“It’s hard to communicate what you don’t understand.”
That was the wise reply from my wife the other night as I shared frustrations about the way companies sometimes communicate with their staff. While I think most professional communicators are genuine in wanting to help people become more informed, I often think the breakdown happens because they don’t intimately know their audience’s needs or fully understand the topic they’re talking about.
It can be easy to fall into this trap. Communicators are often tasked with becoming experts in covering a wide array of topics on tight deadlines. So as you work to improve your church communications efforts, here are some tips to consider.
Build in time to get to know each ministry. There are two benefits to this: it boosts your knowledge base and also builds trust. It’s easy to assume you understand what’s happening on the other side of the church. At best, that assumption gives you a broad and outdated version of reality. Plan on meeting with ministry leaders and key volunteers on a regular basis so you can get a real picture of what is happening. This will not only help you understand their passions, but also let you know their challenges. Addressing both will make you a far stronger communicator.
As you build those relationships, people will share more. Trust is important in communications. If people see that you care and truly understand their ministry, they’ll help you do your job better. They’ll begin to trust the systems you have in place, and you as a professional, when they see you’re serving them effectively.
Look at your church community, identify their felt needs and understand how they consume information. If you don’t know the people you’re trying to communicate with, how will you ever be able to effectively reach them? When you ignore this, you end up doing things like creating a Twitter account and then realizing no one in your church actually uses that platform. Even worse, and more importantly, without creating content that meets your audience where they are at, you’ll never get optimal engagement.
Survey your congregation. Take time to engage people in conversation. Ask other church leaders what they’re hearing from your congregation. This allows you to gauge where your community is at in their lives in terms of need and communication preferences.
Admit what you don’t know. This is tougher than it sounds, but it’s an important piece of self-awareness that will help you be a stronger communicator. For example, I’m not versed in youth ministry. My wife and I don’t have kids, so we don’t spend time in that realm. That said I rely heavily on friends involved in those areas at their churches to know what needs and challenges there are for parents. Identifying what you don’t know and finding someone who can teach you about it will allow you to become more knowledgeable and give your community more authority.