The 8 Axioms of Church Communication

These are 8 things that I say all the time around the office, so often that they’ve turned into axioms. At least for me.

#1: You said exactly what you wanted to say, but that doesn’t mean they heard exactly what you wanted them to hear.

Maybe you’re caught off guard when your beautifully crafted call to action doesn’t lead to, well… action. Or you’re surprised by some harsh comments on what you thought was a pretty solid social media post. Or that blog post doesn’t get shared.

This is why.

We all have filters that create bias in the way we interpret any message we see or hear. Just remember that bias doesn’t just affect what you hear or see; it also affects the things you say.

The things you say don’t sound exactly the same to anyone else as they do to you.

#2: If it’s not on the website, it doesn’t exist.

We live in an on-demand world. SEO matters. The one place people still seek the latest update is your website (that’s changing, but it’s still true). Your website is your growth engine and your cornerstone communication tool.

#3: A strategy always starts with who, and who can’t be everyone.

What makes a movement grow? Starting with your minimum viable audience. Learn about targeting audiences here.

#4: Your brand is the connector between your mission and your culture. The stronger the brand, the stronger the connection.

Investing in your brand pays dividends for a long, long time. Not just your logo, colors, and fonts. I’m talking about continuity between every touch point people experience, from the narrative of your social media to your building signage to the graphic on your volunteer’s t-shirt.

#5: There will always be more good ideas than there is capacity to execute.

Learn to say no. If that’s too hard, start with “not yet.” No will come.

#6: Design matters. 

Notice I didn’t say “beautiful design matters.” While aesthetics are important, design is about more than making something look good. It’s a way of thinking that says every element of something people experience has a purpose.

Design isn’t just a value, it’s a tool. Pick it up and use it.

#7: Social media matters. 

Social media controls the narrative around your brand. The kind of church you are on social media is the kind of church you are, period.

#8: Simplicity matters. 

Simple messages are more easily understood, more memorable, and more repeatable.

Simple processes are more easily followed.

Simple steps are easier to take.

Complexity stifles engagement.

The Caution Tape Effect

You probably love your church lobby after Sunday services. It’s a beehive of activity – conversations and connections, sharing stories and burdens and prayers, new people being greeted, etc.

Now imagine if you took caution tape and blocked off your lobby, so that after church people could not engage with each other, but had to edit the building without talking to anyone.

This is what happens when your church doesn’t have a presence on social media. Just like your people wouldn’t feel as good about church if they couldn’t chat in the lobby on Sunday, there are people who feel less connected when you aren’t engaging them on social media during the week.

The 5 Components of a Successful Brand

Admit it: you love branding. I have yet to meet a passionate, engaged-with-their-job marketing or communications person who isn’t All About The Brand. I am, too! I’ve designed logos, helped a few organizations create new brands for themselves, and worked with and for organizations as they figure out what to do to improve the brand they have. I love that kind of work.

However, too many organizations limit their view of their brand to visual components like a logo or color/font combination. And some say “brand” when they really mean “culture” or “mission.”

Either way, there’s a lot more to a brand than a newly designed logo or visual system. Plenty of organizations with not-so-trendy logos win at branding all day long. And they do it by remembering the 5 components that make their brand successful:

  1. Purpose over promise. You need to have a clear, tangible, repeatable expression of the reason you exist. This may or may not be your mission statement; it could be a tagline. For example, where I work our mission statement is discovering life with God for the good of the world. But we’ve been using a simple tagline lately: find your go. (Actually, we’ve been using the hashtag #findyourgo, but it’s definitely a tagline too.) If anyone connected to your organization – whether it’s attendees, employees, donors, or customers – can’t reiterate the purpose for why you exist, your brand won’t help you grow.
  2. Consistency of narrative and design. Consistency leads to familiarity, and familiarity is good! It doesn’t lead to boredom; it leads to front-of-mind presence, and positive associations. Attach it to everything you do! Creativity should be applied in designing your brand, not in using it. Don’t let brand variations creep into your marketing. Stay consistent visually, costly reinforce your main Big Idea through the stories you tell, the things you celebrate, and the things you ask your people to do.
  3. Emotion that inspires loyalty. Psychologists have observed a strong correlation between emotion and decision making. People who experience damage to the part of the brain that affects emotion also experience a profound difficulty with making even simple decisions, like what to eat for breakfast. Emotion is necessary to help people become intentional about connecting with your brand, about choosing it over the other options that are in front of them. Nike has always been great at this.
  4. Employee engagement is an incredible barometer of a brand’s strength. If your employees and partners aren’t excited about your brand, how likely is it that your brand will resonate with your constituents? If your staff wear your t-shirts by choice, you’re on the right track. Keep going.
  5. Responsiveness matters today more than ever. Be human, not an institution. Take advantage of every opportunity for conversation you get. Lean into social media the way a 13-year old leans into Instagram. Great brands don’t just talk; they listen.

