Categories
How To

How To Develop An Effective Church Communications Plan

If you’re wondering what church communications are, what a church communications plan is and how to use one, read on!

In this post, we’re going to tackle some the most relevant questions about developing an effective church communications plan, so you can create your own. Keep reading to find out:

Why develop a church communications plan?

So why should you bother developing a church communications plan? In short, it’s because the good news of the gospel is at stake.

Let me explain.

We all know the gospel is ‘good news.’ But news like the gospel, as good as it is, cannot be called ‘news’ in the first place without also having hands, feet, and mouths planning to communicate it (c.f. Romans 10:14-17).

Here comes the local church: the planner, articulator, and communicator of the message that Jesus Christ laid down his life for those who couldn’t earn God’s love (c.f. Romans 5:8).

Local churches communicate, inside and outside of themselves, in ways that are creative and distinct from one another. But regardless of any creative differences, each church needs to consider how to develop an effective communications plan.

If it doesn’t, the gospel–the news to be communicated–may itself be at stake.

What is church communications?

Church communications are the ways in which a local church expresses and makes known its mission and message. 

Internal and External Communications

Church communications can both internal communications and external communications.

venn diagram comparing external and internal communication
There are two forms of communications: internal and external.

Internal church communications are typically within and on behalf of the local church, who makes its messaging known to its own people, like:

  • church staff,
  • church leaders, 
  • volunteers, 
  • small groups 
  • and church members.

Internal people embrace and advance the mission and the message.

But church communications is also understood by way of external communications, when the church makes known the right message, beyond itself. This could be by way of evangelism or outreach, to the de-churched, unchurched, and so on, using:

  • social media, 
  • podcasts,
  • text messages,
  • live streaming, 
  • the church’s website, and many other options. 

For the local church, people are the mission (c.f. Matt 28:19; 1 Chron 16:24; Matt 9:35-36). So, having people inside the church reaching people outside of it is also an ‘ends’ of the communications plan. People reaching people.

This is significant because we can think of communications plans simply as a ‘means.’ But they aren’t. Here’s a link explaining the idea of fulfilling the mission of God through the multiplication of people via church plants. Good communications help make a ‘means’ also an ‘end’.

Integrated Communications

The internal and external forms of church communications require a little further thought and explanation. They can be discussed separately only in theory because in practice they are highly dependent upon each other. 

For example, let’s say a local church’s goal is to increase outreach and evangelism. This is a communication channel we probably think of as external.

Yet, the best way to ramp up outreach could actually be by addressing an area not outside, but inside–like improving internal church software to better communicate the vision and how this goal is going to be achieved and addressed through ministry.

My local church has just upgraded to the new Planning Center software. This suite of products has helped us keep-on-top-of everything from what’s going on in a ministry team all the way to first-time follow-ups with guests.

It has also been super helpful for scheduling and registering people in church events, like Christmas and Easter, which are especially complicated to plan, communicate, and manage during COVID!  

mind map of integrated communications strategy
Churches need to decide how their communications are integrated, as typified above.

Each church needs to wrestle with the degree to which its internal and externals communications plans are linked. But it’s hard to think of a good external communications plan without there also being a robust and cohesive team working together behind-the-scenes, with the right tools. 

So, church communications require integration and a blended value approach. This also relates to the church’s overall goals, objectives, and strategy.

How to develop a church communications strategy

The best church communication strategy uses multiple mediums to reach its intended audience with an integrated, foundational idea or message.

In the Church Communications Handbook, George Barna says,

“Most communications experts will tell you that your best media strategy is one that relies upon a blend of several media to reach your desired audience.” 

George Barna

If your goal is to do this online, Brady Shearer’s YouTube video is super helpful in this medium. In particular, his rule #3 highlights what we will pick up below.

Here are 5 steps you can ask in order to develop an integrated communications strategy:

Step 1: Who is the target audience?

