Why strategic communications matter in the local church

By Adam Hollingsworth

One of the most famous movie lines of all time comes from the 1967 film Cool Hand Luke. “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” says the Florida prison guard to Luke, as played by Paul Newman.

By necessity or gifting, every pastor is a communicator. Outside of the pulpit and in small group or individual settings, the question is, are you using strategic communications to impact the needs and focus of your church?

There is no doubt you are doing that from the pulpit. But what about when launching new ministries, announcing new programs or encouraging stewardship and capital campaigns? Are you strategically communicating to your church in ways that accomplish your goals?

The four basic principles of strategic communications are simple.

  • What are you communicating?
  • Why are you communicating it?
  • To whom are you communicating it?
  • How are you communicating it?

If you spend time developing thoughtful, clear answers to those four questions, your congregation, volunteers, staff and community will understand your vision, your direction and your plan. Without it confusion, vision and a lack of clarity reigns.

When thinking about what you are communicating, you should ask yourself the following:

  • Are the words and meaning clear, free of church or inside jargon?
  • Is our message easily consumed by the audience and easily repeatable?
  • How will this uniquely equip us to share or live out the gospel?

When thinking about why you are communicating, you should ask yourself the following:

  • Is what I am saying of value and relevant to the listener? (If not, try again.)
  • Have I told the listener whether my message is to incite action, raise awareness or inspire changed hearts and minds?
  • Is my message timely and contextual?

When thinking about to whom you are communicating, you should ask yourself the following:

  • What else is on their mind; what messages and distractions am I competing with?
  • Is there history I have to overcome with this audience, or is this a fresh set of ears?
  • In what ways do I need to target or modify my message (and the means of delivery) to have the greatest impact?

When thinking about how you are communicating, you should ask yourself the following:

  • Where does my audience typically get their news or information, and am I using tools convenient/familiar to them?
  • Have I communicated the same message to the same audience seven times in seven ways? (If not, your message will not sink in.)
  • Who is the best person to communicate the message? (It may not be you.)

As you can see, the art and science of strategic communications is neither simple nor easy. It takes time, thought and work. Mark Twain once said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter. So, I wrote a long one instead.” I think what Twain meant was without good planning, our words and thoughts seem to wander ad take on a life of their own. And when that happens, the reader and listener get lost, bored or distracted. Don’t let that happen to you as you are shaping your strategic communications in your church to inspire and encourage work for the Kingdom.

…but you’re not done yet. To be a really good strategic communicator, you also want to:

  • Test the message.
    Share it with a few people outside your church. Ask them: Does it make sense? Is it simple? Is it understandable? Would you buy-in to this vision?
  • Be constantly constant.
    Keep the message in the forefront of the church’s mind. Regularly refer to it in sermons. Train your small group leaders to talk about it. Incorporate signage as a reminder in your meeting spaces. Include it in the bulletins. Provide significant placement on your website. Only once your congregation becomes bored and tired of the message have you started to break through. At that point, don’t give it up…keep it up!
  • Celebrate success.
    Nothing drives success more than success. Don’t forget to celebrate wins (small and large) as your message, vision and strategy take root. It builds momentum and encourages others to be a part of it.

By applying the four principles of strategic communications and doing the hard work necessary to live out God’s call on you and your church, you can and will do all that He has gifted you to do.

What are you communicating to your church, and are you doing it strategically?


Published April 3, 2017

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Adam Hollingsworth

Adam Hollingsworth is the founder of Ergon Strategies, a firm dedicated to the organizational health of the local church. You can email Adam at adam@ergonstrategies.com