During the last election cycle, I received a lot of ads in the mail telling me how awful an opposing candidate was. For research purposes, I threw them into a pile so I could count how many I received in the month leading up to the election. The final count? 124. How many did I read? Zero.
Here is the weird thing - I don’t recall making a decision not to read them, I just didn’t. My brain subconsciously made that decision for me. It knew the information was not necessary for my survival and filtered it automatically.
Our brains are wired that way. Thinking and processing information burns calories. Our minds are designed to conserve calories. In more primitive times, we might need those calories to run away from a saber-toothed tiger. Want to lose some extra pounds? Think more - it will burn calories!
The way God designed our brains is exceptionally useful for survival purposes. This design stinks if you are trying to get your message heard by people who are bombarded with hundreds of thousands of messages in a week.
The average newspaper contains more information than an 18th century American was exposed to in a lifetime. Same with the average daily social media consumption. Think about that. Information used to be rare. Getting information took effort. Information is now plentiful. Just 25 years ago, writing a research paper for school involved hours at the library looking for information. Now, it takes a few keystrokes in a search engine.
Our brains are having a hard time dealing with the amount of information and stimuli that we are experiencing. It is creating stress. It is burning more brain calories. But we are learning. Our brains know we can’t process large amounts of information, so we are getting better at filtering stuff out that doesn’t really matter.
This is not good news if you want to communicate a message to people. Chances are it will be filtered out. Our natural response is to try to deliver more. It makes logical sense.
- If you are hungry, what is the logical response? Eat MORE.
- If you don’t have enough money, what is the logical response? Work MORE.
- If your car is going too slow, what is the logical response? Step on the pedal and give it MORE gas.
- If you can’t hit a straight drive on the golf course, what is the logical thing to do? MORE practice.
More doesn’t work when trying to communicate a message. More increases the clutter. More increases the likelihood that our brains will filter out the message.
More on a printed page or website means the less valuable each item is.
More announcements from the stage mean less is heard.
More posts on social media means people will become accustomed to scrolling past all of your posts.
More just means more, not more effective.
More is not better. Better is better.
There is good news about the way that our brains are designed to process and filter information. Our minds are effective at flagging information that fits into a context - something that we already know or have experienced. That’s why companies are spending millions of dollars to have access to our personal information; our web search history, social media feeds, and shopping history. They need that information so they can communicate things to you that your brain will put into a familiar context and will not filter out.
That is the one thing communicators can do to get their message through. Put the message into context. Relate it to things that people know and have experienced.
What could that look like?
Intended Message: Come to Church This Sunday!
Message in Context: Stressed? Me too. I’m going to church this Sunday to hear Pastor Rob talk about how Christians should be the most relaxed people on earth! P.S. I got a sneak peek at the songs that we are singing - If they don’t encourage you, you might want to see a doctor :)
Intended Message: Sign Up For Our Wednesday Night Parenting Class!
Message in Context: My kids just wouldn’t listen to me. I didn’t know how to tell my kids no without them not liking me. I took our parenting class last year, and it helped me a lot! It was so good, I’ve signed up to retake it this year. If you stress as a parent, you might want to check to see if there are still open seats.
By the way, the whole idea of using context is right there in the Bible - Why do you think Jesus spoke in parables?
There are two fast food restaurants about a mile from my house.
Fast Food Restaurant A has long lines, but they move quickly. Their employees are super friendly and helpful. Their food tastes great. They are always busy.
Fast Food Restaurant B has slow service. More often than not they do not get my order correct. Their employees are not friendly, not helpful, and smell like they need to shower. They are seldom busy. I’m not sure how they stay in business.
Restaurant A has an excellent reputation in my community that drives customers to them.
Restaurant B has a poor reputation in my community that repels customers.
What reputation does your church have in your community?
What are your known for?
That reputation is your brand.
The Church’s Brand Stinks
The Church has a poor reputation in our culture. Some of that poor reputation is unfair, but most of it has been earned.
Here is how our culture views The Church brand today:
- a place full of anti-LGBT bigots
- closed minded, anti-science simpletons
- a place where sex crimes against minors occur and are covered up
- a place where people are judged by judgy people
- an authoritative institution in an age when both authority and institutions are not valued.
- a place where people seem to argue with themselves a lot
The church has become known for what we are against rather than what we are for.
Does Your Church’s Brand Stink?
