Arment Dietrich

Internal Communications, Sunday Style

By: Arment Dietrich | October 29, 2014 | 
27

Internal Communications, Sunday Styleby Clay Morgan

Time for a little church.

I know.

It’s not Sunday.

It’s not Easter.

And it isn’t Christmas.

Yet.

So why?

Because churches have one of the most complex internal communications challenges of any organization.

At the church I attend—admittedly a large church—internal communications must flow through many different people including:

  • Pastoral staff.
  • Support staff.
  • Volunteers.
  • Class teachers of well more than 30 classes.
  • Mission and ministry leaders who are not necessarily on pastoral staff, but lead church-supported activities locally and around the world.
  • Activity leaders (choir, praise band, hospitality, security, etc.).
  • More than 100 deacons and lay staff.
  • Thousands of members ranging in age from birth through their 90s, with varying levels of activity and engagement.

Deeper Internal Communications Challenges

It isn’t just that there are a lot of people to keep happy.

Most organizations have myriad stakeholders, with very different interests.

Hunter Mobley, executive pastor at Christ Church Nashville, told me:

There is not just one message to tell. There are 100 messages to tell. Each area of ministry in the church has different stakeholders and with limited Sunday morning platform time and bulletin space to give to announcements, someone’s favorite event gets left out each week.

That could be any large multi-tiered organization, could it not?

Then there is the broader internal communications culture.

Hunter admits churches are new to…

recognizing the need for church communications personnel and strategies, so [we are] educating and empowering dedicated staff and lay leaders to put time and resources into intentional communications personnel and policies.

In business, we think deeply about public relations, social media, and how we communicate with our customers and prospects.

Do we spend the same amount of time thinking about how we communicate with our teams? With our members, if we are a non-profit organization?

At Arment Dietrich we pride ourselves on being communications professionals, but even we sometimes get so wrapped up in the day-to-day of how we communicate with clients, prospects, and the readers of Spin Sucks, we forget to dissect whether our own internal communications efforts could use a boost.

Addressing the Internal Communications Challenges

Our church is addressing internal communications needs in a variety of ways.

There is still the traditional church bulletin, given out to all attendees each week, and a pastor usually takes time to make a couple of announcements that affect the church, as a whole.

There is also the power of the pulpit.

Every now and then, the senior pastor will, from the pulpit, announce something and place emphasis on the importance of it.

It is no different than a respected CEO standing in front of his or her employees and saying, “Pay attention to this. This is important.”

The organization has also taken major steps to use email communication effectively, and to substantially increase use of social media and the church website.

These are now integrated and provide a much more effective means of internal communications than we had even a year ago.

Hunter also ensures all lay leaders have a staff point person related to their ministry.

This means that the communication department is only communicating with church staff members and not the broader congregation of lay leaders in planning and scheduling communications content. If the communications department has non-staff generating direct demands on their work, it creates lots of inefficiencies.

This seems like a no-brainer, but I’ve served in non-profit organizations where anyone on the board, or any other volunteer, could reach out to the communications department to ask for their assistance.

It’s chaos.

Elements for Internal Communications Success

An effective internal communications system that works best for an organization should have several elements:

  1. Diverse audiences might mean diverse communications tools—including some old-school approaches similar to the church bulletin.
  2. The bully pulpit is so-called for a reason. The CEO should weigh in regularly, but the clout should be reserved for matters affecting the entire company.
  3. Take time to talk to staff at all levels, including volunteers, and even vendors about how the internal communications are working and how they can be improved.
  4. Recognize that internal communications, like external communications, require resources—namely staff, strategies, and processes.
  5. Create a specific process for staff members at all levels to request help from the communications department.

Get Serious

Internal communications is a complex topic. It requires time and thought—and the more complex the organization, the more complex the internal communications strategies and processes are likely to be.

When Hunter was hired as executive pastor—essentially chief operating officer—I don’t mind saying the church’s internal communications, aside from the pulpit and the bulletin, were a bit of a haphazard mess.

There has been huge improvement in the last year, and I think I know why.

Hunter takes it seriously and gives internal communications significant attention.

It is not an, “Oh yeah, we need to do that,” thought.

He recognizes the church’s communications, both internally and externally, are integral to the growth of the organization as a whole.

  • Church communications is super-complicated! I had no idea, really, until I worked for a software company that specifically served churches. It’s interesting, too, how different churches approach not just getting top-down messages out, but also assuring that the church members have a chance to get to know and communicate with each other, too. Structures for small groups, for people to send out requests to each other … super interesting.

  • EmilyNKantner

    I currently work for a church software company, and I see a
    lot of these issues too. Whether it’s a church of 50 or 5,000, each faces
    unique challenges with internal communications. A lot of them are turning to
    technology—like an online portal or mobile app—to improve the internal process
    while keeping the website focused on visitors.
    The diverse audiences point is so true. Some people want an email, some a text, and others a personal phone call. It can get really
    complicated for the communications staff—if the church can even afford to have
    someone on staff.

