Less Clutter, Less Noise: 7) Remove Barriers to Entry

fence barrierLike most every aspect of “Less Clutter. Less Noise.”, this chapter (“Remove Barriers to Entry”) applies to communication leaders in any organization, business, non-profit … and especially churches.

Our primary goal as communicators is three fold: 1) connect with an audience, 2) make an impact and 3) get them to respond. This chapter is focused on making those initial connections. If we miss the boat on that, all other communication efforts are for naught.

When it comes to best practices for effective communication, it begins with knowing your audience as Kenny Jahng wrote about yesterday. You have to get into their minds, understand how they think and why they think that way then relate to them on that level.  This chapter is essentially about connecting with your audience.

Chapter One was called, “Are People Letting You In or Shutting You Out.” This chapter could be called, “Are You Letting People In or Shutting Them Out?” All too often we get frustrated because people won’t take that first step and engage with the church or a particular ministry when in reality they can’t. Many times we make it nearly impossible for them. It may be that we don’t communicate enough, communicate in the wrong way, or over communicate to the point of shouting at them. All of these are barriers. While there can be many areas that represent barriers there are three that are consistent challenges for churches: the language we use, the absence or overabundance of signage and the art of hospitality and guest service.

Language
One of the most common barriers to connecting with your audience is the language we use. A common challenge that I see all too often is when we use our language and not their language. Kem gives a great list of “insider speak” that they have identified at Granger Community Church and try to avoid. What insider words and phrases do you use in your church or organization that remain a mystery to your audience?

It’s not only language that can be a barrier, but it can be names too. The Church is GREAT at coming up with non-descript names for ministries and programs that do a great job of disguising (totally unintentionally) what they’re really all about. You know the ones … cool names like: “The Edge,” “Ignite,” “Oasis,” “Emerge,” “Oneighty,” “Quest” … “(insert your best on here).”

And then there are the ones that are a turnoff to everyone, churched or unchurched. Have you ever heard of T.O.A.D.S. (Telling Others About GoD’s Son)? That name comes from a website with suggestions for winning ministry names. Here’s another great one, quoted directly from the site:

The GGGYFT Gang (God’s Gonna Get You For That!) — Teenagers it was a big hit at our church–the youth pastor would go around and holler GGGYFT!!! Every time he saw one of us do something stupid or get out of line. Since it was used often, the church adopted the name– look out–here comes the GGGYFT Gang!

Are they for real? I’d be the first one running for the door if I heard someone yelling “GGGYFT!!! GGGYFT!!!” Although I would be impressed if they could get all of that acronym out in one breath.

Signage
One of the greatest frustrations that I’ve seen people experience is regarding visual communication, signage, in buildings and churches. There’s either not enough signs – after all, we know where we’re going and where everything is located, why shouldn’t everyone else? – or too many signs. Having signs of every kind: flyers, posters, directional signs, check-in signs, posted everywhere makes it difficult to hone in on the ones that really matter and impossible to communicate clearly and succinctly. It’s challenge in written communication and visual communication.

Guest Service
I know that not all communication directors can affect change in this area, but one of the greatest barriers comes in the area of guest services … or the welcome team … or hospitality. Whatever your church calls it, it boils down to basic customer service.

There is an art to customer service. We’ve certainly all experienced bad service at one time or another — those times when we are ignored, treated rudely or felt like an imposition. I can really get appalled at this. But being an over-zealous greeter or church volunteer can be just a much of a turn off. More often than not guests just want to be treated normally. They don’t want to be isolated or pointed out as being “new.” They don’t want to go through orientation their first Sunday there. They don’t want to be visited at home the Tuesday night following their visit.

Good guest service is a dance of sorts. There’s an ebb and flow. You have to watch for body language and unspoken messages from newcomers. Take things at the pace the guest is setting. Your primary focus should be on letting them know when, where and how to engage, then leave the rest up to them. For me, the bottom line is this: be authentic.

We often think the primary responsibility of someone taking an action rests on them. When in actuality a great deal of responsibility rests on us. I go back to the basic question, are you inviting them in or shutting them out? Take this principle to heart and you won’t find yourself asking it just once, you’ll come to ask it with every project, announcement and campaign that comes across your desk.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS:

  1. What insider words and phrases can you spot in your church or organization that probably remain a mystery to your audience?
  2. Take an inventory of the signage you see inside and outside your church. Is there too much? Not enough? Is it confusing?
  3. Attend church this week as if you were a newcomer. Drive to church using a different route. Come in a different entrance. Sit in a different place. Walk a mile in a guest’s shoes. And bring a big pad of paper … chances are you’ll be taking lots of notes of things to address.

6) Know Your Audience <– Less Clutter, Less Noise

    Jeff Christian leads The C2 Group, an advertising and marketing firm based in Jackson, MS. He has been obsessed with church communication since the age of 13 (how scary is that?!?) when he first realized how poorly church communication pieces stacked up against similar pieces in the secular world. He worked ten years in the corporate marketplace followed by ten years spent directing church communication, most recently at Pinelake Church in Brandon, MS. With a healthy mix of fear and excitement he recently formed The C2 Group to lend his voice both church and corporate marketing in a new way.

