needing something and are looking.

Your church needs a website, but it has to be good (or it’ll be ignored). From my decades of helping churches develop communication materials and developing many websites for others and myself, here’s what I’ve learned. Put your website hat down until you do these things:

1. Understand Your Audience’s Needs.

Effective communication rises and falls on how well you know your audience. Don’t try to reach everyone. If you do? You’ll rarely reach anyone. Focus on a defined group of people with similarities: gender, age, needs, goals or whatever you want to speak to.

A website needs images and videos. Show your audience. Make them the hero of your website. Talk about their pains, needs, and concerns. Demonstrate that you love them (as Christ loves). Create personas (Google this if you don’t know the term) of your primary and secondary audiences. This is the foundational beginning of creating a solid brand and online presence.

2. Discover Your Thread.

Jumping from your personas, you need to have a lane that you love traveling in. Make sure your personas are traveling there, too. This thread (lane) becomes the guardrails for what you’re talking about, offering, and delivering in your ministries.

In fact, limit your keywords around your thread concept (lane) and Google will love you. Just make sure your thread keywords will be part of the search history for your personas. Your website needs a simple, short, well-organized menu (following website paradigm) and it needs to answer the questions that pop into your personas’ minds.

How do you deliver your brand promise? Your brand thread? Brand story? Who are you? Why should I listen? The page contents simply add details.

3. Have a Relationship Funnel.

So, now you’ll get the attention of your personas who are searching and finding you. Now what? Well, that’s exactly what they’re asking! Make sure you understand where the average person (persona) is coming from. Then decide what you want them to achieve, solve, or become once they engage regularly with you. How many steps will it take to get there? Are you leading them through the steps online?

Don’t assume your personas will want to attend an in-person service; ensure you can offer everything online as your funnel leads them to the goal. Is finding Jesus at the beginning? Middle? End? Do you want interaction with them? How are you getting their information? All of these questions are website essential.

After fully developing these three areas, you’re ready for a user interface. Go with the simplest design possible so nothing stands in the way of your content. Ensure the user’s experience is easy. And, please, continuously add and update your content. So, have an easy content management system!

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Churches, ‘COMM’centrate on 6 things

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Squirrel! Better chase it! There are many distractions and options when thinking about church communications. Focus is the key, and that “COMM”centration is required for a church to become noticed.

Each person in your community and congregation has a lot of competition for thoughts and actions, too. The shotgun approach rarely works. If you’re not concentrating on the right things by limiting what people know about you, you will be ignored. Be known for some… thing!

Here are the six things your church needs to COMMcentrate on:

1. Audience.

Concentrate on who you’re talking to (we were all taught that, right?!). Effective communication rises and falls on how well you know your audience. The more pinpointed the audience, the easier it is to get and keep their attention.

COMMcentrate on primary and secondary groups. We call that stereotypical group a communication persona. Know them so much that you love them. Talking to everyone? Few will listen. This sums up most church’s issue.

2. Needs.

List all the needs of your personas but COMMcentrate on the major ones keeping your persona awake at night. That limited group of needs are what you must focus on when creating your list of ministries. Looking at most church websites, they offer the same things (what they’ve always offered?!). Ministries that don’t solve needs will struggle for attendance.

3. Goals.

Your personas will have many goals, too. This area in your persona’s life needs your attention as well. Focus on where they want to go, what they want to obtain, and who they want to be. COMMcentrate on taking them there; with your support, ministry, guidance, and love.

4. Thread.

Your church can be known for so many things. Limit words, concepts, and solutions so you’re known for what you’re COMMcentrating on. This becomes a tagline, a brand story, a positioning of who you are; how you’re unique in the sea of options. Your concentration will make your church valued (and not easily replaced).

5. Keywords.

Once your audience is clear, understanding their needs and goals, and controlling a simple, easy-to-remember thread; you’ll need to limit specific words. There are so many words that say the same things!

COMMcentrate on a few words that are being searched by your personas. You’ll be found as a solution, and Google will be your friend and evangelist. Imagine!

6. Strategy.

After your brand components; you need a communication strategy that you COMMcentrate on. Write the process down, get people to understand it and help you, and do it consistently.

After you COMMcentrate on it for a few months, assess the outcomes and alter it slightly. It’s through that COMMcentration, that you’ll be able to watch your success!

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The church trifecta: Benefits, expectations, consistency

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I love to eat, and I especially enjoy experiencing food from new places. But, as I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s difficult to choose new restaurants without relying heavily on recommendations.

Many things can go wrong at restaurants! Bad service, subpar food, dirty environment, long lines and an unappealing menu. They need to juggle everything properly or they’ll fail.

