Internal Communications

Bryan Haley

Are your internal communication strategies lacking? Here are some ways your church can tackle the internal needs to create unity and quality communications.

Show Notes

Episode Summary

The best way to deal with that over-crowded calendar is with an internal strategy to handle communications. In this episode, we talk about why internal communications is often a struggle, and what you can do to make improvements.

Mentioned in this episode

Transcript

Jeanette:

Is your church event calendar overcrowded? Are you having trouble recruiting and keeping volunteers? Do you or other staff members feel like they don't know what's going on? Today, we're going to talk about a communication tip that can help with this, not a social media post or having to do one of those TikTok challenges. The best way to solve these issues is to start with an internal communication strategy.

Bryan:

Hey, church communicator, welcome to the Church Juice Podcast. I'm Bryan Haley and I am the producer of Church Juice, and as always, I'm joined by my incredible co-host Jeanette Yates and we are here energizing church communications.

Last time, it's been a couple of weeks so I don't know if you actually remember this, but in our last episode, we talked about communications in the new year in 2022. I know we had a discussion after that episode and realized that a lot of churches that we're talking to are realizing that there's an internal communication problem happening and it kind of rears its head in different ways. You mentioned this in the intro, overcrowded calendars that maybe the staff just aren't communicating with one another and people are siloed and don't know what's going on. We thought we'd spend a few minutes today just talking through internal communications among your church staff and the ministry leadership. I'll kick it over to you and go from there.

Jeanette:

As I was thinking about church communications and how hard it always is and some of the things that I hear, I interact with church communicators every day as part of my day job. One of the things that's consistent is they're frustrated as church communication directors about last-minute things getting put on the calendar, or there are multiple people trying to get volunteers around the same time and volunteers are stressed out and it's all of these things.

Jeanette:

One of the things that I've noticed and we've kind of talked about with them is this idea that when the internal communication isn't working, the external communication eventually breaks down.

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Jeanette:

You may be holding it together barely on the outside—like it may look like all sunshine and roses, but behind the scenes, it's chaos and that's not good and it eventually will spread out and people in your congregation, people in your community will be affected by it.

Bryan:

What does that look like?

Jeanette:

To take care of it or what does the chaos look like?

Bryan:

Chaos looks like this because I think there are a lot more churches that are in this position like, "Hey, we need a flyer yesterday, so can you do it right now?" What does chaos look like? What should church communicators or pastors, what do you think they should be looking for to realize that, hey, we're kind of in this position?

Jeanette:

If there always seems to be something missing on the website like if you're constantly being like, "Where is this on the website?" As a staff member and your event isn't on the website or it's not in the bulletin or it's not on social media being marketed, for example, or being told to others about communicated outward, probably that's because there wasn't an inward communication to the church communicator. Another way this usually happens, or another way you can tell is if there doesn't seem to be one process for getting the information to the church communicator.

Bryan:

That's valid.

Jeanette:

Do you do an email? Is there a form? Are you writing a sticky note and putting it on the desk? What's the way? And if there are multiple ways, that's another way things kind of, you're basically watching things fall through the cracks.

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Jeanette:

Then another way this shows up, I used to see this in places that I was from time to time, where there would be a beautifully curated poster about an event, and then there would be a handwritten thing with a Sharpie scotch-taped to the wall that was marketing something else, right?

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Jeanette:

It's like, we probably could have had a better poster or flyer or whatever than whatever that thing is to communicate this event or outreach or something like that. And so, I think, internally there's the frustration between the ministry leader that's trying to get something, the word out and the communication director that's like, "You put a sticky note on my desk and it got thrown away," or, "I didn't know about it at all or whatever." And also that idea of like, everything can be done last minute, that kind of thing.

Jeanette:

Then externally, it looks like... Oh, another way this shows up externally for people in your church is when the announcement person, the Sunday announcement person says, "Good morning. Welcome to Sunday. We want you all to make sure that you come to the potluck this week. Also, we need you to pick up the mercy bags to give to people, and also, we're having this event in a few weeks so we want you to put it on your calendar and we're starting to read the Bible in a year. Make sure to sign up for that devotional." And it gets to be like, what are we supposed to do?

Bryan:

My favorite is when the pastor or whoever's doing the announcement is literally handed announcements as they're walking up. It happens. I see it.

