Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Boring Begone!

The 7 Secrets of Church Communication that Works               
Boring Begone!

by William Cowles

Preachers, do you ever wonder why people check their sports apps and glance at their watches right when you’re revealing your most important theological insight? Ministry leaders and communicators, do you often wonder why people don’t respond to the requests, invitations, and change notices you send out?

There must be something wrong with them! Right?

Probably not, and let’s not sugarcoat it – they’re simply bored. Nobody intends to bore their audience, but it happens to the best of us.  Is there a cure? A preventive formula that insures every word is a sparkling, magnetic inspiration? Again, probably not.

There are, however, five tools you can use in your communication planning that will give you the best chance of capturing your audience’s attention and interest, holding it through the end of your message, and inspiring them to the action you want!

Our tools are light and easy to use, so hike up your communicator coveralls and get to work on your next incredible message. (We won’t take the space or time to lay out a bunch of examples here, but will create that resource and post it on our Website soon. Yes, we’ll let you know when and where.)

So here are the tools…

1.       Humor – A lighter approach is always easier to swallow. Laughter releases positive juju that encourages people to stick with you longer. One joke at the beginning will not do it. Humor is not joke-telling; it’s an attitude and a style. It's about putting people at ease in ways that they can see and laugh at themselves in a situation that has an odd twist or turn.
2.       Surprise –Everything I’ve said so far, by the way, is a lie. Uh-oh, did you expect me to say that? Did you think I’d deliberately try to deceive you, and now you’re shocked that I’ve turned on you? Good. That’s the idea. Use an unexpected story or reference that re-initializes the listener’s/reader’s antennae. Take a left turn when the road goes right. Jump up -- literally – when everyone thinks you’re starting to climb down. You’ll be surprised at how quickly you can re-ignite interest and attention with a simple surprise.
3.      Stories – What do you most remember from the Bible? Noah and the ark? Jonah and the whale? The prodigal son? Whatever your best memory, chances are that it caught your favor because it was a story. Parables, the theologians call them. Your audiences/readers won’t care what you call them as long as you use them. And, whenever you can put yourself in the story, the more interested your readers/listeners will be. This, by the way, is a great lead-off device.
4.      Variety – People learn best – they listen/read best – in small chunks. Sound bites. 140-character tweets. When you change the pace and tone of your writing or speaking, people will pay closer attention because you’ve made the effort easier. Show a picture. Cite statistics. Just break down your communication bites into easily digestible portions.
5.      Secrets – Let your listeners/readers in on something you discovered or that you’re going to share before the rest of the world gets it. People love to peek behind the curtain, so feed them some insider information – this kind is not only legal, it’s also highly communicable. You know the power of gossip -- people will spread a secret faster than a Facebook post. So give them good secrets to share.

Breaking boredom is not as hard as Breaking Bad, but it does take some effort. Take a long look at your next sermon script, newsletter story, event flyer, worship bulletin, or social media post. Where can you use some humor, a surprise, a story, variety, and a tasty little secret to draw your listeners/readers into your message? Don’t settle for boring; they won’t.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Too Much? Too Little? Just R.I.G.H.T.!

The 7 Secrets of Church Communication that Works
Too Much? Too Little? Just R.I.G.H.T.! 

by William Cowles

“If I’d had more time, I’d have written a shorter letter.”

That familiar apology, popularized by the very quotable Mark Twain, captures perfectly the tension every communicator faces – how much should I include?

Whether it’s a sermon, a memo, an email, a flyer, social media post, or a newsletter notice – when is enough, enough? Or not enough? Or too much? 

Here’s the ironic long and short of it. Communicators who know a lot about their topics often don’t share enough because they assume you know as much as they do. On the other hand, communicators who are uncertain about their content usually run on and on and on to try to cover up their gaps. Neither is effective. 

So, how do you know? How much do you need to say to make your point?  Another old adage sums it up nicely – “Long enough to cover the subject, but short enough to be interesting.” Content and intent. And, yes, it takes more time and effort to plan and execute a clear, concise, action-inducing message. 

Because there is no set formula, we’ve come up with a simple “R.I.G.H.T” approach to help church communicators – preachers, staff, ministry leaders, newsletter writers and editors – forget the message’s length and concentrate on its meaning. 

·         R – Relevant. Does it speak to the interests of your listener/reader in terms that are familiar to them? You must meet your readers/listeners at their points of need. Preachers joke about “preaching to the choir,” but that’s too often true. When you tailor your messages to “insider” knowledge and understanding, you shut out, turn off, and send away everyone who isn’t part of your inner circle. And unless your congregation consists solely of the same 20 people from the last 20 years, they are not part of your inner circle.

·         I – Insightful. Does it have you in it? What do you think and believe about the topic? Your readers/listeners will better understand your topic when you share your ideas, opinions, beliefs, and attitudes about it. Especially when you’re trying to influence or inspire, your position needs to be clear, and your interest will intrigue your audience.  

·         G – God-Centered. Does it honor God? Don’t forget who’s at the center of your church. God is all too often left out of our messages because church communicators assume their audiences already know and understand who God is and how He works with us. Frankly, it’s not true and we can’t take the chance of not delivering His message.