Restaurants rely on our need to eat. Even still, the fail rate of restaurants is huge: It was (before COVID-19) reported that 80% of restaurants close before their fifth anniversary — and that’s with a community that loves to eat out!

Now think about churches! Two-thirds of most communities don’t really know why anyone would attend church regularly. So, we must rely on that other third. And when they visit? We have to get it right.

There’s a tipping point of three critical things that every church must nail in order for people to want to come back. Interestingly, a restaurant has to achieve the same trifecta, too!

1. Benefits

Everyone wants benefits promised (for a restaurant or a church!) in order to visit. The more benefits, the more someone will be compelled to be a guest. If the benefits speak directly to their needs or goals, they only probably need one.

Your job as a church communicator or Pastor? Tell the congregation what the benefits are for coming. Remind them regularly why they like attending.

Don’t know the benefits? Ask them. If the benefits feel authentic, they’ll use that language to invite friends. This word-of-mouth marketing is the most valuable and reliable source of new guests. This is your Thread: the controlled benefit you talk about, over and over.

2. Expectations

Once someone hears a benefit, they raise expectations. Most people will visit your website to set even more expectations as they ponder “how do they supply the benefit?”. For the average person, they do this online very quickly; just 3-4 minutes: browsing, skimming, and clicking a few times.

Not looking for details, they just want to get a sense of what you’re about, how you’re different from other churches, and what additional benefits they’ll receive. It’s entirely up to you to quickly set up expectations and benefits to the average person in your community. Just make sure you can deliver. If you don’t? They’ll doubt you’ll deliver on anything properly.

3. Consistency

There’s nothing worse than bragging about the food at a great restaurant and convincing a friend to go, just to find out that the food doesn’t live up to the expectation this time. Will you return again? Maybe not. That’s why your church needs systems, processes, and follow-up to assure you’re delivering benefits and expectations. Every. Time.

When these three things are done well, the community will pay attention to you. The benefits are what someone is looking for, the expectations are the standard they want the benefits delivered, and your role as a church? To deliver them the benefits and expectations consistently.

NOTE: our church fail rate is high, too: 4,000-plus churches close every year! Get the trifecta perfect so we can lower our fail rate!

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5 inexpensive ways to thank volunteers

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With all the changes due to COVID-19 this year, church volunteers have had to adapt right along with church staff. Some have learned how to host an online service while others have joined the new disinfecting team to clean between in-person services. After several months of being flexible and “making it happen,” now is a great time to express your appreciation.

Showing you value volunteers accomplishes a couple of things. One, it encourages and motivates current volunteers. When they know someone sees their efforts and that their work is making a difference, they’re more likely to stay engaged and continue serving. Secondly, showing your appreciation helps those who aren’t serving recognize how much the church needs volunteers and how serving can be a great experience.

Fortunately, you don’t need a big budget to show volunteers how much their efforts mean to the church. Here are a few simple and inexpensive ways to say, “thank you!”

1. Mail thank-you notes

Especially when meeting in-person can’t happen very often, a thank you card in the mail can be quite meaningful. Take a few minutes each day to write a short note to 3-5 volunteers. If you do that each workday for a month, that’s at least 60 volunteers who’ll receive a little boost to their day.

2. Share how volunteers make ministry happen

Before a service or even as part of the sermon, share a few examples of how volunteers have made an impact at your church. You could point out the new disinfecting team that wipes down all high-touch surfaces between services. Perhaps you could mention the tech-savvy volunteers who ensure online services run smoothly. Thank those volunteer teams and relay how their dedication impacts ministry and the effectiveness of the church.

3. Create a video to highlight volunteers

Shoot a video of volunteers serving on a Sunday morning. Show how they’re welcoming people back to church (socially distanced, of course). Include some behind-the-scenes video of volunteers who set things up before services, keep the live streaming working, etc. Show these highlight videos before a service or as part of an invitation for people to sign up to serve.

4. Share pictures on social media

Do this with permission, of course, but consider posting pictures of volunteers serving on the church’s social media accounts. Include a caption thanking volunteers for going the extra mile and for serving during a pandemic. This publicly recognizes volunteers and shows the church appreciates them. It also allows your church to showcase how you’re handling in-person services these days.

5. Actively listen to volunteers

Volunteers are on the front lines, interacting directly with people as they arrive for a service, helping them navigate how the church operates under COVID-19 considerations, and ensuring guests feel welcome. Ask volunteers for feedback. They may have suggestions for ways to improve, requests for additional training or information, and more.