Jeanette:

Yes, it does. From time to time, stuff will come up and stuff has to be quickly done or a last-minute note to the pastor. That stuff happens, but with an internal communication strategy, you can really eliminate that happening every single week, which is what a lot of churches are facing right now.

Bryan:

I see a lot of churches, most churches probably, we get so sucked into the urgent and what's happening right now that we fail to plan ahead. And so, that's just a perpetual repeating thing for every ministry, every event that's happening. And so, it's easy when everything is falling apart to realize that our internal communication isn't working, but when you've been doing the same thing for five years, sometimes it's just normal and that may not be healthy. That's not healthy. Coming up with ways to fix your internal communication, which I guess we should define internal communication. I define internal communication as the behind-the-scenes stuff, so the communication between your staff and the pastors before it gets to the congregation or to your outreach events or whatever.

Jeanette:

I do want to clarify that sometimes this isn't just staff, sometimes you have people that are running your children's ministry that is volunteers, but anybody who's in charge of a ministry or leading a ministry, whether they're paid or that's the mission that they've been called to, that's who we're talking about, that internal behind the scenes who's ever on that backline. Then also, depending on your church structure, your denominational structure, we've got different committees and staff-

Bryan:

Sure. Absolutely.

Jeanette:

... that might need to be included in that.

Bryan:

I laid out what I see as four reasons for the lack of internal communication or internal communication issues. I see in ministry, it is so easy to work in silos that often that creates issues among communicating with one another, because we're so, first of all, we're in the urgent, but we're also so invested in the kids' ministry because that's what we are paid to do or volunteering to do, but we have no idea what the worship service itself is doing, so working silos.

Jeanette:

Why don't you give me the problems and I'll give you the solution. Why don't we break them down like that?

Bryan:

Do you want to go from working silos?

Jeanette:

Yeah. Let's talk about those silos. The way to fix this is to have one calendar that all staff use to schedule and plan. Let me emphasize schedule and plan. This can be the event calendar, but then it's going to also turn into the communication calendar. For example, one of the things that this would do is every staff member and you... certainly, staff are having meetings and everybody is looking at the same calendar.

Jeanette:

If the youth and children are constantly scheduling things at the same time, that may be good because if a parent has an elementary kid and a teenager, they may want those events stacked, but if you're using youth to volunteer for your children's ministry, if you're using them as helpers, maybe not. You have to decide what makes sense for your church certainly. I'm not saying never schedule a children's event with a youth event, but you need to be strategic and say, "Okay, as we're planning these events, who are we asking to come? Is this an all-church event? Is this just a ministry that's 10 people gathering?" And then make sure you're spreading those out so that you're not asking the whole church to come to five things in one week, or you're not asking parents to drive their kids back and forth several times, things like that. Just think about who are we asking to do this and put it on the calendar and that allows the ministries to help each other.

Jeanette:

What we found at my church that was really helpful when we did this is we would plan a big women's event, let the dads take care of the kids. Well, then, as that begin to grow and we saw it as being a great thing, then the men's ministry said, "Well, what if we also planned another event? The women's ministry would do X, men's ministry would do Y but we would have a children's night too." And so, it became an event that we could all collaborate together.

Bryan:

Interesting.

Jeanette:

But again, like other times you don't want to pack everything in one because of your volunteer needs and stuff like that. But anyway, I think having... so that you aren't working in silos because you're paying attention to what everybody else is doing.

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Jeanette:

And able to collaborate and help each other whether it's the men can serve, the youth can serve that, whatever. That kind of-

Bryan:

And just to make it super practical, you can do this using a Google calendar, making a new one, but most churches meet at least monthly, like staff meets at least monthly. Maybe you take one meeting a quarter and think six months ahead of, or as far ahead as you can, and make sure that things are on the calendar that you guys are thinking ahead so that the communication person or the ministry leader can start putting those details out. I agree. I think a good solution to silos is simply a calendar.

Bryan:

It forces collaboration then, right? I can see what else is going on as long as I'm paying attention. Another issue among internal communications is often, and I guess this kind of goes along with the idea of a calendar and planning, but irrelevant information overload.

Jeanette:

Yes.

