One of my favorite board games to play when I was a kid was a two-person game called Stratego. The goal of Stratego is to capture the flag of the opposing player while protecting one’s own. Each player starts with a large number of pieces, and each piece has a ranking. The players battle those pieces against each other until one can capture the other’s flag.
The reason I liked Stratego more than any other board game is that luck had nothing to do with the outcome of the game. In a game like Monopoly, the roll of a dice could mean the difference between winning and losing. Stratego rewards the player who establishes a better plan and can outthink his opponent.
There are a lot of similarities between Stratego and church communications. First, those who are successful in both the game and church communications are those who establish a better plan up front. Second, in Stratego the goal is to capture a flag, while in church communications the goal is to capture your audience’s attention. Also, while you are not trying to outthink anyone in church communications, you must try to think like your audience. Church communications does not have opponents like Stratego, but opposing factors do exist. Finally, you must refine your strategy for both as you learn from your experiences.
Strategy is often set aside in church communications in favor of a more tactical approach. Actions take priority over planning, and success is evaluated on volume rather than results. This is often unintentional, done out of the necessity of getting the word out without the luxury of extra time.
The Problem with a Tactical Approach
A lot can be accomplished in a tactical approach. Bulletins can be printed. Slides can be projected. Emails can be sent. Social media posts can be shared.
Those are all good things, and they can capture your audience’s attention. The problem comes in not knowing what is successful, what is not, or even what success is supposed to look like.
Do you ever feel like you are constantly working but not achieving anything. Are you doing the same things every week but never seeing any different results? While we can take actions all day long, if we don’t know the destination or even the directions, we’re spinning our wheels.
A well-defined church communications strategy allows you to focus on your church’s mission. It gives you authority to pursue the things that support that mission, and it gives you permission to say no to the things that distract from it.
Why don’t more churches have a communication strategy?
Many churches don’t put in place a strategy for the simple reason that they don’t know how to do that. We spend most of our lives following a schedule and reacting to the events that are not part of that schedule. That’s especially true in churches that are usually understaffed and overworked.
Implementing a strategy requires you to step out of your comfort zone and plan to change the way you do things. It is about being proactive rather than reactive. It is about knowing how to handle the scheduled activities as well as those that are not scheduled.
That’s a lot easier said than done. Regardless of your church size and how many people are on your staff, you can establish a communication strategy. You can choose to review everything you are doing and decide if it is working.
You can plan to change the way you do things.
What goes into a good strategy?
In the simplest terms, a strategy is a plan for achieving a goal. The elements of a good strategy will vary, but allow me to propose four key actions for a good church communications strategy.
A good strategy always starts at the end. What is your goal, or in Stratego terms, what is the flag you are trying to capture?
In churches, the goal is to carry out the Great Commission in this time and in this place. This will look different for each church. What does it look like for yours?
This can be a hard question for churches that aren’t used to setting specific goals, but the answer may be simpler than you think. Success will likely be a specific group of people taking a specific action.
Understand Your Audience
Who is that specific group of people? That will depend on the action, as well as your church’s internal and external community.
Regardless of who that group is, it is important to understand them as much as possible. By gaining an understanding of your audience, you will learn where they spend their time and how to get their attention. These two things are critical because they will influence the context and content of all your messaging.
Determine Your Actions
If your success is the what and your audience is the who, your actions are the how. What actions can you take that will direct your audience closer to the goal?
This is where you will have to resist the temptation to default to being tactical and taking as many actions as possible. Narrow your focus to the context and the content that is most appealing to your audience.
Refine Your Strategy
This final action comes from the assumption that you will not achieve success right from the start.
It is almost certain that you will take actions that won’t work. You may think you know something about your audience only to find out that you are completely wrong. That is to be expected.
When you refine your strategy, you are taking a step back and asking yourself if certain actions are really worth the time and effort. If the answer is no, then you give yourself (and others) the permission to stop taking those actions.
If you work at a church that is understaffed and overworked, giving permission to stop doing something is a welcome relief.
How to Get Started
My goal of this post is to give you a high-level understanding of what it means to be strategic, rather than tactical, in church communications. Now I want to give you the tools to develop and document a strategy for your church.
You are invited to join me for a free seven-week Church Communications Strategy Training Course. Starting Tuesday, April 28, 2020, I will host a live weekly webinar in which I will walk you through specific steps you can take to plan your church communications strategy. Extra blog posts and downloads will be provided to support you along the way.
Even if you can’t attend the course, I encourage you to sign up so that you can access all the course materials.
Click on the button below to register for the Church Communications Strategy Training Course today.