It might cause you some discomfort to think about your church as a brand or having a brand. Whether you are comfortable or not, your church does have a brand. In your local community, your brand might be “the church with the big cross,” “the church that had that scandal,” “the church with a rocking kids ministry,” or “the church that helps the poor.” Your brand can be a positive or a negative to your ministry.
It doesn’t matter if your church is in a season of growth or decline, examining your brand is a worthwhile endeavor.
I appreciate the efforts on one church who has turned what is a negative for so many churches into a positive. Gwinnett Church in Gwinnett County, Georgia started with the realization that The Church and their church were known for what they are against in our culture. They turned that narrative on its head and launched a campaign and branding effort called FOR Gwinnett. Their church communicated all of the things that they are for in Gwinnett County: FOR Parents, FOR local businesses, FOR Our Neighbors, FOR Kids, FOR those not a part of our church. They backed their words up with actions and are now known as the church that is FOR Gwinnett and the people of their community. What a great reputation! What a great brand!
Your local church is called to do ministry in your location at this specific time in history. Your brand should reflect that.
When determining the status of your brand in your community, it is helpful to ask three clarifying questions:
1. What are we known for in our local community?
2. What should you be known for in our local community?
3. How can I manage to talk with 10-20 people in our community to get more insight?
If you evaluate your brand honestly, you will most likely come away a little depressed. Don’t worry (too much). There is hope. There are ways to improve your church’s reputation in your community. The first step in any such endeavor is acknowledging that you have a brand problem.
A Note About Denominations
Your denomination matters to your brand - and for most churches, it is a negative.
It is no secret that almost all Christian denominations in North America have experienced a significant numerical decline in the last few decades. During that time, non-denominational churches have experienced growth as a whole. When thinking of your brand in your denominational context, I find forming a mental picture to be helpful.
Picture your church as a boat rowing upstream against the strong current of our culture. Your denomination most likely serves as a boat anchor in your efforts to navigate upstream.
Here is my best advice to navigate your denominational identify while thinking about your brand:
If the way that your church does ministry is in the mainline of your denomination, own it. Be true to yourself, your heritage, and your reality. Own it all, the good and the bad. You will confuse if you try to differentiate yourself from your denomination because in reality your denomination is your brand. Don’t run from it - embrace it.
If your church practices ministry differently than most churches in your denomination, then you should highlight that and make it part of your brand. Most unchurched or de-churched people do not associate your denomination with your beliefs or doctrine; they associate a denomination with a picture of how you do ministry. Style of worship. Outlook on social issues. Formal or informal? Closed-minded or open minded? Look for ways to separate yourself from your denomination when you think about your brand. In reality, you are different; your brand should reflect that difference. Be true to yourself and your reality.
What you are known for is so important to your ministry. Your reputation matters in your community. Your brand matters to the people you wish to reach.
If this is something that you would like to investigate further, I highly recommend the following resources:
Shaped By The Gospel by Tim Keller
Irresistible by Andy Staley
Last year, I published Ministry Meeting Notes, my personal system for preparing for and leading meetings. It has been great to hear from people who are using this every day to help them organize and conduct better meetings. I’ve had several ministry leaders comment that they have shared it with professionals not serving in the ministry. In order to help those professionals, I am releasing a NEW resource - Management Meeting Notes today!
You lead lots of meetings.
Team planning meetings
You don’t have enough time to organize and prepare for all of your meetings.
The result? Unfocused conversations and unproductive meetings.
You need to enter a meeting with a clear purpose and course of action.
You need a method to take notes and document your conversations for future reference.
You need a way to remind yourself of decisions made in meetings.
Management Meeting Notes are easy to follow templates that let you organize your thoughts before, during, and after meetings.
The minimal design of each page in the notebook is designed to keep your focus on what is essential. Each page of notes is formatted to follow the natural flow of your meetings.
Let Management Meeting Notes guide you toward productive meetings that help you be awesome at your job and avoid poorly organized and unproductive meetings.
1996 was a good year.
Independence Day was the top grossing movie.
The Summer Olympics were held in Atlanta, Georgia.
Tickle Me Elmo was causing fights at malls during the Christmas shopping season.
I graduated high school in 1996.
When I graduated high school, there was one computer in the entire building that had internet access. It was located in the library behind the librarian’s desk. You accessed the internet via Netscape on a dial-up connection. You had to get permission from the librarian to use the internet connected computer. She almost never granted permission. After all, why would you need the internet? There wasn’t much to do.