Bryan:

Churches are great at reports and great at meeting minutes and those kinds of things and sending those out, but often, it's overload and it's not applicable to the people reading it. Making that available is one thing, but when we're overloading people with irrelevant information, then that causes huge issues within the church staff about how to communicate. One way I see this play out is having multiple meetings for an event or whatever or a ministry that involves the entire staff. The janitor does not need to be there to help you plan out whatever you're doing for the most part. Being purposeful about who you're inviting and who is being involved in those meetings too, not overwhelming with unnecessary information. I see that as an issue in so many churches, just we realize our internal communication is bad so the flip side of that is we'll communicate everything to everyone and involve everyone in every decision, which doesn't solve the issue. It just changes the problem.

Jeanette:

Right. I think one of the things that's helpful is to have different types of meetings. You can have a planning meeting that includes a certain group of people and then you may have just an informational meeting that can probably be a phone call. I think you can have an input meeting, an information meeting, a planning meeting, and different people come to those different things, because you might want the input from the janitor that says, "Whoa."

Bryan:

For sure, that was a bad example.

Jeanette:

This is awesome, but the day after you have that huge event for the kids, there's a huge wedding so we're going to have to flip everything, but it invites collaboration. If you have that one calendar, then the janitor is aware of that, can put a red flag up and just say, "Hey," and maybe they don't have to come to the meeting. Maybe they'll just say, "Hey, FYI, let's make sure that we have a plan for volunteers to help me turn it around or whatever."

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Jeanette:

We used to say, "You're having a meeting when it could have been an email," and that's still true. It could also be a phone call, but sometimes it is nice to have just a quick face-to-face. And so, you kind of have to manage that as well.

Bryan:

I think involving people in the process helps with communication too. I know when I see myself making decisions and not involving other people, just informing them, that communicates something completely different than inviting people into the decision making itself, whether I'm the decision-maker or not, involving people is good, but making sure that it's relevant that you're inviting the correct people to be involved in that. You shouldn't, I shouldn't be offended when I'm not invited to a meeting. You value my time and you're showing me that by not making me come sit in another 45-minute meeting. That's okay.

Bryan:

Another problem in internal communication I see is using the wrong tools. We talked about a calendar a little bit. I know a lot of churches have different calendars for every ministry. That's one thing, but even with endless emails, your inbox fills up as soon as you empty it, using the wrong tools for communication can really break things down and make them ineffective.

Jeanette:

Well, and I think another thing that goes on here is no process being developed.

Bryan:

For sure.

Jeanette:

We've been talking about this in the context of an event, a ministry event, and you have a ministry event and then it's over. And then as you were mentioning, we move on, we've got the next urgent thing coming up. We got to switch gears and go to the next thing. But I think one of the strategies that really works is to go over, like have a debrief. That's what we call it is a debrief and say what worked, what didn't, how can we make this better in the future? You can do that in the terms of the actual event. Do we need more trash cans or toys or... but also, did we communicate with each other well as a team? Did we communicate to the congregation, to the community well, and kind of hash that out and then develop a process.

Jeanette:

Let's say something did work. Let's say a communication process did work well. We had a team that was assigned to the grounds manager and he was able to have people do what he needed to do to turn the campus over for the next event. If that process worked, duplicate it for the next event. Same thing, if email is what is being used to communicate things and it does work for the person... Here's the thing about tools. There is no perfect tool. The tool that works is the tool you use.

Bryan:

The tool that works for you is not going to work for everybody. At some level, you have to buy into it and get everybody on board, but I think there's also room for flexibility and figuring out just like you do with events after-action reviews is what I call them or a debrief, taking time to evaluate and seeing what you can do better I think is helpful.

Jeanette:

Another issue here though, with this, Bryan, is we have to be willing to adjust. Like you just said, we have to be flexible, but we have to have a mindset of I'm willing to do better to help us communicate better as a team.

Bryan:

Absolutely, right.

Jeanette:

Because it's not about what I want or what you want, it's about what's better to support the mission of our church. Unfortunately, lack of communication and unclear communication, which is what we're getting ready to talk about, a lot of times is what stops us from being able to move forward and actually fulfill our mission because we're stressing everybody out and we're getting... and to protect ourselves, we run back to our silos.

Bryan:

Absolutely. It's also comfortable. You've been doing it for so long. This is what you know. When you get pushed out of your comfort zone or something happens, you're going to retreat back to what you know, and often that's the silo. I'd also take a minute here to point out that in creating new processes or finding the right tools for your team, know that you are changing culture. It's going to be slow. Expect people to forget, or you're going to have to prod them to learn the new system to start using it, but be proactive too. What I have found to be more useful than a design request form is to look at the communication calendar, be proactive and set up those meetings to talk about what creative elements you need.