A blended church communications strategy first identifies who is being communicated with. This makes sense when talking about the mission and message of the gospel because, in the end, the intended audience of the gospel is everyone (c.f. Rev 7:9). 

Jesus Christ came into the world so that everyone would come to know and experience his love (c.f. Ps 67:2; John 3:16; and 1 Tim 2:4). As we discussed above, the local church owns this communication.

Step 2: Why this target audience?

This is your opportunity to refine your audience. In the case of the gospel, “everyone” is far too large a demographic for any single, local church to bite-off-and-chew on its own. So, with this step, you can ask why or why not this person or group of persons.

“Everyone” has different habits, preferences, and areas of interest, meaning that reaching them with one medium or one strategy in isolation of others is literally impossible. 

So, understanding that local churches can rely upon one another, and we can see the capital “C,” universal Church working across the globe. 

Also, understanding that there are different mediums through which different people can be reached helps you know why one audience can be targeted and another cannot.

After asking the question of why your audience can become more focused and narrow.

Step 3: What to communicate to them?

This is where you clarify your medium and message. The gospel message itself isn’t brand spanking new. But it can be thought of as old news that brings new life in new ways.

So, answering what to communicate is more a matter of what emphasis of the gospel is on display. You can figure that out be addressing these questions:

  • What truth or truths of the gospel are being articulated or supported by this communication?
  • How is Jesus revealed by what I am saying or how I am treating people with what I say?
  • Where is there room for new life to be brought into this medium?

Step 4: When to communicate with the target audience?

The “when” we see in the Bible can be called an “occasion.” It can be reactive or proactive. But the best time to communicate is proactive.

If the Apostle Paul’s writings teach us anything, it is that local churches in different areas of the world work together and, at the same time, focus on specific messaging to specific people on specific occasions (c.f. Gal 1:6-9).

We see biblical authors writing towards a “future” of things that will happen on planned or foreseen occasions. Some examples of this include the Prophetic literature in the Old Testament, but also how believers in a community should behave in the New Testament (e.g. see Gal 5-6 for proactive communications).

Step 5: How to communicate with the audience?

This can be called a ‘Big Idea.’ In his book, The Social Church: A Theology of Digital CommunicationJustin Wise suggests that each church needs to develop a “Big Idea” that is “foundational,” from which every other act of communication flows from the base of a pyramid. 

The “Big Idea” that informs strategic communications is developed, for Wise, by receiving life and being breathed on by God the Father. This is no trivial point. Unless the reason why we are communicating is important enough to communicate and empowered by the one who ‘communicated’ life into being, then it doesn’t have much hope of success.

But Wise also gets practical too. He suggests that a “Big Idea” can be formed by approaching the question: “What objectives are we trying to accomplish as a community?” This is integrated not only by things “to do” but by an identity “to be.”

Examples of church communications

Let’s look at some examples of how a local church can use the integrated communications strategy. Pretend that the ‘Big Idea’ of this example is “to spread the worship of Jesus in the city of ‘XYZ’ by increasing the depth and breadth of disciples.”

Church’s Website Strategy

Church websites are a hugely important aspect of any church communication plan. This is the online medium through which first-time guests learn new information about your church, its mission, its message, and its “Big Idea.”

Daniel Babcock suggests in his blog that these people want to join the community, but prefer not to engage right away. If this is true, the website should very quickly include the information you want them to know about the “Big Idea” and how it is directly supported.

This is especially the case because the average website visitor views, says Babcock, only 1 or 2 pages of the website for a very brief amount of time. So brevity is key. 

With our “Big Idea” above, the church website should have an about page that states the “Big Idea” explicitly, making available information about small groups that exist. It should also share how the mission relates to what Jesus wants in city “XYZ.” 

Look at this good and simple example of the landing page at www.life.church. It uses images and banners to point new people directly to areas about the church’s mission.

screenshot of lifechurch homepage website strategy
Landing page at www.life.church is clear, succinct and interesting.

Any information on the website that doesn’t relate to the ‘Big Idea’ shouldn’t be on the website. 