Times have changed since 1996.
In 1996, there were around 100,000 websites Today, there are billions.
A recent study by USC Annenberg found that the average American spends 24 hours a week online. 40% of respondents reported being “online constantly.” A vast majority of online time is spent on some form of social media.
Many churches communicate like it’s 1996. The primary means of communication is a weekly printed bulletin, live announcements on a Sunday morning from the pastor, a monthly mailed newsletter, or a sign in front of the building. Many churches still pay to have an ad in the yellow pages or newspaper. Some send an email version of their newsletter and have a tired looking website. All of these methods were available in 1996. The digital revolution has taken place in the last two decades, and churches are slow on the uptake.
The way most churches communicate is outdated, ineffective, and should be a source of embarrassment (or at least some serious reflection).
This is truly sad. The church was on the cutting edge of the last major communication revolution. The Bible was the first mass-produced book printed on the printing press.
The fastest growing churches get the importance of digital communication. For the last two decades, megachurches and startups are the fastest growing types of churches. They are also the two types of churches most likely to spend a higher percentage of their budget on digital communications. Think about that. Startup churches, who typically aren’t flush with funds, are spending a higher portion of their budget on digital communications than established churches.
If the fastest growing sector of churches are using digital, then why are most churches so far behind and snuggling to keep up with the pace of change?
Is it lack of money?
Facebook is free.
Instagram is free.
YouTube is free.
Twitter is free.
Snapchat is free.
A basic website can be set up for free. A good one for cheap.
Is it lack of staff or people to manage digital communication?
Having a staff or staff person dedicated to digital media helps (a lot), but it is not necessary. Churches are full of people who live online every day. They can contribute, given the right vision. Most churches likely have several members/attendees who work in a digital marketing field.
Is there a legitimate spiritual reason for churches not to fully engage in the digital world?
No. Just no.
Then, what is it?
Why do most churches communicate like it is 1996?
I think the answer is simple: A lack of imagination.
Many pastors do not personally realize the importance of digital communication in the church. As a result, they are not casting vision in this area.
I was at a ministry conference recently and noticed a bored looking pastor sitting next to me browsing Facebook on his smartphone during a presentation. I know this guy’s church. They have a basic website and no social media presence. I checked, they do have paid listing in the yellow pages. Why did this pastor realize the value of a smartphone and social media for his personal life, but not for his church?
Here are three questions to help you discern if you are communicating well in the digital age.
1. Do you spend at least 1% of your annual ministry budget on website design/content and paid social media reach?
2. Do your primary social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram) have at least 4x your average weekly worship attendance?
3. Do you have an annual communications plan?
How do you rate in this area? Let me know.
William Jennings Bryan delivered what is considered to be one of the greatest orations of all time at the 1896 Democratic National Convention. It is referred to as the “Cross of Gold” speech and is best known for the line “you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold.” I recently came across a reference to the speech and was interested enough to read a transcript. I was impressed with the phrasing and powerful use of language, eloquent prose, and frequent use of alliteration. However, something seemed…off. At first, I couldn’t discern what was odd and why I was having a hard time following along. Then it hit me…while the language was eloquent, I literally had no idea what he was talking about! Almost the entire speech is dedicated to the concept of bimetallism (making both gold and silver legal currency). Not surprisingly, I have never given that issue much thought, but apparently, it was quite the issue in the late 1800’s. It is not an issue for me today, it is not something that I think about or care about.
I have observed many churches, and church leaders invest a lot in communication efforts that fail because what they are communicating means nothing to the people who are hearing it.
As a church, the method you use to communicate your message is irrelevant if you do not know who your audience is. What does your audience care about? What problems are they facing? What matters to them day in and day out? You must know your audience before you communicate your message.
Many church leaders and churches are simply out of touch with the community and people they are called to serve.
If you are a church leader who spends all of your time talking with churchy people, I’m willing to bet that you do not have a firm handle on the hopes, wants, and dreams of people in your community. The same can be said for a church member who spends all of their time doing churchy things with churchy people. You end up focusing your communication efforts almost exclusively on existing church people who think similarly to you. This has always been the case but is being exacerbated today by three factors.