Jeanette:

That was the number one thing when I was working in my church that made a huge difference. As you know, of course, the first year I worked there, I did not know what was going on, but eventually, you learn, every year we're going to have vacation Bible school. Every year, you're going to have a Christmas Eve service. You know you're going to have church on Easter. You know these big things, go ahead and start planning ahead for them and reaching out to those team leads or ministry leads to get the communication ball rolling. I think you mentioned this, making sure people are learning how to use the tool. Well, it may involve you training them to use it. This is why this is important. We don't want these important events that can share the gospel or reach families or whatever the goal is, we don't want that to fall through the cracks. We want people to know about it. And so, I think that's really...

Bryan:

Everyone's on the same team, but sometimes fixing what's broken takes a little more effort than I think we anticipate. Be prepared when you're implementing a new tool or a new strategy or process. Be patient and know that it's going to take time and that's okay, but if you are clear about what you're doing and why you're doing it and getting people on board, it'll happen and you'll get there but I think being proactive is a great way to help push that along too and get people thinking beyond what's happening today and thinking ahead a little bit. Even though you're just approaching it as a communication side, that forces them to think through other elements of the event or the ministry or whatever too. It's a good thing to do.

Jeanette:

I know we got to move on, but I just, as we're talking about this, it reminded me the reason you do this is so you don't have to communicate the confirmation barbecue lunch that is also going to be the financial luncheon pledge talk.

Bryan:

It sounds like a real-life experience.

Jeanette:

You don't want to have to say, "Come celebrate our confirmands and we're also going to hear from a financial person about why you should pledge." No, but that doesn't... I was like, and I even said this at the time. I'm like, "If I could manage to get people to come to this thing, can I please get an extra plate of barbecue?" Because I work in the church, so that's how it works. I don't know, that just made me think about you've got to just be comfortable with saying, "This is too much. Both of these are good things, but it's too much for what we're trying to do right now or we can't do this on the same day."

Bryan:

It's also two very different audiences, right?

Jeanette:

Yes.

Bryan:

You're inviting your extended family in and then you're getting told how to pledge.

Jeanette:

I feel comfortable sharing that story because it was a big... We all laughed about it.

Bryan:

But if you go back to your first point, having one calendar, it's easy for the communication person to look ahead and realize, "Hey, we haven't really talked about this yet. Let's sit down and think through some of these things." One more thing that I see as kind of a root issue in internal communication is unclear lines of communication. Often, there's just, no one really knows either who they report to or how to communicate things, who talks to the communication person, how did they get that information? What are the lines of communication? I think churches, I don't really know why, I guess I could do some research but are notoriously terrible at direct reports and direct lines of communication. We see that play out, especially when it comes to internal communication.

Jeanette:

Well, I think one thing that has happened over the years is usually the staff structure of a church. The churches I've worked in have been around for a long time, so this is not... I have not worked for a church plant or a church non-denominational kind of plant is the right word. One of the things that have happened over the decades of the church is there used to not be youth directors, there used to not be children's directors. They used to not... there's been a gradual building of staff. Now, they've been around a long time, but communication directors haven't. And so, when they're added to the staff without having a structure, what do they call those in the business world?

Bryan:

An org chart?

Jeanette:

An organizational chart. That is it.

Bryan:

Well, and the other thing too, I guess, is... the CEO of a church is the pastor typically, comparing business to church, but seminary doesn't give you business training, so often, they don't know how to lead a business well.

Jeanette:

I think that's probably why there's so much coming out over the last several years that is leadership-

Bryan:

Right. Absolutely.

Jeanette:

... for church leaders, because there is this, you can be a great shepherd, but there is a different type of leading, executive leadership type stuff that just has to happen. Whether the head pastor is the one that does that or you hire an executive pastor, that may have to happen, but I think, yes, this is, and we talked about this off-mic before we started rolling, but all of this that we're talking about really can't happen effectively unless whoever is at the top of the org chart steps up and says, "This is how we're going to do this. This is important. I'm going to follow the rules. You're going to follow the rules. We're all going to follow the rules."

Jeanette:

I think that's really important because that unclear line of communication is something that just gets people off on tangents. I think, for communication directors, like in my case, I was kind of added to an existing structure and it was on paper, my direct report was the pastor, but he never told me about what VBS thing we were going to do or what the youth... And so, I would get stuff from the youth and stuff from the kids and stuff from the men's, and then that's when it was like, okay, well, who should I be listening to when these silos are competing? All of that is what started the calendar.

