“…the over programmed and busy church is the norm.”
Simple Church, 2006
The quote above, while approaching 10 years old, is still relevant today. Nobody tries to be busy or over-programmed, but it happens easily. Most unique areas of ministry started out as an innovative way to ‘help others connect’, ‘reach the world’, ‘create a community’, ‘start a fellowship’, or some other common church world buzz phrase that is tangentially attached to a broader mission to ‘make disciples’ or ‘save the world’ or something of the like.
Sometimes, we can harshly view a church with a myriad of programs and activities and dispel it as busy. But we would be wise to consider that, at some point, leadership debated and prayed about whether or not each one of those programs and activities was a good idea to start and then decided to move forward with it (not to mention all the other ideas they have said “no” to). While you may not be in position to have a say about what gets to happen through your church, as a staff member, volunteer, or church member, you should view these decisions respectfully.
If you work in the world of church communications (having the responsibility to effectively present all these programs and activities to your audience), understand pursuing the ever-present goal of simplified communication is more of an ongoing tension to manage and probably not a problem you can solve. You may be in authority to make communications decisions, but you also have to remember you are under authority of senior leader or leadership team.
Giving Simplicity Context
Identifying Your Target Audience: Now that we understand and accept how the challenge of crowded communications came to be, we can focus on how to simplify. But what does that look like? The first step to answering this question is to identify your audience. Only when you know your audience can you tailor your communications to them.
For our church, Calvary Chapel Fort Lauderdale, we have 10 campuses in Florida and we see anywhere from 15-20,000 people across our weekend and midweek services (multiple campuses, from a few hundred people to a few thousand at each). Our audience matches our community and is largely diverse with no one specific demographic dominating our attendance. What this tells us is that our communication avenues also need to be diverse (mixture of print, web, social, video announcements). To be effective, we need our messages to be consistent across all these avenues and simple.
Establishing a Goal for Your Communications: You can’t hit a target if you don’t know what it looks like. Defining the goal for your communications is a crucial step in simplifying them. Your goal should be something akin to an informed audience (or an audience who is equipped to be easily informed when they want to be). For a multi-site church, you could be wrestling with the option of either a one-for-all method or a separate piece for each campus.
In our case, until this past March, we had a one-for-all approach. Every two weeks, we would create a new printed bulletin that would have 20-25 announcements, which would cover all our campuses. More space was given to announcements for our larger campuses, but each campus would be represented in part on the one bulletin. This bulletin was the same for all campuses. Accompanying this was a weekly email version of this, which had the same amount of announcements—and sometimes a few more. We believed this helped fulfill our mantra of ‘one church, multiple locations’. But in reality, the engagement was limited because the piece was too bloated. The campuses tended to focus only on their announcements. We had to adjust our methods to meet our goals.
Simplicity is an On-Going Process
Audience Knowledge + Clear Goals = Successful Methods: When you know who your audience is and what you are trying to accomplish, the methods you should employ to meet your goals become clear. This past March, we took steps to change how we communicate and simplification was in the forefront of our mind as we made changes. The end result was moving to a monthly printed bulletin that was tailored to each campus. It only had 4 main things for the month that spanned across all our campuses, and then only 5 campus-specific announcements for the month. The weekly email version of our bulletin was tailored to each campus as well and simplified even further.
This has produced some great results for our team and the ministries we partner with. These changes have made the entire organization more proactive in their planning and helped simplify our overall offerings of activities. We still have multiple messages to communicate of differing levels of importance, but our organization is tasting simplicity and it’s seeing the benefits.
Less is More: Simplification should be an ongoing process. It’s not a one-time experiment or exercise. In the unofficial church communications bible, Less Clutter, Less Noise, Kem Meyer brings up the idea of decision paralysis to describe what happens when people are faced with too many choices and information that they don’t engage. The simpler you make things, the easier it is for your audience to get your message and to engage and act. The practice of strategically and creatively crafting our communications is just as much at the front lines of ministry as the person counseling someone, teaching a class, or leading a trip.
At the end of the day, we want to make it easy for people to participate in the things our organization offers that will deepen their understanding of who God is. However we can simplify the communication of these offerings, the greater the chance of that happening.