Discussion about church and corporate communications

Many thanks to All Saint’s Church in Otley for their hospitality last night. We were talking about communications and in particular social media. The church would like to reach out to the local community. They are planning a church re-ordering programme which will involve architectural changes and more importantly a re-invigorating of church life.

In this post I want to capture a few thoughts about the need for the organisation to become comfortable and confident about its own identity, to understand the needs and perceptions of those they want to reach, and to organise opportunities for response. 

Communications is a complex topic and so I think it is important to pin down what the purpose of the communications from the outset. Social media can build relationships between individuals across the community in a very organic way, and/or can be used to support a single corporate identity? Communications can be a functional exchange of information in the short term or a highly creative crafting of perceptions over time, maybe through story telling.

I think the communications challenge we were discussing was to help form a clear identity for the church, to challenge perceptions of what church is about and to encourage participation and membership.

I think these three things come in a logical order. Firstly we need to be clear about who we are as an organisation. If we don’t have that clarity then we can’t hope to connect with the outside world. Once we are comfortable and confident about our identity only then can we embark on the task of changing perceptions. Having changed perceptions and won the argument for belonging we then have to make opportunities for people to actually participate. This last step is where the more functional aspects of communications kick in – creating events, offering invitations and managing the volunteers. But it all starts with confidence of identity and common purpose.

Once we have been through this cycle we begin to generate stories which then help to support our corporate identity and the cycle then begins to feed itself. I repeat that without clarity of identity and purpose we won’t ever get off the starting block.

In the world of corporate identity and brand building, in which I was absorbed at the BBC, single mindedness is very important. There is frankly no point in shooting off in all directions when we are dealing with communications. The way to have impact (or any impact) is to focus a single most powerful message and on an audience you can clearly identify.

To this end we discussed four questions which I think show promise. The four questions come in two pairs. The paired questions are related to each other.

The first two questions are as follows:

1. What is the most outstanding thing we do and have achieved? (part of identity)
2. What single thing are we bursting to tell the world? (our most important message)

The second pair is:

3. To whom must we deliver our single most important message? (specific target audience)
4. How will we reach them? (medium appropriate for audience)

Then when we have the answers we are then able to set out the challenge in a couple of sentences:

We want… (audience),
to believe that… (message),
by showing them… (evidence to support message).

We will do this by…(creative ideas for reaching them).

So for example you may end up with: We want young parents to believe that our church is a safe place to bring up children by meeting our trained and caring staff and seeing what they do. We will arrange a special children’s event at which they can talk to parents and show them our activities. This event will be advertised on the popular local parenting website.

If all this sounds like hard work then so it should be. It may also sound a bit corporate and like running a business but I think we should reflect on some of this.  The task of maintaining a consistent and focused identity is something which the whole community should share and get behind. This requires vision, leadership and organisation. In my experience vision and leadership can be found but the organisational aspects are where it often comes unstuck.

I will reflect more on this, but organising creativity is something which less about control and more about framework and boundaries – much too difficult to reflect on here.

Published by Mark

Mark Waddington is a former BBC broadcaster and producer. He now works for the Diocese of Leeds as Urban Mission Officer. If you would like to get in touch email mark.waddington@leeds.anglican.org