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Creating a Communication Plan
By: Jill Bailey

Words are foundational to our faith. We use them to communicate the gospel, to disciple believers, to connect the disconnected and to reach out in our communities. And although most churches see communication as an important part to their success, they do not necessarily view it as a strength within their organization. Church communication, like anything else, can be improved with a simple plan and the establishment of basic guidelines.

Communications planning is commonly used in the business world. It is a method used to direct an organization to reach their target market most effectively. It is concerned with who to target, when to contact them, with what message, and how messages will be disseminated. In the past, many churches have thought this strategy was too worldly and have been apprehensive adapting it. Today, with an overabundance of communication channels, churches realize the necessity of communicating more effectively. For the church, a strategic communications plan serves as a guide to spread a church’s vision and live out their values.

A good plan will help evaluate current communication and guide in creating a more effective communications approach. The most successful strategy will address six elements: receiver/decoder (who), message/content (what), time frame (when), desired outcome/feedback mechanism (why), communication channel (how), and sender/encoder (by whom).

When church leaders are asked who their church is targeting, they almost always answer “everyone.” The church is absolutely called to bring the ‘Good News’ to everyone; however, whether we realize it or not, most churches draw from one group of people more than others. In the marketing world, we call this a target market. Defining a target market is a process of describing a particular demographic that an organization will focus their marketing efforts. The point of defining a target market is to focus your efforts clearly at one point of a community so you use your resources as wisely as possible and to their maximum capacity. It is imperative you know who you are talking to before you know what to say and how to say it. 

Once you establish your target market, it is equally important to learn as much about them as possible. When researching your target audience, consider demographic, psychographic, geographic, and behavioral attributes. This will help you understand more intimately what makes your target audience tick. Who are they? What is going on in their lives? Where are they spending their free time? The more you know about them, the better you will be able to communicate. 

The next step in a strategic communications plan is one that many churches skip – determining the key message. What is the PURPOSE? Articulate it – write it down. In addition, when writing content for your communication, following the 4Cs will help you create the most effective message.

• Be Clear
Think about who is listening and write for them. Don’t speak “Christianese.” Insider language excludes people and often causes confusion. Choose your words carefully.

• Be Concise
Start with the basics: who, what, when where, why and how? Make sure all the details are included, but get to the point. Simplicity is best. Excessive and overly done communication will cause people to disengage and tune out.  

• Be Consistent
When communication between the church and the congregation/visitors/community is unpredictable or confusing, the church loses an opportunity to touch those people in a meaningful way. This confusion can lead to a lack of interest and commitment. Having a consistent message will help people know what your church values and gives the church a sense of unified direction.
• Be Compelling
To be compelling is to encourage, persuade or convince. How will you succeed in encouraging someone to do something if the message communicated is boring? When writing content, whether it’s for a newsletter or verbal announcements, remember to write with the target audience in mind. 

Your message should also influence people to do something. In the marketing world, this is called our “call to action.” Does your key message have a strong call to action? Every message should compel the audience to “Go, Give, Pray, Come…”

Another important aspect of a good church communications plan is creating a timeline showing when all communication is expected to occur. Specify the appropriate time frame of delivery for each message. Are you giving the recipients adequate time to produce the best response? Consider the value and effectiveness of each piece. 

What do you hope to achieve with your message? When planning, it is important to start with the end in mind. Put the desired outcome into words. What is the goal? For instance, you promote a new adult ministry. Do you want adults in the congregation to attend an event, invite their unchurched friends or just be aware it exists? This step will also assist with feedback. Did your message accomplish what you hoped it would?

How will this message be sent? What medium should be used?  This is not as simple as it sounds. Consider the best way to communicate this specific message to this specific audience. Many churches attempt to stay trendy and try a little of everything – email, bulletins, posters, newsletters/e-newsletters, Facebook, Twitter – and the result is that you inundate your congregation and nothing gets read! Evaluate what has worked best for you.

Who delivers a message, whether spoken or written, is as important as how the message is communicated. Nothing puts an audience to sleep more than a monotone lackluster speaker.  Someone with passion for what they are writing will usually make up for a lack of technical writing skill. After they impart excitement and create interest, you can always have a more experienced writer read and edit the message. It is always a good rule of thumb for any writer to have someone else read and edit your material. Another pair of eyes and a different perspective often helps catch mistakes and fill in whatever was missed.

Finally, it isn’t difficult to establish basic guidelines and create a church communications plan.  The time invested will be invaluable, as you use resources to their maximum capacity while spreading your vision for the church more efficiently and effectively.

Jill Bailey is a senior marketing specialist at PhoneTree, www.phonetree.com

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