The United States is becoming more racially and culturally diverse. Given the fact that churches tend to be racially homogenous, the more likely it is that church leaders are walled off from the quickening racial diversity of America and the potential implications it has for the church. Assuming a homogeneous culture assures that your message will fall only on the ears of people like you.
2. The Widening Gap Between Church and Culture
It is no secret that the gap between the values of our culture and the church is widening. The more that gap grows, the more out of touch the church seems to people living in our culture. For years, the church has assumed a set of shared values and morals when communicating with people. Assuming the same today assures that your message will fall on uninterested ears.
3. The Decline of the Denominational Church
It is also no secret that almost every denominational church has experienced a significant decline in the past decade (or more). As the “greatest generation” passes away, the pace of that decline seems to be increasing. As institutions are looked at with greater suspicion, the institutional church faces a greater difficulty in sharing its message. Being institutional is a barrier to communication. Assuming that people know and value your institution/denomination assures that your message will be either ignored or derided.
Most church leaders spend their time on church things and churchy people. They do not live in the same circles as those in the community around them. As Christians, we are called to be in the world (although not of the world). If we are honest with ourselves, most of us are guilty of distancing ourselves and our ministries from our culture. We fear our culture and want to protect our church, so we build walls between the two. Communicating through a wall is difficult.
You can have the slickest website or the most impressive social media campaign, but if it isn’t real for your intended audience, it will fail to resonate.
Before determining HOW you are communicating, you must first know whom you are communicating with.
Before determining WHAT you are communicating, you must first know whom you are communicating with.
I am often accused (rightfully so) of mumbling.
My wife asks what the plan is for the first day of vacation.
I think I respond with: “After we get off of our flight to Denver, we drive to our condo in the mountains with no stopping because I want to get there before it gets dark.”
What she hears is: “Aff we giff fight to dinner, we dive our dough mountains with no stopping bis I want together four its ark.”
My brain often thinks faster than my mouth can move to communicate what I want to say. That is a problem if I want to communicate something.
Most ministries have the opposite problem. Their mouth moves faster than their brain. They communicate without having a clear idea of what they want to say. Their mission and vision are unclear. As a result, they communicate events, initiatives, and weekly news without considering how it fits into the big picture. For many churches, this is unintentional. It is the result of just “doing church” and not taking the time and energy to clearly define what their mission is to their community. With no central message to serve as a communications filter, a “shotgun” approach to communications develops.
Fire - Aim - Ready is a poor approach to communications.
You need to clearly define your mission (Ready) and your message to your community (Aim) before you attempt to communicate your message (Fire).
You know from experience that bombarding people with numerous unrelated announcements is not effective. People tune you out. Our brains are wired to tune out random, irrelevant information. We need context for things to make sense and our brains to make them a priority. It is an effective survival skill, but a challenge for communicators.
In January 2017 Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world. His presentation lasted over an hour and a half and was full of technical information about a product no one had seen. A difficult task. He was able to introduce the product effectively by anchoring all that he said around one simple message: "Today Apple is going to reinvent the phone," Jobs proclaimed. That was the message of the day. It was the headline that anchored all of the information that he communicated. He repeated that exact phrase five times during his presentation. Apple’s press releases that day contained the same headline. The banner on their website displayed that same text. Their subsequent commercials focus on how Apple was reinventing the phone.
The message mattered, not just the product.
What is the one message that you want people to hear and know about your church?
What does your ministry want to be known for?
Our church connects people in our community to Jesus.
Our church helps the poor.
Our church cares.
Our church is focused on young people.
Our church is focused on old people.
We are a traditional church.
We are a modern church.
We wear skinny jeans here. :)
Our Christian school has excellent academics
Our Christian school will teach your kid about Jesus.
Our Christian school is a place to belong.
Our Christian school is safe.
Before you decide what gets communicated and how you are going to communicate, you need to determine what you are going to communicate. Read that last sentence again. It is important.
What are you communicating?
You should be communicating things that advance your core message.
Need help figuring all this out? Let’s talk about it.
In my last post, I mentioned that impracticality and people are the two big problems with Policy-based governance in churches.
As it turns out, I overlooked another serious problem: a lack of resources.
Most pastors and board members struggle to find resources that apply policy-based governance to their local church.
Where can I find good policies?
Where do I look for sample agendas or reports?
You know that most of the stuff you find the web is meant for large corporations, not a local church.
I can help with practical resources!
I’ve created a simple ready to use pack of documents that integrate policy based-governance and the local church.