There are certainly plenty of other ways to help strengthen your brand. These are just some that I’ve learned along the way, and from great resources like Marketo and HubSpot.

My main point here is: don’t limit your brand work to a visual branding project. We’re all in the branding business, all the time.

What a Bunch of Teenage Activists Can Teach Every Communications Professional

Responsiveness, clarity, and discipline matter as much as creativity.

Vanity Fair just published a behind-the-scenes look at the teenagers behind the #NeverAgain movement. Described as a “meme factory,” this group of students are all survivors of the Parkland, FL school shooting in February 2018.

Their goals are threefold: a ban on assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; universal background checks; and overturning legislation that prohibits the CDC from studying gun violence. Their strategy is to remain a dominant media presence (not just social media) that changes the conversation around gun violence in America.

There’s a lot to talk about in this article, but as a church communicator, I couldn’t help but be amazed at all I can learn from this group of young people. The things they do intuitively are the very things that churches struggle to do occasionally. And where churches are embracing the same strategies as the #NeverAgain group, they’re seeing growth.

Here are a few of the things that stood out to me:

They know where their audience lives. How do younger millennials and Gen-Zers get their news and information? Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and most of all, YouTube. “What a lot of my generation does is come home from school, eat a snack, and watch whatever’s in their subscription box from YouTube. That’s how they got a lot of their information.”

10 million people watched the #NeverAgain/March for Our Lives kids on 60 Minutes. Combined, the core group gets that many interactions on social media almost every day. They understand that influence is a direct result of creating community around content.

They are prolific content creators. They work as a team, and if nobody says no, they assume it’s a yes and move forward. Whether it’s a tweet or a video, they’re always making.

The end goal isn’t online activity, it’s offline activity. And their approach to offline activity is well-managed. They realize they can’t be everywhere all the time, so they planned the DC march and delegated the planning for other regions’ marches. But they sent out briefing documents, conducted conference calls – recognizing that one bad tweet can undo it all.

They stay on-message. They’re not anti-gun, just for more common sense around gun laws. They reiterate the specifics of their agenda over and over again: ban assault rifles and high-capacity magazines; universal background checks; re-authorizing the CDC to study gun violence. They stay on-message, and don’t depart from it.

Responsiveness. They leverage every opportunity. They move fast. From script to filming to social post in a couple of hours, not days. They don’t wait until Monday to jump on an opportunity.

They take risks. These kids are from an upper middle class suburb, and have lives full of opportunity and comfort. But they are choosing the less comfortable road ahead of them for the greater good. They regularly receive death threats, to the point that their office location remains a hidden secret.

They understand how much tone matters. They vet the tone of what they do to avoid too much sarcasm, too much anger, sounding too easy to write off. They are aware of each other’s strengths: some are acerbic and wonkish, some are emotional, some are comedic/satirical.

Basic rules: no profanity. no violence, actual, symbolic or implied. No personal digs. MLK’s third principle of nonviolence: defeat injustice, not people.

They are brash and bold in the brainstorming phase, but cautious in the editing room. They don’t always get their tone right at the start, but they refine it until it works. Anyone else find this remarkable for a team of high school students with a political agenda?

Tourists or Pilgrims 

Pilgrims are seeking a purpose. Tourists are seeking an experience. A tourist might love the experience, rave over it, document it, relive it. But they aren’t committed to it.

Tourists share experiences but they don’t construct them. They’re in it temporarily, not for the long haul. Tourists are consumers at heart.

Pilgrims are on a mission. They have a goal, a purpose of becoming a different person. Pilgrims make things happen. They’re in it for the long haul.

Winning brands treat their audiences like pilgrims, not tourists.

Missional vs. Attractional – a Thought Experiment

Here’s a thought experiment: imagine you have a friend who’s far from God, and they’re about to head out on a mission to Mars. You’ve got one hour with them before they take off, and that hour is on Sunday morning.

If you’d rather have them hear the gospel by watching a great sermon by your preaching pastor, you’re an attractional church. If you’d rather have a person from your congregation share that message – or you’d rather do it yourself – you’re a missional church.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking you’re one kind of church, when really you’re another. A missional church is characterized by it’s congregation, not it’s leadership.