·         H – Heartfelt. Can the reader/listener feel your emotion? Be passionate about your message; not wishy-washy. People will respond according to how committed they sense you are. If you’re indifferent or “all business”, they’ll be equally or more indifferent and unemotional. If you’re excited, they’ll be excited, too. If you’re getting some satisfaction from what you’re doing, they’ll want to share it.

·         T – Targeted. Is it laser-focused on what you want to say and to whom? When you’re talking about the benefits of confirmation, communicate in the language that parents of youth are most familiar with using. Mine your group for specific talents, gifts, ages, and interest by being upfront about who you’re looking for. Give others a pass on what doesn’t interest or fit them. Then when something does pique their interest, they’ll pay attention. Making 1-3 points and making them well is far more meaningful than throwing out a laundry list of everything that’s on your mind to everyone who’s on your list.  

When all is said and done, I prefer shorter church communications because readers/listeners have so many other messages clamoring for their attention. 

When a church’s messages are aimed at people in ways that will cause them to pay attention, understand, and then act, you’ll have done it R.I.G.H.T.!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Assert Yourself to Get Results!

The 7 Secrets of Church Communication that Works           
Assert Yourself to Get Results!

by William Cowles and Reba Collins

Does your church have trouble getting volunteers, pledges, or participants? Most do. Many think the problem lies in congregational apathy or inertia when, in fact, your church’s results may be because you begin with the wrong style of communication. 

Churches typically communicate their needs in one of three ways – passively, aggressively, or assertively. But few take the time to consider what they are really saying based on their style of communication. Here are the kinds of words and phrases that characterize each style:

  • If you want to…                     Passive – You admit that your request is not that important.
  • You must or (else)…             Aggressive – You threaten them with negative consequences.
  • When you choose to…         Assertive – You expect that they and others will participate.

The bottom lines here are pretty straightforward. Passive language is too nice and too polite and too easy to ignore. Aggressive language is rude and in-your-face and really easy to reject. Assertive language is clear and specific about your expectations of what you want for them as well as what you want from them.

The most effective church communicators know these style differences and how to apply them. Are you using the wrong style of communication and don’t even know it? What do your results say? 

Following is a Communication Styles Tool to help you develop better comparisons among passive, aggressive, and assertive communication styles. In it are four specific examples of each communication style for common requests to: join in worship, engage further, volunteer in ministry, and engage in mission outreach. A fifth section helps position those messages and their expected results. (A printable version of this tool is available on our Website.)

So, go ahead and assert your church’s communications with clarity and confidence, and you’ll get the results you want.

(You’ll get a lot more helpful perspective on how to be more effective from the other blogs in this series here and from my blog on Quit Using the “If” Word in Church!)

Communication Styles Tool

Knowing which communication style to use and learning how to use it can be the difference between never begging for volunteers and taking ministry to the next level. It can mean meeting budgets based on a single stewardship campaign or multiple ministry fundraisers. It’s that important.

Below are examples of the main types of communication styles – passive, aggressive, and assertive – that church leaders use every day.  The most effective ministry leaders know these style differences and how to apply them. Use this tool to help you develop a better comparison among passive, aggressive, and assertive communication styles. 

Consider which of these styles would prompt you to a positive response:

Communication Style Comparisons



Participating in Worship…
Participating in Worship…
Participating in Worship…

If you’re looking for a place you might like to worship on Sunday….

Save your soul this Sunday, attend our church!

When you’re deciding which Worship service you will attend….
Engaging Further…
 Engaging Further…
Engaging Further…

We hope you will go to our Website and get more information. Feel free to call if you have any questions.

Check the “I want to know how to join now” box and a pastor will call to arrange membership.

You have a lot of choices on how and where to engage further with our church, and we will help you through every decision when you call or come in to visit with our staff.

Volunteering in Ministry…
Volunteering in Ministry…
Volunteering in Ministry…

Do you have the time and interest to volunteer in our ministry? If so, please call.

This ministry will have to be cancelled unless you and many others volunteer.

In one hour’s time, you can show a child that God loves him by joining our nursery ministry team. 
Participating in Mission Outreach…
Participating in Mission Outreach…
Participating in Mission Outreach…

If you have the time and interest this summer, the church is offering three mission service opportunities. Feel free to call for more information.

We’re short 50 volunteers for the church’s mission commitments this summer, so you must sign up before the end of this month.

You can choose which of our church mission service opportunities you’ll participate in this year – local, national, or global.

Passive Communication Results…
Aggressive Communication Results…
Assertive Communication Results…

Tells people that you don’t really care whether or not they participate. Every. Single. Time. You’re throwing your church ministry out there as an option to consider, but you’ll carry on without them in the meantime. So, when people are not important to your efforts, don’t expect them to make an effort to help you. 

Shames, guilts, or frightens people into action. This typically forces them into a negative, resistant, “fight or flight” response – and neither will engage people with a willing heart to help you. When you communicate a “my way or the highway” attitude, most people avoid your appeals and your church.

Lets people know what’s expected of them because you want something for them. It assumes that people will decide in your favor and that you honor their decision with support. When people know that they are needed to make a difference in their own lives and in lives of others, they will get on board better.