And I’m launching it today!
This resource pack includes both PDF and Editable versions of
- a full policy manual
- a ready to go monthly compliance report
- a monthly meeting agenda template
- an annual policy review calendar
You can download it today!
Perhaps you are an experienced leader in a ministry that (at least on paper) practices policy-based governance. Maybe your context is a more traditional model of leadership and you are curious about policy-based governance.
At its heart, the policy-based governance provides a framework for leadership for most mid to large-sized churches. Trust your leaders to lead - and make sure they are accountable.
In my experience with the policy-based governance model, I’ve come to realize that there are two major problems implementing it in a church.
1. It is often too rigid.
Most ministries copy and paste their model and specific policies from a non-profit corporation or a larger church who has existing policies in place. The problem? They are not your policies! The policies do not fit the context of your church and your people. They are likely “corporate” and are more than you need to lead your ministry effectively. Over complex policies lead to disengaged board members and leaders. If the real world purpose of each policy is not clear, your leaders will simply ignore it and it will remain buried in a binder. Rigid policies do not help your ministry grow.
You likely have well-intentioned servants who volunteer their time to serve on your leadership board. The local church would suffer if it were not for people like them. Your kind-hearted people also represent a barrier to effective policy-based governance. It is likely that they do not have the expertise, time, or motivation to immerse themselves in the theory or best practices of policy-based governance. As a result, they either revert to micro-managing the ministry or they become unengaged and serve as a “rubber stamp” for their senior leader. Your ministry needs more from them. Your lay leaders need to function as an effective policy-based board for the health of your ministry. They need help.
I have a passion for the mission of the local church and feel that most churches benefit from a policy-based approach to governance. I have developed a simple, budget-friendly training process for policy-based boards and leaders. Whether you are just starting out with policy-based governance or need a refresher, some outside help might be beneficial for you and your ministry.
In my training, your board members will learn the basics of policy-based governance in the church, their role as a board member, and we will construct your policy manual!
Interested in learning more? You have three options:
Accountability is about ownership. That's the bottom line.
Do you own the mission and vision of your church or are you a consumer of it?
Here are 5 practical ways to increase your sense of ownership & accountability.
1. Be aware of victim conversations.
Look for people (maybe you) who tend to focus on past failures. Human nature leads us to blame external forces for those failures. You need to be accountable in your conversations - you need to be the one who encourages others to take ownership of actions and results. When you feel a conversation headed down the external blame road, try saying something like “I wonder what lessons we can learn about ourselves from that failure.”
2. Communicate your vision often.
You (and your people) need to be reminded often of the importance of your vision. Keeping the focus on the main thing should be inspiring to you and those you serve with. Here are two great resources to get you started on this:
Making Vision Stick - Andy Stanley
7 Ways to Help Others Understand Vision - Rick Warren
3. Model Ownership
Your actions will speak louder than your words.
By modeling expected behaviors, you make it safe and normal to embrace ownership and accountability. If you are walking the walk, you have eliminated at least one excuse that others may use for not taking ownership.
4. Clarify expectations using vision language.
Healthy accountability often begins with clear expectations. Understanding what is expected is key to both individual and ministry-wide accountability. Don’t invent random expectations that sound nice. Use the language that you already use to communicate your vision to set your expectations.
“We are making changes in our children’s ministry to better minister to the families in our community that we want to reach.”
“We are adding facility space to make room for the 1,000 people that we want to meet Jesus each week.”
"We need our volunteers to wear the same shirt because we want people to feel comfortable in our building.”
5. Focus on the future.
True accountability is not about the consequences of the past. Talking about past failures does little to motivate a sense of ownership and enables people who tend to blame external forces. Talking about the future can motivate ownership. By its nature, the future is unwritten and is optimistic. Cast a future vision that people want an ownership stake in.
In what ways are you encouraging ownership and accountability in your ministry? Let me know!
As a ministry, you are busy and time is limited. One often overlooked benefit of working at a church is that your time is often flexible. At least, more flexible than many other jobs. You aren’t required to punch a timecard or wait for a whistle to blow before going to lunch. Your employer is likely understanding of family situations and realizes that ministry is taxing. Take advantage of your flexible environment. Schedule time to get away from your office and get outside. Here are twelve methods I try to use to get outside. I hope you can use a few of them in your attempt to get out more often.
What ways do you find to get outdoors more often?
Let me know!