    16 Responses to “Less Clutter, Less Noise: 7) Remove Barriers to Entry”

    1. Thanks Jeff for distillation and illustrations. Kem again is right on with this chapter. I find I have to ask this question over and over again. Once I get it right (not sure I ever have) things change, people change, culture changes. This needs to be a mindset with the expectation of freshness and modification being periodically needed.

    2. There are some great ideas and examples in this post. I really think this line hits at the core of things: "It may be that we don’t communicate enough, communicate in the wrong way, or over communicate to the point of shouting at them. All of these are barriers." It takes a lot of hard work to figure out whether we are communicating too much or too little, in the right way or in the wrong way. In addition, initiating change can be delicate because we may need to tell a volunteer heavily invested in the name of his/her ministry that the name needs to go.

      I'm planning a redesign of my church's blog this summer, and the first thing to go will be the blog's name: "Amalgam". It sounds cool and used to work when our blog was more of a place for people to discuss ideas and the sermon, but over the past year or so we've been using the blog to primarily share information. Amalgam is not the idea I want to convey about our communication!!!

    3. Ed, sounds like you're on the right track. Don't forget to employ some informal focus group testing at the very least. Feedback from as little as 5-6 people is usually invaluable toward identifying topline issues of clarity, messaging, perceptions.

      You might consider doing before and after screenshots to set-up a case study for others to benefit from!

    4. PaulSteinbrueck Jan 26, 2011 at 11:18 am

      I think one of the biggest challenges for churches is to create culture without excluding those outside of it. We discussed yesterday knowing your audience and discovering what people have in common. Part of creating community is creating culture – taking a diverse group of people and giving them shared experiences, shared knowledge, and shared language so they do have things in common.

      In an effort to do that we give names to our ministries, capital campaigns, and strategic plans like Oasis, One Another, Hearts on Fire, The 5 Gs, The Bold Journey, Acts 2, etc. We allude to memorable past events. We poke fun at the quirks well-know people within the church.

      I think all of those things are great. We need to create culture and build community. But we also have to consider who we're communicating with when we do those things. When we're communicating with "insiders" we can do all of that without hesitation. But when communicating with "outsiders" or a mixed audience, we have to be really thoughtful and strategic. In a lot of cases, the best thing to do is to reference a ministry name or past event, but then explain it . Say "Oasis, our high school ministry" or "The Bold Journey, our building campaign" or use a Christian term like sanctification and then explain what it means. Doing that not only strengthens the culture and community for "insiders" but teaches the culture to the "outsiders" and helps to make the "insiders."

    5. Great post, and great discussion questions! I feel like this is a huge part of the book. So many times we come from "our" point of view with communications (and Guest Services). Love the question, "are we inviting them in, or shutting them out". Thanks Jeff!

    6. sarahfholbrook Jan 26, 2011 at 3:24 pm

      Question 1: MAC (Ministry Activity Center), Seeking God's Path (Long Range Planning), The PATH (Youth ministries), Circle of Friends (4th and 5th grade group), FPU (Financial Peace University), and on and on and on. We are working on this.

      Question 2: We use to have too little, now we have more. We hired a signage company to help us with this process. We had no idea what we needed. Best $ we spent.

      Question 3: Great idea…I'd love to get some of my neighbors to visit and give them a feedback card to tell me what they experienced.

      Thank you for this reminder "Our primary goal as communicators is three fold: 1) connect with an audience, 2) make an impact and 3) get them to respond. " It should be my mantra.

      Great post Jeff, thanks so much for sharing!

    7. It's a good reality check to view your communication from the outside and with a fresh perspective. I think it's also important to view our communication from the inside – what example is our community getting? If I, as a person, begin to use the church's language, how effective will I be T.O.A.D.S? ;-)

      Not only can our language be a barrier to those we are frying to reach, it can also be a barrier to those trying to reach out.

    8. Great post, Jeff! So glad Kem's book is helping you & your church :)

      One of my favorite quotes is by George Bernard Shaw, "The problem with communication is the illusion that it has occurred"

    9. As I was reading the "Guest Services" part of this post, I was trying to think about how effective it would be for me (or any other regularly attending member) to test these services. I can certainly try to approach the church/service as a visitor and maybe I can spot somethings, like a need for a sign or something, but it's simply impossible for me to actually experience the church as a visitor. I can't avoid knowing what building is what and certainly can't get other people to treat me as though they don't know me.

      So, the idea popped into my head. What about a "secret visitor?" It's not uncommon for retail stores to have "secret shoppers." These are people who work for the company, but are not known by the store staff who visit the store as a regular customer and then evaluate their experience. Maybe the same concept would work in a church. I'm sure we all have friends who do not attend our church. Maybe it would be good to have some of them visit the church with the mission of evaluating their experience and reporting back to us.

      What do you think?

      • PaulSteinbrueck Jan 31, 2011 at 1:55 pm

        I think it's a great idea. Our church had someone be a secret church shopper for us, and if you google "secret church shopper" you'll see there are a lot of churches who have done this and a lot of consultants who are do this professionally. Not that you need consultant to be your secret shopper.

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