In my post, “The One Reason Nothing Comes Out of Those New Year’s Resolutions,” I pledged to help churches take some first steps to live out the resolutions I listed in my post, “Five Communications Resolutions for 2018.”
The first resolution was “Cutting the Communications Clutter.” I challenged churches to stop dumping so much information on members and guests. I recommended cutting the number of announcements, shrinking the bulletin, and focusing only on the essential things.
But how do you do that?
That exact question came up in a workshop I led this past weekend. Sometimes I make it sound like you can just get rid of the bulletin and have one announcement and everyone will be happy. It doesn’t usually happen that way in a real church. Most churches have a number of stakeholders who depend on the bulletin and announcements to get the word out about their meeting, event, needs, etc. They are not going to be especially happy if you just stop cold turkey. So what to do.
Step One – Decide
If you are reading this post, perhaps you have already decided to stop overwhelming your members and guests with too much information. Congratulations. But what is step two?
Step Two – Read this Book
Kem Meyer’s Less Chaos. Less Noise.: Effective Communications for an Effective Church has become my textbook for simplifying and improving church communications. Meyer has written a text that is accessible whether you are a mega-church communications director or a brand new volunteer tasked with communications. If you are feeling called with spearheading this effort, read the book first. Take notes.
Step Three – It Takes a Village
Some churches have communications committees or teams, some have staff, in some churches, it is the pastor and maybe a part-time administrative assistant who put together the announcements and bulletin. Whatever you have, it is going to take a team to get this done. If you don’t already have a team in place, create one. I recommend including leaders from your church who are stakeholders in the announcements and bulletin. They aren’t difficult to identify. Who is asking for something every week? Who would likely come and complain if their meeting or event wasn’t announced? Who depends on announcement and bulletin space to keep their ministry running? Invite some of them to be on your team. Remember, the point of this shift is to make ministry more effective, not less. They can help you get there.
Once you have a team, give them all the book. (Maybe you don’t have the budget. So, beg, sell some books of your own books, or ask the one person in your church who complains about too many announcements to pitch in.) Read the book as a team. You could read a chapter per meeting or set aside time for an extended gathering or retreat and have everyone read it beforehand.
Step Four – Process
Once you have all read the book, or as you are reading through it, start processing together. Meyer includes some great questions at the end of each chapter. There might be appropriate points to play a recording of your announcements, look through some bulletins, and put your website up on the screen for everyone to see.
Step Five – Develop a Plan
Hopefully, in your work together, everyone is starting to see the importance of streamlining communications. It may be a little more difficult to agree on what to do about it. The main rub may be that not everyone can agree on what the most important things are. Don’t worry. This is only a first step. Find some areas of agreement for at least a first step and plan on meeting again to evaluate and keep working.
Step Six – Find Ways to Help the Ministries and People Who Feel Left Behind
If you drastically cut the content of your announcements, bulletins, newsletter, etc. some people and ministries who counted on that ministry are going feel left behind. That doesn’t have to happen. Help them find ways to get the word out about their ministry, event, or need. If you do this well, you may discover that some of these people may become your most enthusiastic advocates for change. The truth is, bulletins, newsletters, and announcements are often the least effective way to get a message across. Help them clarify what message they are trying to convey and help them find the best way to communicate that message to the people they are trying to reach. (The options here are many and could fill a post of their own, but here are a few: phone calls, text messages, an email list, a mailing to their core audience, a video on the website, etc.)
Step Seven – Experiment
One thing I have learned in ministry is that people don’t like change, but they are occasionally up for experimentation. In my experience, people may be upset by sudden change but willing to allow you to experiment for a time.
Here is an example. At a church I served, we produced a 11×17 single-fold bulletin every week. That meant four 8.5 x 11 pages of information. It was mostly in 12 point font or smaller, and there was little to no whitespace. We wanted to make the switch to something less overwhelming, more attractive and readable, and cheaper.
So, we developed an 8.5 x 11 single-fold bulletin with the front panel devoted to a graphic for the sermon series. That meant only three 8.5 x 5.5 pages of content, and we left a lot of whitespace. We knew that would be a shock. However, we launched it in the summer when there was less activity in the church. On the first week we used it, the pastors stood up at the beginning of worship, showed it to everyone and said, “Since things are a little less busy during the summer, we are experimenting with this new type of bulletin. It saves us a lot of money, and we think you might like it. I hope you will let us know what you think.” A couple of years later when I left that church, they were still using that bulletin design.
Step Eight – Keep working on it
Great communication systems are always reevaluating and experimenting. What works now might not work in a few months. What still works in a couple of months might be replaced by something even better.
Don’t Give Up
This whole thing is a process. Keep trying. Keep experimenting. Keep involving stakeholders. You will get there.
It is my goal to provide some second, third, and maybe fourth steps to fulfill my recommended New Year’s Resolutions. For this first one, I offered eight. Hopefully, this will get you a little further down the road.
Now, get to it. Order the book!