Listening to a MyCom United Methodist Communications podcast, Phil Bowdle told his story. His dad was a United Methodist pastor. His mom led Children’s Ministry. He wasn’t just raised in the church. His family had keys. Today he is the Creative Arts Pastor at West Ridge Church in Northwest Atlanta. He wrote Rethink Communication: A Playbook to Clarify and Communicate Everything In Your Church, recently published by Center For Church Communication. This is not a theory book. He agrees right off that we have the greatest news to tell the world: the good news of Jesus Christ. What he DOES do is set forth the best tools, best questions to ask, best model for brainstorming and evaluation, best practices to effectively communicate, and best examples of what to do and what not to do to get the greatest news into our worlds.
The layout of the book is incredibly practical and well-ordered by process and system. Rather than report the statistics we already know, I was fabulously encouraged by the statement, “Church attendance is not decreasing, it’s decentralizing.” Decentralizing is moving away from a single administrative center to other locations or vehicles of engaging in Christian education and Christian community. “The average person who attends your church may only physically attend eight to ten times a year. The average person your church is trying to communicate with is on social media 116 minutes a day.” (pg 41) The challenge is how to best connect through communication with those who physically attend church AND as they live life every single day. Moving from one-way to two-way communication is the best way to engage with the folks in our community since the average attention span of people in 2018 is 8 seconds. (pg 46)
Take a deep breath.
Bowdle shares three things we can no longer assume when we communicate:
1. Stop assuming you have your audience’s attention. We have to earn it.
2. Stop assuming that because it’s important to you, it’s important to your audience. Speak first to what’s important to them.
3. Stop adding to your message. Start simplifying.
Start simplifying. This takes time. This takes planning. This takes brainstorming in community. This takes preparation as a team because for our message to be heard AND responded to, it will require more time to communicate that message than it did in the past. (pg 104) He offers tips for planning your timeline so to clarify your message for each event/activity, know your audience’s persona, develop an elevator pitch, communicate answers to problems, then remember the ‘rule of seven.’ The ‘rule of seven’ is the number of impressions it takes before someone new is going to respond to your message.
He offers specific systems for the messages we want to share, the deadlines to consider, and to constantly be advocating for your target audience no matter what. He confirms that church communication is not a service, but rather a ministry. He then drives home his thoughts on church announcements. He speaks clearly on the tension between meeting the needs of our audience and meeting the requests of the ministry leaders. Cutesy names and insider language have to go. Simplify and tell a story. Any message worth communicating is worth communicating more than once. He suggests beginning with a soft launch (first early impressions of your message to build anticipation and awareness with the core of your target audience); a launch (communicating your message when people can hear and respond to your message); a blitz (building on impressions already made and concentrating multiple impressions into key times when you want people to respond.)
There is so much great material in this book, it is indeed a playbook for how to most effectively communicate the message of what makes your church your church. This is a practical playbook and should be required reading for leaders in ministry today who want to be the most effective at communicating inside and outside the church. We’ve got the best news in the world to share. This tool can help you ask the best questions to get you there.
“The two words ‘information’ and ‘communication’ are often used interchangeably, but they signify quite different things. Information is giving out; communication is getting through.” – Sydney J. Harris