Improve Your Communication: Q&A with Kem Meyer

November 2nd, 2011

Your church has a valuable message to share. But before people in the congregation or community encounter that message, they encounter you. What are you saying? How are you communicating your message? We asked Kem Meyer, communications guru from Granger Community Church, to share her best insights for improving your website, your stewardship campaign, even your worship announcements!

First off, how would you describe your role as Communications Director at Granger?

My job is to seek and find the things in our church that attract people to the message and remove the things that don’t. Primarily this involves advocating strategies that eliminate information obesity and simplify complexity. That may include weighing in on series packaging, a web page, or a back office system. It all counts, because—at the end of the day—everything communicates. 

If a church's communications are currently limited to a weekly bulletin and monthly newsletter, what advice would you give for maximizing the impact of the media they can currently afford?

A small budget is NOT a hurdle to progress. It does NOT prevent you from wowing your guests and it does NOT restrict you from adding value. Whether you have a church of ten or a church of 10,000, there are things you can do right now to improve your church communications with no money.

Coach people to stop thinking brochures and start thinking about objectives and customer service. Create a style guide so things are consistent. Identify your specific audience. (You need to know who you’re talking to before you know how to say it!) Implement an official proofing team and process. Have a group of volunteers review everything for accuracy and consistency before it’s printed or distributed.

One of the biggest things is to develop an overall strategy. Determine what gets communicated, in what priority, using what vehicles. Every bit of news for each ministry is not appropriate for all church consumption. Every ministry in the church wants their announcement made from the platform, but you can’t say everything at once. Announcements in worship should be used to reinforce and promote core values and macro steps, not individual events or teams. For example, announce a major volunteer opportunity or urging people to join small groups and classes, but not the men’s hunting trip or the scrapbooking retreat.

Then, reinforce everywhere (from the platform, the bulletin, mailings, etc.) the one place where people can find everything. For us, it’s our web site. For you, it might be an information counter or the weekly newsletter. Whatever you choose, stick with that one place and drive everyone back to it. When you talk about big, all-church steps like volunteering, joining a group, etc., that one place is where people can find the specific opportunities that appeal to them with all the details—dates, times, directions, registration, etc.

You blogged earlier this year about using numbers to creatively communicate a message. I've heard others advise against focusing too much on numbers in a stewardship campaign, but you seem to have used them so effectively on the website for The New Normal campaign. (I especially love how it shows what can be done when certain fundraising milestones are met along the way!)

What are your tips for striking the right balance?

Just like anything, the solution isn’t all or nothing—although, under pressure, either end of the spectrum is where we naturally tend to land. It takes intentionality, and a little extra work, to roll up our sleeves and manage the tension.

Good numbers can provide the verifiable foundation to our story—this is the reality we’re all rallying around; not one person’s opinion or propaganda. We are being transparent.  We’ve done our research. These are the basic, most important facts. We have nothing to hide.

At the same time, data alone removes the human element and can kill the story. A list of numbers isn’t an experience for people to connect with, it’s a report.

A blend is the answer for better communication. Making numbers part of the story—visually displaying data with simple elements of design or personal captions—provides necessary human context to make complex messages easy to comprehend. One of my favorite quotes says, “If you tell me, it’s an essay. If you show me, it’s a story.” —Barbara Greene.

I first became aware of your work back in 2007, just after Granger made headlines for the "Real Sex" series promotion, which included some suggestive billboards around town. Some people said you went too far with that. How do you know when to go big, to push the envelope, and when to keep things a little more subtle?

There’s no simple answer for this question—and I get this question a lot. Speaking the language of our culture is always going to take us into places of uncomfortable tension because we have the burden of knowledge and desire for purity. And, like every topic under the sun, there will be liberal and conservative debates about it. But, I think it’s worth the risk and you have to find where your own personal conviction lies. It’s different for every church and maybe even different for each pastor on staff at the same church.

Last year, we did a series called “Sex for Sale” and we were fine with it. No moral conflict whatsoever. A few months earlier, we chose not to do a series on forgiveness called “The Other F Word” because we felt it might be going too far. Ironically enough, the “Sex for Sale” series won us hate mail and phone calls from people who called us evil and corrupt, and reported us to the Attorney General and Better Business Bureau. (I kid you not.)

I don’t fear the wrath of what other church people think about the risks we take. Instead, I fear the thought of people who will live an eternity without experiencing Christ. Sometimes, we have to lower the bar so someone can accept the invitation to a higher bar.

Your blog and your book are called "Less Clutter. Less Noise." Why are these the key guidelines for good communication, in your mind?

Billy Graham said it best: “A generation ago, the question was ‘what is truth?’ Today, the question is ‘what’s the point?’” People are busy, skeptical, bombarded, and life is hard. They’re looking for answers that make a real difference in their lives. The value we provide grows in direct proportion to how easily people can find and say yes to their next step. Fortunately for me, my pastor Mark Beeson set the stage when he planted our church 25 years ago with Granger’s mission statement: “Helping people take their next steps toward Christ . . . together.” Since that time, he has led from the front with the wisdom of deliberate simplicity, communicating over and over that people experience life change one step at a time.

Aside from "clutter and noise," what are some of the major pitfalls many churches run into in their communications?

Ah, easy. The ministry silos. The missions department does its own thing. The student leaders do their own thing. And, the pattern repeats throughout the whole church. The result? Individual departments end up competing against each other with a carnival communication style trying to out-yell or out-explain.

If we each serve up a different experience, run off in our own individual directions—information gets lost or isolated. People and projects proliferate—as does confusion. This creates real liabilities for the church as a whole and puts a lid on overall impact.

A lot of churches acknowledge it’s a problem, but find it too exhausting to tackle. It’s simply easier to just ignore silos and let people do their own thing. The only way to resolve these types of issues is to connect multiple areas to operate as part of a larger family. Some examples:

One mission statement. If everyone is working toward the same goal, there will be less territorialism and more teamwork.
One budget. There are different categories for each ministry, but one church budget.
One database. A single version of reality—reports and contacts.
One URL. One church, multiple ministries. Not the other way around. A house has one front door—so should your web site.

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