Church members: They want just a little bit of info

How do those who come to your church feel about your church’s communication?

During a recent vacation, I saw a variety of good and poor communication from leadership. It reminded me what it might feel like to be a church member (not in a staff or leadership position) and to not be well-informed regarding church issues.

I had a pilot who communicated well.  Although he couldn’t control the weather, our diversion to another city, or sitting on a tarmac for almost two hours, he communicated clearly and often with us about  our status and next steps.

I also had my family pulled from a theme park because of a fire alarm. No fire trucks responded, and no one communicated to patrons how long we’d be standing in the sun with our kids pleading to go back in.

When I arrived home, I saw a church communicating the removal of their founding- and senior pastor for “unfortunate choices.” I won’t weigh in on whether it was good or bad communication because I don’t have enough information to earn that right, but I’ll say this: I know they were faced with communicating a really difficult message.

All these experiences reminded me of the need for church-leaders to be really great communicators.

When churches don’t communicate, or do so slowly or ambiguously, one of these usually happen:

  1. You frustrate committed members who’ve earned the right to know information
  2. You leave a gaping hole about what’s going, and people begin their own narrative to fill the void
  3. You create an atmosphere of mistrust, or at least a feeling that there’s a lack of transparency
  4. You lose credibility when you need to communicate something important

Many times, releasing small amounts of meaningful information will satisfy church members. But communicating even small amounts of meaningful information can be difficult because it’s complicated (confidentiality concerns, trust, managing the message, timing, and the possibility of it being live tweeted or captured via video).

So, how can church leaders communicate well, considering the many factors that impact information sharing?

Anticipate FAQs.  Consider your audience, determine what they want to know, and get ahead of it. Be succinct. When possible, say the last 2% first. As I wrote recently, three-fourths of an answer is better than an answer and a half.

Stick to the facts. Church leaders have a tendency to add more information than necessary, and that can lead to missteps. See previous remark.

Be prepared. You lose credibility if you’re unable to speak to key information. (Some of the content I wrote about being prepared for the media will relate here too.)

Manage, but don’t spin. In my interpretation, spinning is misleading or communicating with an ulterior motive – whereas managing speaks to providing limited amounts of information and having an intentional way of releasing it.

Be sincere. This is particularly relevant if it’s a difficult message (like the one relating to the removal of a pastor, mentioned earlier in the post). The only thing worse than a lack of communication is insincere communication.

Have a go-to forum. Whether it’s a town hall meeting, business meeting, bulletin, or remarks at the conclusion of the service, have a solid forum at a specific place and time for communicating important information.

Be considerate. Just because you don’t think changing the bulletin or replacing the pews with chairs is a big deal, it can be to the person who uses the bulletin as their only way to get their church information, or to the person who accepted Christ kneeling at one of those pews. I’ve seen a tendency in my generation (including me) and the one after me to be a little cavalier when it comes to interpreting which things should matter to others.

Not every church member wants fodder for gossip, and there are people who are invested in your church who’ll likely want to know things occurring there. So when confidentiality or governance guidelines don’t prohibit it, share meaningful information as often as needed.

 

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