I remember very clearly the time I told a young man in a town park that I was the new vicar of the church down the street, because his answer was classic: “Oh…is that still a church?”
I was stunned, and let out a short burst of nervous laughter. “Uh, yep! Still a church!”
I think of that short conversation often. I mean, we church-folk can do “a lot” of “stuff.” A lot of good stuff. We put on Vacation Bible School, feed the hungry, respond to tragedies, proclaim the Good News in the midst of so much bad news, and celebrate with people in the most amazing ways…and yet, does anyone who’s not a part of the church ever know that any of that is going on?
And maybe more importantly, does anyone who’s not in the “inner circle” of the church know that anything good is going on?
I read Speaking Faithfully: Communications as Evangelism in a Noisy World by Jim Naughton and Rebecca Wilson during my short “Christmas break” this year. I found it so compelling that I quickly ordered another dozen copies to read with our vestry in preparation for our vestry retreat.
The book does several things which I think are outstanding:
- It gives the theological imperative for the church to communicate, and to understand communications as a ministry in its own right. This is important. Communications isn’t extra-curricular. It’s at the heart of what we do as a church in proclaiming the Good News.
- The authors gently (and humorously) challenge parishes to not only find ways to communicate effectively, but to not be so timid and bland. We can’t worry about pleasing everyone and offending no one, otherwise we’ll say nothing of any importance at all. (This actually led to our vestry spontaneously asking itself, “Who is our parish NOT for?” What a great conversation we had.)
- It provides many helpful strategies to communicate to those who aren’t yet our members—which is great—but, it also provides impetus and strategies to communicate to those who identify themselves as “members” but who have very little engagement in the life of the parish. For me, this was the most helpful part of the book. From page 29:
If your church as a significant number of members who show up occasionally and give sparingly, you’ll want to consider them as a distinct audience. The church tends to think of members and seekers and separate categories, but it’s probably more like a Venn diagram. People who belong to your church in name only, or materialize only at Christmas and Easter, need to hear from you in ways that might induce them to check in more often.
We recently began an exciting new outreach venture, and even though we didn’t strategize or coordinate communications at all, we ended up communicating the heck out of it in newsletters, emails, sermons, announcements, social media, website, etc. We were so excited about what we were doing, that we just kept telling the stories. And, you know what? Many people who have been on or near the “sidelines” of our parish have engaged deeply with that project.
- And, it gives a great thought to the relationship between print and online communications. This is incredibly timely for us, and I think for most of our world, as all media is wrestling with just that. We’ve been wondering for the last year or so if our monthly printed newsletter is effective or necessary as we’ve ramped up a weekly email newsletter. Speaking Faithfully is helping us to think about this issue in ways we might not have been able to do without it.
In addition to all of this, there are also some great sections on advertising, social media, and communicating in a time of crisis.
This book should be on the bookshelf or bedside stand of every parish leader—lay or ordained—who not only wants a vibrant church, but who wants to tell the world about it.
…so at the very least people know that you’re still a church…
[You can also follow Jim and Rebecca on Twitter @SFaithfully]