Social Media Strategy

The “Big Idea” approach translates directly to your church’s social media strategy, content, and messaging. In the book, Social Media Strategy, Keith Quesenberry suggests that:

Social media big ideas must be unifying but also interesting and engaging.

Keith Quesenberry

So, how does your church make your message unifying? Well, your social media strategy can support your “Big Idea” by having some specific objectives, like:

  • Building Awareness: of your mission and message. (i.e. telling people you run small groups in the city).
  • Increasing Engagement: with your church’s communications and community (i.e. showing fun events and activities that are happening in your city that you are engaging with).
  • Raising Conversion: having non-members of the community see, hear, and respond. (i.e. asking for a response with questions or offering prayer or items that require action). 
  • Sharing Vision & Values: see people adopt your message and encourage others to do the same. (i.e. reward and encourage people who are loyal to your mission and message).

These objectives help you target a focused subset of the demographic of “everyone” (discussed above). Each objective relates to the “Big Idea” but can be employed on its own with dedicated social media posts at different times.

Here are some examples of Instagram screenshots from theway_vancouver. They do a great job integrating building awareness and sharing vision through integrated communications.

screenshot of the way vancouver instagram
theway_vancouver does a great job integrating communications of its mission and message using social media posts on Instagram.
Social Media Best Practices

This is how you can make your big idea interesting and engaging! Some best practices of how to roll out your engaging “Big Idea” on social media include:

  1. Post more videos: if a picture is worth 1000 words, how many words is a video worth. Here is a blog about the interest that can be generated by video.
  2. Use interesting pictures: the background, lighting, and colour of a photo are important.
  3. Tie the description to the photo: Far too often a video or picture isn’t related to the description or objective of the approach. The post becomes less interesting and engaging when it isn’t unified with itself!
  4. Use a social media calendar: your church can leverage events in your city and culture by posting about how the “Big Idea” relates to that time. (i.e. if your big idea is “to spread the worship of Jesus” then on something like ‘Valentines Day’ you could post about how worshipping Jesus is the ultimate form of love). 
  5. Subscribe to social media management software: all of the above best practices can be challenging to employ manually, say if you’re sharing with a team manually in a google doc. Hootsuite is an excellent platform for scheduling this automatically. Check Hootsuite out here. 

Template for church communications

Here is a great template from the diocese of Scranton that can help you get started with your church communications plan.

It identifies the target audience, highlights the message, and the medium. All of which are tied to the integrated approach described above.

editorial plan example for church communication strategy
An example of a completed editorial plan.

Further Reading

If you found this article helpful, you can check out how to leverage church metrics here. Monitoring and measuring metrics are a very helpful way of knowing whether your social media best practices and objectives are unifying, interesting, and especially, engaging!

What do you think?

Are you looking to develop a church communications plan? If so, how are the above insights helpful? Did we miss anything? Let us know in the comments below.

Categories
Insights

What is Church Planting? (And Why it Matters in 2021)

There is no local or global disciple making without church planting. Period. The future of Christianity and of God’s mission rests on this practice.

In this post, we’re going to cover off some the biggest questions about church planting. Keep reading to find out:

What is church planting?

Simply put, church planting is starting a new church from an existing church.

Church planting fulfils the mission of God in every place, space and context in which we find ourselves. Its activity is rooted in Jesus’ instructions in the New Testament Bible.

In Discovering Church Planting, JD Payne reads this out of the Great Commission of Matthew 28. For Payne, church planting “tells us how to make disciples” and “offers a paradigm for reaching villages, tribes urban enclaves and entire cities with the gospel.” He is on-to something important here about scope and why to talk about it.

Church planting process from Missional Church Planting
Church planting process from: https://missionalchurchplanting.org/2013/11/06/cultivating-personal-discipleship/

If the church is understood as the people of God, then where on earth (or beyond) can people (boldly) go that the church cannot go? Where can nations exist without the people who establish its culture, laws and structures?