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Jeanette:

That's why we got a big calendar because it was too much.

Bryan:

I mean, it makes sense that any decision like, "Hey, we want to do this event. We've never done this before." Well, you need to get buy-in from the top down because if you don't, then it's a lot harder for people to get on board because who's out there telling them about whatever event it is from the stage. Well, it's not you, the communication person or probably not the ministry leader, it's probably the pastor or someone else who needs to know why we're doing this too. I think that's important as we communicate things and as we work on internal communication just remembering the why, why we're doing this, what is the purpose for this, and how can our communication as a team, how can that support this to be successful?

Jeanette:

Really in the internal communication in those conversations that you're having in those meetings, one of the things that you can do, there's a lot of stuff to do. Especially we're a really event-heavy church. We have a great piece of property that allows for a lot and we live in Florida, so we can have outside things a lot. There tends to be like, "Ooh, ooh, ooh, we can do this. We can do this. We can do this." It's like, okay, but let's circle back and make sure that that is supporting our mission. Yes, every church has the same mission.

Bryan:

At the end of the day, for sure.

Jeanette:

To share the gospel.

Bryan:

To make disciples.

Jeanette:

Make disciples, but your church probably has a specific mission for your community, right?

Bryan:

I hope so.

Jeanette:

And so, if the thing isn't supporting that mission or pointing to a vision, then maybe not do it. Unless you're all on the same page, you're on the same team, you're reading the same book, let's get on the same page. That if, unless we're all there, then that's another way that all of these things get put in there. Then you have irrelevant information overload for your congregation because they don't know what to do and where to go.

Bryan:

One thing that I often say is, or ask, I guess, is there are a million good things that we could be doing, but what is the best for this situation? What is the best thing that we could do in this scenario? Because most of those ideas for how to use your property are probably great, but what is the best way that we can achieve our mission and how do we make that successful? Because you can't do it all. You can't do it all with excellence at least. What is the best thing and how do we tie that to our reasoning, to our why?

Bryan:

I think that was really my four thoughts, the things that I see in churches, and the issues that I have come across with internal communication lately. I know that churches all over the place are wrestling with how to communicate among a growing team, among a diverse team, in a lot of cases, it's still a hybrid or remote team too. Churches are navigating waters that they have never been in before. Obviously, the pandemic has accelerated a lot of these change changes, but maybe that's a good thing. Maybe it's forcing the chaos of internal communication to be dealt with more immediately.

Jeanette:

For sure. I think, and just as a last thought, I really love and I just want to reiterate this before we close for today is this isn't a quick fix. This is a culture shift, a mindset shift, and an understanding that going in and going in proactively. I think it's a slow process, but if you're proactive in it as the church communicator, you can make a difference and it'll be a small difference at first, but it'll trickle out. And so, I just want to encourage everybody to not be too overwhelmed when thinking about adding internal structures there, but we're here to help at Church Juice.

Bryan:

Absolutely.

Jeanette:

That's one thing, but just to kind of take it slow.

Bryan:

And to remember too, that you're on a team, whether you guys are working as a team or not, you are a team. You are individuals working toward a common goal. You are a team. Working together, collaborating, communicating clearly when you are doing those things with clarity, with purpose, then together, you guys, as a church, as staff can accomplish so much more, of course, by the grace of God. Keep at it. That's my leaving remarks. Keep at it. Any other comments before we wrap this up?

Jeanette:

No, I think we're good. I think we should just send them forth and the confidence that they can do this.

Bryan:

Absolutely. All right. Well, thank you today for listening to the podcast. If you haven't already, make sure that you subscribe, and then you won't miss any future episodes. If you're listening on Apple Podcast cast, we would also love for you to leave us a review, that helps other people find us a lot easier. You can get today's show notes by going to churchjuice.com/podcast.

Jeanette:

Church Juice's podcast is a listener-supported production of ReFrame Ministries, a family of programs designed to help you see your whole life reframed by God's gospel story. Church Juice is produced by Bryan Haley with post-production by audio engineer, Nate Morris in Grand Rapids, Michigan. For more information about Church Juice, visit churchjuice.com. For more information on ReFrame Ministries and our family of programs, visit reframeministries.org.