Posted in Church Staff

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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Parade-Waving in Church Ministry–Effective Use of Time?

You know the parade wave? The beauty queen or grand marshal waves to the cheering crowd, and then the crowd waves back. It’s the bystanders’ way to say “I’m here. I support you!”

I’m not a good parade waver. It probably has something to do with me waving at our homecoming queen in high school and her giving me a dirty look. But, I digress. It’s okay that I’m not the best parade-waver though, because I was told I don’t have to be…at least not all the time.

When I was in the interview process at the church I now serve, the Executive Pastor said to me, “In this role, you don’t have to wave at every parade.” I’d never heard that expression, and asked in confusion, “I know the church is big, but it has its own parades?”

Most church ministers are pretty good at waving at the (church) parades. It’s the signal to ministry groups and constituencies in your church that says, “I’m here. I notice you. I support you.” So for the purpose of this post, let’s use “parade” to mean programs, events, and experiences not related to you or in your charge, that people might want you present at to add your parade-wave.

Unlike me, many of you are quite adept at parade waving, and many times it’s a necessary skill to survive in church ministry. Why do we feel the need to show up and wave at these parades? At times, you do it simply out of responsibility. Maybe it’s political in nature — you expect something in return for your support of their parade. And sometimes, you show up and wave because someone reminds you that you’ve “never been to their parade.”

While parade waving may sometimes only be an obligatory or an insincere effort on your part, it can also be meaningful to both you and those you show up to support.

2 Drawbacks of waving at every parade

  1. The encore problem. Showing up once can give the sense you’ll repeat this or do it for every group’s parade. This leads to a tired minister who’s giving valuable time for a fly-by wave, when their time could be used for things more meaningful to their ministry work.
  2. Communicating everything of value needs a staff presence. Not everything of importance needs staff support. In fact, we probably mess things up. But if you consistently show up and wave, you may unintentionally communicate that a ministry’s parade is only valuable when a staff person shows.

2 Wins for waving at some parades

  1. You get to experience ministry you’re not directing. If you don’t have to be there, then that means when you do show up you can experience ministry without responsibility. You have the freedom to talk, encourage, and ask questions of those involved.
  2. Your presence can be fresh air. Especially when you choose to wave at parades a lot of people don’t know exist, such as those doing the thankless work of church ministry. The ones that get little to no “ad space” in the bulletin. A well-timed parade wave can provide encouragement for people to keep serving well.

Choosing when to wave and waving well when you do:

Manage expectations (truthfully)

Not showing up at someone’s parade is one thing. But not showing up after you’ve led them to believe you would… well, that’s no good. Yet it happens a lot among church leaders. It’s the insincere “Yes, I’ll probably be there.” If you’re not going to be there, tell them. If you need to consider the invitation, consider it, and then follow-up with them. If they’re expecting you to be there and you don’t show up, you’ve just rained on their parade. (See what I did there?)

Understand your purpose at the parade

When you’re not sure whether the parade is a worthy investment, ask what they expect. Many times these questions will give you clarity about attendance, and sometimes it’ll make the parade organizer realize it really isn’t important you be there.

Recently, I was asked to wave at a parade taking place on my scheduled day off from the office. I asked the parade-inviter a few questions: “Do you need me to do anything while I’m there?” “What would you hope I’d experience and understand because of my attendance?” This person had thoughtful answers, and as a result, I showed up.

But asking these questions often will help you and them realize your presence sometimes doesn’t matter. Other times, it shows that there may be a better-suited waver, and you can help arrange that.

Wave at their parade (from a distance)

There are times you can provide a similar parade presence encouragement without being there. A well-timed email prior to their parade encouraging them and letting them know you’ve prayed for their work, or that you’ve heard a buzz about their parade, can go a long way. Or post-parade, follow-up to see how it went –  or even better, provide a third party encouragement about what you heard took place (third party encouragement is the best and I’ve blogged on it previously).

Show up and wave well

Maybe it’s obligatory, or something you get paid to do. Or maybe you actually want to encourage and support. Regardless, when you choose to show up, show up fully. Take interest in the parade. Engage with other participants. Make sure your body language communicates you’re happy to support. If you’re going to give your time and presence, take advantage of the opportunity, and wave well.

