Faith Works 2-20-16
Bandwidth and Communications in Churches
Doing more to get less is generally considered a sign of inefficiency, if not a lack of smarts (or just plain being out of your mind).
The goal of communications is to get the biggest bang for the buck, you'd think, but that's not as easy as you might think, not if you're living and working in 2016.
Quite a few ministers and church leaders of my acquaintance are somewhere between frustrated and exhausted, and when they come to me for comfort they're more likely to hear more bad news… not a role I like to fill.
The dilemma begins with internal communications, which for many faith communities is the main question when it comes to making connections (more on that in a bit).
What not long ago was the province of a church newsletter sent by mail weekdays, and a few calendar lines on the back of a worship bulletin Sundays, is now something much more complicated.
Add in pastoral care communications, which are more personal, but with an import for the whole church community: it used to be, not so very long ago, an answering machine at home for the pastor, and a secretary answering the church office phone, leaving pink "While You Were Out" slips in a mailbox or on a spike atop the parson's desk.
Today the average to smallish size church might have a Facebook page, messaging through that Facebook page both inbound and outbound, a Twitter account with DMs through that, a landline to the church building with voicemail, cell phones to the key leaders, and e-mail accounts for a variety of purposes. I have a personal e-mail, the more public one you always see at the bottom of this column, a church e-mail and a prayer line address. Meanwhile, I have a landline and voicemail at home.
All of which adds up to the possibility that prayer concerns or last minute schedule changes can come in through an e-mail to the church, to me personally, to someone else who may forward it to me or it's tucked into a prayer chain e-mail to a group, or it could come as a Facebook post, a message, or a Tweet (posted or messaged), unless it's on the church voicemail, my cell voicemail, or my home voicemail.
And to get that word out to people, if need be, we have in the office the options of the monthly print newsletter & calendar, the biweekly e-mail prayer notes and updates, a special e-mail (which you don't want to use too often or people start tuning out your messages), a post on the Facebook page, or putting in the next Sunday bulletin either as a calendar note, brief news article, or insert. (But people don't attend as consistently as they once did…)
Plus the big sign out front, which has plusses and minuses of its own.
I noticed over Christmas and New Year's that most of the remaining churches I knew that were still bulk mailing large numbers of newsletters had published announcements saying they would be discontinuing this practice. Some would be printed for pick-up, and a few mailed first class to the homebound, but the push was to electronic delivery. Yes, for speed, and this is a year when bulk mail will be oddly delayed on and off with the surge of mailers from political campaigns, but mostly because of cost.
So you pick up some monetary savings, but you add to the question "how to communicate with our congregation?" Because more and more people want to be communicated with the way they want to be communicated with, and most of our culture is delivering exactly that. Do you want to hear about it through Instagram or Vines or Snapchat? Then that's where media is going, and churches are struggling to follow.
Yet many still want the phone call, the printed sheets in the mailbox, so we find ourselves in church life trying to "do it all." And "all" gets broader, more complex every day.
Do you see what gets missed in this kind of discussion? It's all about internal communications, which are important, no question: but what about external communications? How do you share your news – your Good News! – with those not already on your mailing list or e-mail roster? How has that changed, and what can we do with those opportunities?
More next week, this time, looking outwards.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County. Tell him how your faith community keeps everyone on the same page, virtual or otherwise, at email@example.com, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.