  • Great piece and points, Clay. I’ve been involved in many different sizes of churches and many different denominations over the years and have seen much of what you refer to. The fact that the “CEO” and board rely (to some degree) on the good will of parishioners (in the form of their offerings) for a substantial part of the operating budget creates an additional dynamic (in my opinion) —  let’s say for instance one big giver upset over the hue of the flowers in the arrangement she had requested be dedicated to her beloved and gone all too soon pet Fluffy can put a wrench into processes and plans that are pretty  unrelated to that creates another minefield to navigate.

  • The worst part about internal church communications is that if you don’t do it right, everything will spiral out of control quickly. We had that happen in my church in the last year and a half in the transition from a retiring pastor to hiring a new pastor. Things will get ugly and personal because everyone takes ownership of the church. Just like any organization, a methodical approach to communications will be effective in a church.

  • teamccloud  You aren’t kidding about the spiral. But that is true in any organization. It is what makes studying a church setting appropriate – the tactics and strategies can apply anywhere.

  • biggreenpen I agree. It is a very complex relationship. I think churches need to study complex corporations more, and vice versa.

  • EmilyNKantner The diversity makes it tough. But again, it isn’t too different from other organizations – everyone has their preferred method of communications. We, as the pros, have to figure out how to sort through it all.

  • Eleanor Pierce And complex. There’s also a very delicate balance of controlling the message, which is super tough in an organization like a church.

  • “we forget to dissect whether our own internal communications efforts could use a boost.”

    So… do they?

  • ginidietrich Much better these days. A year ago, I’d say there was little concern about internal communications. Bulletin, the odd email, and of course, the rumor train.

    There’s been a marked improvement at the church in internal comms, using social (FB and Twitter), email more aggressively, “from the pulpit” announcements, the old-fashioned bulletin, and other avenues. 

    I have to assume they are spending more time looking at how they communicate internally because there’s been very real improvement.

  • ClayMorgan biggreenpen agree

  • ClayMorgan The lesson that we learned was that you can’t overcommunicate. Find those strategies and tactics that work with your church, and keep plugging away with the messages. Don’t assume that, since you made an announcement two Sundays in a row, that everyone who needed to hear the message did.

  • Very interesting. Not being a church goer myself, I never consider the church along the lines of running a business.

  • belllindsay A lot of people don’t view it that way, but any group – whether it is a church, a large or small non-profit, or even the little stamp club I belong to, will benefit from some business chops.

  • scribblinghappy

    Great analogy! 

    I’ve gone to mega churches and small country parishes. The ones that I’ve felt most engaged with are the ones where the lead pastor/CEO is engaged, excited, and working right along side the members. The ones that dialed it in with big box style power points and a social media network just made me feel like a cog, not a participant in something bigger. It goes back to personality and getting personal.

  • scribblinghappy Indeed it does. Takes a special leader to make an individual in a huge organization feel like they have a personal relationship.

  • I have attended churches of many sizes over the years in different parts of the world. At times, I sit through service and think about how things should be done different from a communications point of view. Pastors, like busy CEOs, have so many responsibilities and often times these communication things get pushed to the side. A close friend reminds me that the ultimate CEO of the church has the ability to work through human shortcomings. Nevertheless, I wonder how much communication education takes place in seminary. I have no idea, but I’d guess more is required.

  • kevinanselmo I would agree. I doubt seminary has a communications 101 class.

  • creativeoncall

    ginidietrich clay_morgan Curious.. have people criticized the scenario?

  • Good points on better mechanisms of internal communications… I think the other stumbling block to getting good reception for messages even when well and thoroughly delivered is perceived intent.  Corporate audiences, subjected to constant re-orgs, right-sizings, etc. can be understandably skeptical off the real intent behind a CEOs messages… unless that CEO, like a good pastor, has demonstrated (not just proclaimed) her and the corporation’s willingness to listen to and serve.

  • clay_morgan

    creativeoncall ginidietrich Not to my knowledge.

  • creativeoncall Willingness to listen to and serve. Great insight for any leader trying to communicate with a team.

  • clay_morgan

    kevinanselmo Kevin, I appreciate the share of the post.

  • clay_morgan

    engagetony Thank you for the share and the kind words Tony.

  • clay_morgan

    MarkBevans SpinSucks Appreciate the share Mark!

  • clay_morgan

    Andrea_Judith SpinSucks Nice of you to say! Thanks for sharing!

  • engagetony

    Thank You Clay! clay_morgan
    I too am in a large church. I just forwarded a link to my sr pastor.
    http://spinsucks.com/communication/internal-communications-sunday-style/

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