Waving at every parade is too much for you (and them). Never waving at a parade is ministry-malpractice. But well-timed and sincere parade waving is meaningful ministry.

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4 Simple Rules for Working with and Hiring Creatives

I’m privileged to have Darrel Girardier guest blog for me today. Darrel serves Brentwood Baptist Church as the Digital Strategy Director. If you’re like me, you’re not crazy creative, but you work with those who are. And Darrel gets how to bridge the gap. I think today’s post will help you as you consider finding, hiring, and working well with your creatives.

 

I’ve had the privilege for the last 15 years to work with creative teams in both the corporate and church setting. While each setting is slightly different, there are some rules that I think can be applied to each situation.

If you work with, or are in the process of hiring creative people for church, I’ve outlined four simple rules that help you along in the process. Here they are…

1. Hire creatives who can take the abstract and make it concrete.

I’ve worked with some very talented people. However, what separated the good ones from the great ones was the ability to take what was either technical or abstract, and explain it in a way that anyone could understand what they’re saying.

Now why is this important? If you’re going to manage, evaluate, or coach someone for whose skill-sets you don’t have, you need to have some sense of the scope of their work and what it entails. Often this leads to conversations where you want to be informed, but you don’t need to know all the details.

If you hire the right creative person for your team, they can make the process easier for you. By making the abstract become concrete, they can provide the information you need to make better decisions.

2. Hire creatives who understand the difference between design and art.

It’s easy to become enamored with people who create visually stunning work. Whether it’s videos, logos, or stage design, visual creative work is something that everyone wants to show off. However, the best creatives understand the difference between stunning visuals and stunning visuals that solve a problem.

In other words, you should hire creative people who understand that their challenge when creating a video or design is not to wow you, but instead, solve your problem. These types of creative people will help you move beyond questions like, “What colors or fonts do you like?” to more important questions like, “Who is your primary audience?” and “How do we measure success?”

If you can hire a creative person who instinctively knows to answer those questions first, then you’ve found someone who will be more results driven, which will have a greater impact for your church.

3. When you talk to a creative staff member, talk about your design problem and not the solution.

One of the things you can easily do to frustrate a creative person is to bring them a problem, and then bring them what you think the solution should be. It’s the equivalent of describing a canyon to an engineer and then telling them how to build the bridge.

The more effectively you can describe what you’re trying to accomplish along with the challenges your facing, the higher chance you have of engaging your creative staff. The problem is that most of us come to the creative person with a problem and what we have our idea of what the solution should be (but we can’t do ourselves). This solution-based approach eventually frustrates the creative person and creates a feeling that they’re simply a widget maker.
4. Be wary of confusing roles.

A lot of church leadership staff try to find some mental model so they can categorize how creative people will work with the rest of the (non-creative) staff. Often this leads to using the “client/service” model.

In this model, the ministry is the “client” and the creative person (designer, video producer, etc…) is the service department. You can find this model in most large corporations that have in-house creative departments.

While this model has its advantages, it can lead to de-emphasizing the partnership ministries and creative teams should have, and instead, focuses on simply making the client happy. And yes, creative people do want make ministries happy, but they don’t want to do at the cost of violating basic creative and design principles (Comic sans font anyone?).

To remedy this situation, you need to clarify roles. Not in the sense of who’s in charge, but rather what each party is responsible for. In other words, find a way to let the creative people do what they do best (design, produce, etc.) and still meet the needs of the ministry. This can be a bit of balancing act, however, if you clarify these roles on the front end, the creation process will go much smoother.

As I stated in the beginning, every situation is a bit different. However, most creative people I know want to be respected, trusted and encouraged. If you follow the four rules above, you’ll be one step closer to getting attracting, keeping, and allowing them to feel respected, trusted, and encouraged.

Darrel is effectively collaborating and coaching other church leaders, particularly in the church communications space. Check out his blog and his “Ask Darrel” podcast on iTunes

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