Communication Technology Tips for the Smaller Church
Websites, blogs, texts, emails, Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, FourSquare, Squarespace, podcasts, mobile apps… Communication technology is changing rapidly, and churches are feeling the pressure to keep up. For smaller churches with limited resources, trying to decide which new methods to use and how to use them can be overwhelming.
So what are churches to do? Here are some tips for how churches, especially smaller churches with limited resources, can begin to approach using new, technology-driven methods in their communication.
Establish your goals.
This is a critical step in the process, so don’t skip it! You need to begin by looking at the reasons you want to use new technology in the first place. What type of information do you want to communicate? Who are you trying to communicate to? Older adults, younger adults, parents, teens? People inside your congregation or potential visitors?
Once you find this, what are effective ways to reach them? Do they spend much time on the Web or primarily use social media? Do they have mobile phones? Do they text, e-mail? Some technology is better for communicating certain types of information than others. For instance, you wouldn’t want to broadcast prayer requests with personal information over a public social media site like Twitter.
Odds are, if you are trying to reach multiple audiences, you’ll have to use a few different methods, but asking these questions up front can help you rule out some options right away and keep you from spreading yourselves too thin.
Identify your resources and do your research.
Once you identify who you are trying to reach, and how you want to reach them, you need to assess what you really need. Do some research to find out what work is really involved to use the service effectively and if there are ways to streamline the work. For example, if you are thinking about using Facebook and Twitter, you might investigate some of the services and programs that allow you to update both accounts at the same time.
What talent and experience do the members of your congregation have? You might have people that work in communication and technology who would be willing to use their skills and knowledge help the church. If no one in your church is tech savvy, you might want to look for services that offer simple, easy-to use interfaces so others can still help you make content updates so you aren’t doing it all by yourself.
When choosing what to use, it is important to be realistic. People aren’t going to want to visit and become a part your church just because it has the slickest website in town or has the most impressive mobile app, and those don’t come cheap. If it’s not what your church really needs, it’s not a good use of your dollars. A little goes a long way, and there are lots of relatively inexpensive or low-cost options that may work well for your church.
As you’re trying to figure everything out, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Talk to friends, other churches, or even local businesses to find out what types of technology and which vendors have worked well for them.
Use it or lose it!
If a piece of communication technology you are using isn’t working to help you meet your goals, it’s OK to rethink using it or to adjust your strategy. It might not be the right way to reach the people you are trying to reach, or the timing might not be right and you can always revisit it later.
With whatever technology you are using, it is most important to keep your information current. If you started out with grand plans to blog but can never to find the time to post, it’s better to remove the blog from your website than to only have three posts from two years ago. If you have a current events calendar on your website, but no one keeps it up to date and it’s empty, take it down. If it’s June and a banner for your Valentine’s Day sermon series is still on the home page of your website, you might want to rethink the types of graphics you use in that space.
If you’ve done the work to identify your goals and done your research on the front end, hopefully you won’t have sunk a lot of time, energy and money into a technology platform that isn’t going to work for your church.
Keep good records.
In a smaller church, it is common that one person will have the bulk of the responsibility for a task. If this is the case in your church with your communications, make sure those doing the work keep records and documentation of key information and processes. It might seem easy and convenient at the time when that one person offers to build the church website and host it on the same server as their blog, but it becomes a big headache if that person moves across the country and no longer attend your church and no one else knows anything else about the website.
If possible, have several people working together to use the communication technology your church has chosen. At the very least, more than one person should have access. And always make sure basic information like vendors, costs, processes and procedures are well-documented and accessible.
Remember your church doesn’t necessarily need to jump into all of the latest technology fads. If you’re thinking about starting something new, walking through these steps should help your church in its approach to choosing and using new, effective ways to communicate.
Do you have any other advice for churches evaluating new communication technology? What communication methods have worked (or not worked) for your church?