It follows that where the people are, there can be the church. Where the church is, there is Jesus Christ. If new churches are not reaching the unreached people of the future, then who will? What activity can?

What The Great Commission says about church planting

Church planting, then, is not just one of many different strategies and practices that respond to the Great Commission of Jesus. It is the best strategy and the best practice. Experienced church planters Roger McNamara & Ken Davis make this clear. In The Y-B-H Handbook of Church Planting, they suggest that:

“Church planting best fulfills the directives and goals of the Great Commission because as churches are planted in every nation, disciples are made in that nation just as Christ commanded should be done.”

Roger McNamara & Ken Davis

In the Bible these local, new churches are reproduced out of an existing church from somewhere else. The people of God in one place with one people group establish a community of the people of God in another place and another group.

Why church planting is important

It is that simple—in words. It is much more difficult when the rubber-hits-the-road. The lives of the twelve apostles, new believers, and the Apostle Paul in the Book of Acts reveal the stakes: church planting either costs or very nearly cost them their lives (c.f. Acts 7; 12; 27). 

How the Apostle Paul planted churches

The Apostle Paul’s theology and practice make church planting integral to God’s mission. The Jesus Film Project highlights in their blog how Paul’s missiology of church planting fuelled his missionary journeys. His training and appointing of local leadership in new churches filled with new believers reveals his desire to multiply the global through the local church. This emphasis is picked up by Chris Bowers and Scott Zeller in their blog too.

Dangerous as it might have been, church planting as a practice was not stopped because the future of Christianity was, for Paul, the greater cost. McNamara and Davis say that the Apostle Paul in particular “did many things, but he never neglected” the practice of “planting new churches.” In the end, Paul ran the race and fought the fight of church planting (c.f. 2 Tim 4:7)

This cursory review or preliminary Bible study on the topic strongly suggests that church planting should be at the tip of the missional spear. The Great Commission of Jesus, the Book of Acts, and the theology and practice of the Apostle Paul demand it. 

Why church planting matters in 2021

The activity and priority of planting churches in the Bible is a foundation for all disciples today, because the world still holds a very great many people who do not know or follow Jesus Christ. “Church planting is needed,” says James R. Nikkel, in Church Planting Road Map, “because new communities need to be reached for Christ.” 

This demands some understanding of the past and present of 2020 but much response of the future of 2021 and beyond. Starting with understanding the cultural moment now, Christopher James, in Church Planting in Post-Christian Soil, paints a detailed and methodical picture of the great expanse and rise of secularity in North America in the last 50 years. It seems apparent to James that in Western culture God is more fantasy than fact—believed in by the minority, not the majority of people.

Church planting is relevant

What does surprise about James’ work, however, is his analysis of the minority, Christian church. James says,

“Rather than demoralizing the faithful, the minority status of confessional Christians seems to counterintuitively contribute to the vitality of their religious identity and mission.”

Christopher James

In other words, he believes that the mission of God has never been more relevant. If the mission of God is in a context of vitality, then the same stands for planting churches. Though secularism may be dominant, James believes paradoxically it has “proved to be a rather fertile environment for fervent Christianity.” People are ready. The time for planting is now.

Church planting demands a response

But this comes down to how the church responds. The people of God today, like those of yesterday, need to establish communities of the people of God for tomorrow.

Planting churches, therefore, matters in 2021 not only because there will still be a majority of people who do not know Jesus. It matters because there will also be robust minority of Christians who can assess their role and calling in the outworking of the mission of God. 

This means that anyone, whether a follower of Jesus or not, should think in some way about how church planting impacts their personal and corporate future. Below or some areas for you to consider in this process of discernment.

5 church plants to look out for in 2021

Whether you live in the Vancouver B.C. area or not, this unique season of church online means that you can look out for a handful of new church plants that I can recommend from in my context in 2021.

