“Who are you? Who? Who? Who? Who?”
Sound familiar? It follows with “I really wanna know.” For younger people (or those that don’t listen to classic music) it’s the lyrics from a 1978 song by the WHO. It is also the question being asked by people who do not know your congregation.
When it comes to defining the identity of your church, the question you need to ask yourself is, “What are we telling them?”
Obviously, you are a Christian congregation. Your website, Facebook page, bulletins, and other communications hopefully convey that much. But that is not enough. You need to clearly define (and communicate) who your congregation is by defining your point of difference. This identity is specific to your congregation. Please be clear, this is NOT speaking to issues of doctrine. And it is not about trying to be cool or appeal to the masses. It is about your specific congregation within your larger church body.
Pinpointing who you are as a congregation is a crucial, foundational step that will set the stage for all of your church communications so that the public—people who do not yet know you, who do not yet know Jesus—can clearly discover who you are and, as the Holy Spirit works through you, discover their Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Defining Your Church’s Identity
Start by finding your congregation’s point of difference. To do so, you need to take an honest look at your congregation. Not what you hope it will be. Not what you think it is. Not what you want it to be.
But, with no prejudice, look at it through the eyes of an outsider, one who does not yet know you or Jesus. I say without prejudice and as an outsider because creating a fantasy land will only cause visitors to become disappointed, disenchanted, or, worst case, disconnected.
Now that your eyes are open, what makes your congregation different than other congregations within your church body? The ideal distinction should come from your congregation’s mission statement. If that is too general a statement, look deeper. Base it upon your connections with the community.
It could be the types of the services you offer. It could be your youth or outreach programs. Whatever you determine that to be, it must be within the context of your congregation’s overall mission and it must speak to those outside your church.
Once you’ve discovered your point of difference, communicate it consistently through each channel, each tool, and each network that you have at your disposal. Check to make sure your message is consistent on your website, social media, bulletins, signage, and in the way you and your membership interact with the community. Your logo (if you have one) should reflect this as well. Branding your communications through consistent color choices, fonts, and other design elements will also help reinforce your messaging when they are thoughtfully and intentionally chosen to represent your congregation.
Again, public communication is most important. Having a plan for church communications is key to drawing in visitors to your church, but an effective communications plan also considers equipping your membership with with the right messages and the right tools to communicate on behalf of the church.
Your congregation’s membership that communicates the most personal information about you to those who do not yet know you. Your congregation’s membership communicates your message to the community in their daily lives and through public events your congregation holds.
Besides your membership, the other public places that communicate your message are your website and social media. Ask yourself, are they current on the message, reflecting your congregation’s point of difference? Is the tone consistent with where your congregation is now, and does each tool serve to communicate it? Are the photographs (and there must be photographs) of real congregation members in real time, doing real things in real places? Does your logo reflect your mission?
Once you have checked your website and social media channels, carry that communication message and tone through to your print materials. That includes brochures, bulletins, inserts, emails, everything. Always.
Be a Leader
In order to have consistent communication, those responsible for carrying the message need to know what it is, what it means, and how to communicate it.
Your church’s staff, starting from your pastor, to your leadership team, through the person responsible for your formal communications, sets the tone in sending your congregation’s message to the community. And the tone needs to be consistent with the message, and the message drawn from your congregation’s mission.
Your staff needs to talk the talk and walk the walk of your congregation’s message. They need to live and breathe it every day. In order to be consistent in messaging, your staff will have to not only know the message, but most importantly, understand what it means and how to communicate it.
Your membership holds the most visible role, demonstrating who your congregation is to those outside your congregation. Do they know the message to communicate about your congregation’s mission? Do they have the tools enabling them to communicate it? Do they know how to communicate your message? Communicating your message does not only mean talking; it includes actions. Your members will look to your staff for leadership.
If everyone is communicating correctly in all aspects, your message should be clear and accurate to those receiving it. Those outside your church should be able to identify what your congregation is about—the mission.
Communication, however, is a two-way process. Listen, also, to what people outside your congregation are saying about you as a congregation. If it doesn’t match with how you have defined your congregation, look further into all aspects of your messaging. Be true to yourself.
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