Strategy is Essential for Effective Church Communications. Why and How to Create It!

strategy vs tactics“Jumping into church communications without a strategic plan is like going to a dentist and asking for ‘just teeth whitening’ when your mouth might be filled with rotting teeth,” I said.

We were on the phone, but I could hear the pastor physically recoil. And maybe I was being harshly dramatic and not very pastoral care-like. Pastoral care? Oh yes! Not only is communications ministry a ministry, but pastoral care is often in the mix. This is especially true when church staff flip out (not in a good way) about digital technology.

In my own defense, it was the end of a long week (n.b., it was Wednesday) and I’d already listened to reps from two parishes and one judicatory trying to avoid the necessary work of crafting strategy.

Creating a communications strategy is a lot of work, especially in the absence of experience and training in that aspect of marketing communications. It’s much more fun to skip directly to playing with tools (i.e., platforms).

More fun…but not very effective.

Strategy development is a key component of marketing communications and more straightforward than you might suspect it to be. In this post, I’ll zip through why you should create a strategic plan for your church’s communication efforts and how to craft one.

Why create communications strategy
A carefully crafted written plan for your church communications provides a framework for choosing tools as well as knowing when and how to use them. Without this framework you risk wasting time, treasure, and talent; an already serious issue that becomes even more critical when volunteers are involved. Also, when it comes to social media, having a written strategic plan should help prevent naysayers from declaring, “social media doesn’t work.”

And have I mentioned the plan should be written?  It must be written, not tucked away in someone’s skull mush.

How to craft communications strategy
Because your strategic plan will provide both framework and roadmap for communications, you’ll need to know your:

Audience, identified by asking: Who do we currently reach? Who do we want to reach moving forward? Is there an audience we no longer want to reach? And then relative to audience(s): What are their demographic characteristics? What do we know about their learning styles? What do we know about their computer literacy and access to digital technologies?

Goal(s), clarified by asking: What do we want to happen as a result of our church communications? What do we want them to learn? What do we want them to do? How do we rank order these goals? Why do we have these goals? Are there any goals that are so unrealistic we should ditch them?!?

Message(s), developed by asking: What do we want to convey? What do we want them to know about our church? How would we convey our message in ten words or less without using churchy-church jargon?

How long should this strategic planning process take? I’ve been doing this work 20+ years, so please trust me when I say strategy development can be accomplished in three-to-four hours if:

  • you have all the data you need about your audience;
  • a skilled professional shepherding the process;
  • everyone involved committed to getting this accomplished; and
  • fabulous refreshments are provided.

Add another four hours to create the written plan that will make it possible to develop tactics and choose tools. In the world of marketing communications, tactics generally refer to the “when” and “how” to reach your audience. Tools are “what” you use to reach them.

You really cannot – and should not – develop tactics and choose tools without a strategic plan. What’s that? You already have tactics and tools in place? Do not add, subtract, multiply, or divide anything until you hunker down to do the work of strategy. You just might discover that you’ve been heading somewhere you don’t want to go with transportation that can’t get you there anyway.

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Still confusing strategy with tactics and tools?
Please use this cheat sheet!

Strategy = Who and Why
Tactics = When and How
Tools = What to use

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Does this help you better distinguish between strategy and tactics? If it’s still fuzzy, what questions do you have?

Meredith Gould is a sociologist and long-time communications pro smitten by the power and glory of digital technology. Founder of the weekly Twitter-based church social media (#chsocm) chat, she has written nine published books, including The Word Made Fresh: Communicating Church and Faith Today (Morehouse) and The Social Media Gospel: Sharing the Good News in New Ways (Liturgical Press). Twitter: @meredithgould | @chsocm. Website: http://www.meredithgould.com

4 Responses to “Strategy is Essential for Effective Church Communications. Why and How to Create It!”

  1. PaulSteinbrueck Jun 26, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Awesome post, Meredith! I'm in total agreement about the importance of defining the "why" and the "who" before the "when" and the "how." And my observation is that there's a great need for clarifying the difference between strategy and tactics (although I generally view the tactical plan as part of the overall strategy), so thanks for doing that here.

    • Meredith Gould Jun 26, 2013 at 5:14 pm

      You're neither alone nor particularly wrong in viewing the tactical plan as part of strategy. I like to make a distinction because in the world of church (but elsewhere too, alas) strategy is insufficiently understood from the get-go. Next post will be about tactics. You've inspired me!

  2. Great post Meredith. I think all of us in church world and out put the cart before the horse. I'm definitely guilty of this.