  1. Tidal Church: located in North Vancouver, B.C. Tidal Church is led by John and Kate Payne, who are experienced church planters from the UK. This church emphasizes the gifts of the Holy Spirit, small groups and the word of God. While the soft launch with their core team is happening in 2020, they are looking to ramp up their gathering and online presence in 2021. Read about John and Kate here.
  2. The Way Church: located in Vancouver, B.C., The Way Church is led by Rachael and Jason Ballard, the latter of whom is a mainstay in the Youth Alpha Video Series, now showcased online. Jason’s leadership and experience with the Alpha is exceptionally relevant to this moment where digital and video is the predominant medium through which church members are reached, and the values of the Kingdom of God are on display to the world beyond Vancouver. Learn about The Way Church here.
  3. City Life Church: also located in Vancouver, B.C., City Life Church is led by Todd and Stephanie Lueck. It was recently planted by its mother church City Life Chilliwack, who believe that the mission field is not only global, but local in the city centres. Find out more about City Life Church here.
  4. C3 Manhattan: Planted out of the mega- influential mega-church of Redeemer Presbyterian Church (which has been led by Tim Keller) this C3 church is a great blend of young vibrancy and traditional orthodoxy. If you’re not based in New York City, no problem. Their online services are eclectic and Christ focused. Plus there are many different C3 church across North America, Europe and beyond. Check out C3 Manhattan here.
  5. Christ Church SF: Located in the heart of San Francisco, Christ Church SF was planted through the Acts 29 network, a church planting group led by Matt Chandler. Christ Church SF embraces the Father’s heart to see places of influence, like the city centre of SF, transformed for the glory of Jesus. Learn more about this church here.

Why should you join a church plant

If you are excited about Christian missions and you want to discover your life’s passion, then you should join a church plant in 2021. It is those who join-in and plant churches that are also the ones who establish the short- and long-term future of Christianity.

“We discovered that churches that have a DNA of reproduction are among the most effective churches at reaching the lost and unchurched across America.” 

Thom Rainer

Here, in the book Church Planting from the Ground Up, Rainer and other church planters suggest that there is no better context for fulfilling your passion in Jesus in reaching the world than in a church plant.

The passion of evangelism and multiplication naturally spills out of one new church plant and into another. It is like wild fire. David Garrison speaks as such in, Church Planting Movements. Whereas “church planters may start the first churches” he goes on to say that other “churches themselves get into the act” and the birth of a movement occurs. Local churches in these areas go the extra mile, not giving up on discipleship, spiritual development or worship.

Being part of a movement is special. For church planters and bloggers, like Steve Sjogren, it creates a momentum that should cause us to “rejoice, if you have it. The calling and passion is worth it!

Why church planting isn’t for everyone

Whereas church planting is a missional practice that every Christian should deeply consider, joining church plants as a church leader or committed member is not for everyone, and some new church plants can emphasize unhealthy long-term behaviour.

First, you should probably avoid a church plant if it is too focused on the numbers, that is, the quantity of members or attendees. John Jackson, in High Impact Church Planting, speaks plainly about the unique position church plants are in the missional lifecycle. He believes, “New churches must reach new people or they die!” If this is true, then new church plants might be tempted to over-emphasize the importance of numbers.

In an environment where numbers become the focus of growth, other elements of church planting, like spiritual and emotional growth, can be put to the wayside. Sadly, church leaders, like Karl Vaters, have gone through this experience. What you can do, however, is learn from his experience!

Related Read: What Every Lead Pastor Needs To Know About Church Metrics.

Further reading

If you found this interesting, check out this post Church Planting Advice from Hillsong’s Brian Houston. And if you’re starting a church, check out our list of the best church management software.

What do you think?

Are you interested in church planting? Been a part of a church plant? What was your experience? Have you discovered any church plants that we haven’t mentioned? Are you aware of problems in church planting?

Let us know in the comments below.

If you’ve ever wondered how the big churches do it, here’s a peek into their world: 10 Biggest Streaming Churches And The Software They Use