Imagine this scenario: You work in a church coordinating communications, among other responsibilities. One day, you receive a call from a lay leader, who tells you that a business client of his showed him a new software her church uses to communicate with and schedule volunteers. This member tells you that while he knows the price is high (or spendy, if this hypothetical church is in Minnesota), he’s willing to donate the funds to purchase this software.
Overwhelmed by this generous offer, you quickly accept and begin doing meticulous research about the ins and outs of this new software while preparing to launch it in your congregation. Almost immediately you realize that this software is quite robust and is primarily geared more toward the needs of multi-site megachurches. However, you think that there’s still some features that might prove useful to your congregation.
You begin training staff members and key lay ministry leaders in all of the features and functionality of this software. During these training sessions, your staff and volunteers find themselves overwhelmed and confused by this software. Many of them ask why this new software is needed when the old system was quite functional.
You handle all of the questions well and most of the leaders are on board and more comfortable with the new software. However, as the new system is rolled out, your pool of volunteers have the same questions and concerns about it. You find that as the new software is used more and more, less and less volunteers are signing up to help for things, or not responding to scheduling requests. A number of people have asked you to continue using your old system to keep them in the loop.
Afraid to lose more volunteers, you oblige and create more work for yourself and other staff and leaders. Other projects and tasks receive little to no attention as you’re consumed by implementing the new software. You post less on social media. Your creative energies aren’t enough to create the level of graphics you’re accustomed to making.
In the midst of your stress and frustration, you have an epiphany: since the launch of the new software, technology has driven your communications strategy. As you reflect upon your career, you’ve understood that your communications strategy was driving what technology you employ, even when this paradigm was subconscious. This experience of letting technology determine your strategy reaffirmed what you’ve known all along, even when you didn’t know it!
In an era where new technologies seem to be launched at an ever-increasing rate, it’s incredibly easy to see the next new shiny object and think that it’s got to be useful in ministry (though I’m still trying to justify the purchase of a Tesla). However, keeping a close eye on your communications strategy is essential to making sure technology becomes a means and not an end.
Consider this research conducted by MIT Sloan Management Review and Deloitte. While heavily business-focused, I believe the findings are easily transferable to our ministry settings:
Maturing digital businesses are focused on integrating digital technologies, such as social, mobile, analytics and cloud, in the service of transforming how their businesses work. Less-mature digital businesses are focused on solving discrete business problems with individual digital technologies.
For the sake of simplicity, substitute ministry communications for digital businesses in the above quote. The more mature your ministry communications are, the more your strategy influences how you use technology. If you’re always looking at technology as a way to address a specific need or issue, you’ll inevitably find that executing your communications strategy is an uphill battle.
If you look at The Jossey-Bass Guide to Strategic Communications for Nonprofits (as summarized by the former Harvard Family Research Project), you’ll see that assessing your resources (e.g., deciding on technology) falls later on in the communications planning process. Following this process in determining what technologies are useful will save you time and energy and ensure that your communications strategy is most effective.
The best part about letting your strategy determine technology is that it doesn’t preclude you from trying new technologies out. If you haven’t used some of the tools featured in Concordia Technology Solution's Communication Tool Championship, try them out. See how they fit in your communications strategy. Ask for feedback about them. Encourage risk-taking in your communications strategy.
Technological tools can be a great benefit to our ministries when we use them to carry out our communications strategies. Let’s steward them wisely as we engage in important Kingdom work!
What do you think? Should your communications strategy always drive what technology you use or adopt? Or, are there times when you must implement technology and build your strategy around it?