You can ask a few questions of several volunteers each Sunday or use an online tool such as SurveyMonkey to solicit feedback. As you receive their input and make changes, let volunteers know that you’re implementing changes based on their suggestions. Thank them for their input and make sure they know you listened and are doing something with that information.

Volunteers play a significant role in making services happen each week. A simple thank you can be incredibly encouraging and motivating to a volunteer who wonders if her contributions matter.

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Channel preference: How most want communication content

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Imagine establishing a restaurant. You’re aware that most in your community like hamburgers. But you decide to offer only hot dogs instead. Think they’ll understand? It’s difficult to keep people happy if you don’t provide what they’re looking for.

Your congregation and community consume communication content a certain way (a channel). Over time, it’s become their preference even though they devoured it another way previously. Everyone’s changing! Our communication role? Ensure we’re delivering content the way “most” prefer.

So, how do most prefer to consume information? 3,000 consumers (from U.S., Mexico, Germany, and Colombia) were asked by Hubspot to indicate their preference for consuming communication. Here’s their preferences:

  • Videos: 54%
  • Emails/Newsletters: 46%
  • Social Images: 41%
  • Social Videos: 34%
  • Blog Articles: 18%
  • PDF Downloads: 17%

How does this data affect your church communication?

Here are three things you must do in order to keep your community and congregation happy. Well, on the communication side at least.

1. Get on the video “hub” bandwagon.

Video is king. Start considering how to develop videos first (as the primary) and then consider how other channels can repurpose the video content. This is the sure way to keep most people happy.

2. Hire video editors.

All communication content requires editing by someone who advocates for the audience’s needs and wants. One thing we know? Audiences (especially younger generations) prefer to have all unnecessary content removed. If there’s too much time getting to great content, they skip over it.

Video editors must understand how to create engaging short videos that educate, entertain, and/or equip. This takes more time than you’d think but it’s necessary. Long-form sermons should be reduced to short snippets based on various topics.

3. Retire PDF downloads and shift from blogs being the center of your communication.

Rarely does anyone prefer to download and keep a PDF anymore. Why? Because the digitally minded (again, the younger generations even more so) don’t save files that we can find again. And we mostly trust that good content is stored on your website; or even better, in a great edited video. Simply, stop posting PDFs. And don’t rely heavily on blog articles.

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How listening can help your staff stay strong throughout COVID-19

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This year has been full of challenges. It’s been a difficult season for everyone — but many look to church leaders and staff for help and reassurance. Since it appears we’re stuck dealing with COVID-19 for a while, we need to focus some energy on ensuring our leaders and staff stay healthy (and not just physically healthy).

First off, if you’re the pastor, please take some time to rest and recharge yourself each week. Your loved ones, staff, and congregation need you to be healthy. Next, invest some effort to check on your team.

Take the pulse of your team by initiating a conversation. Whether it’s via a video conference or in-person, talk one-on-one with each team member. Consider asking the following:

  1. What do you love about your job?
  2. What changes or improvements do you suggest we make?
  3. What resources would make your job easier or more efficient?
  4. How does your family feel about your work and the church?
  5. How many nights a week do you make it home for dinner (or to the dinner table with family if they’re working at home)?
  6. How often are you able to attend a service (without being interrupted to work)?
  7. Who are your key volunteer leaders? (Hint: If a staff member can’t name any that could be a red flag.)
  8. Is there anything I’m doing that you wish I would stop? If so, what?
  9. Is there anything I’m not doing that you wish I would start? If so, what?
  10. Has your experience through this pandemic impacted how you feel about your job? If so, how?

If you’re not sure that your team will answer candidly, consider sending out a survey they can complete anonymously. An online tool like SurveyMonkey.com can work well for this purpose.

Whether it’s one-on-one or an anonymous survey, let your team know you want them to be completely honest with their answers. They might be afraid of how you may respond or won’t want to “rock the boat.” Here’s the key: Only ask these questions if you truly want to know the answers and are prepared to do something with what you learn.

Once you’ve received their feedback, take action:

  • Compile a list of improvements or changes they requested and work with the team to determine how to make those adjustments. Ask for their suggestions on how to fix any issues.
  • Note what they’d like for you to stop or start doing and proceed as appropriate.
  • Go home (or shut down your computer) on time as often as possible and encourage your staff to do so. Your team might be stuck in a routine of continually checking email just in case you send a note at 9 p.m. If you decide to draft an email after hours (and it’s not urgent), schedule it to go out the next morning.

As you seek their input, listen carefully, and make changes based on their feedback, your team will feel appreciated and valued. That’s important at any time, but especially now, with so many stressors hitting them at once.

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