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An overlooked strategy

By Sam S. Rainer III

You are always communicating something. Body language, spoken words, which events you attend or do not attend—all send signals. And one of a leader’s key goals is reducing uncertainty – or ambiguity – by communicating the right information in the right amounts to the right people. Church leaders create strategies for growth, discipleship, worship experience, among many other things. What is often left out of these strategies, however, is a plan for communicating.

Without proper communication, ambiguity and uncertainty replace strategy implantation. In many cases, the difference between dreams (non-implemented ideas) and vision (implemented ideas) is appropriate communication. I’ve seen some of my good ideas fail because I did not communicate properly. I’m sure many of you have experienced the same.

Communication strategy begins with how you treat people—your philosophy of leadership. Are people assets or pawns? Do you believe in investing in people or using them? Does the organization serve the people or do the people serve the organization?

The church organization has needs. People serving the church have needs. The best communication engages the talents and gifts of people, clarifies the organization’s needs, and then fits the match between the two.

Every church is unique, so each will have a different context, culture, gift set, and structure. Therefore, no one communication strategy exists. But let me share with you a few factors to consider when communicating.

Self-awareness: How do people typically respond to you? If you have trouble engaging several people, then the problem may be more with your leadership than with your followers. Know what you are signaling. Are you encouraging participation or stifling other’s voices? Are your self-descriptions different from reality?

Size: Your communication style should vary according to the size of the group. What once worked for a small team at a smaller church may need to change as you grow. Typically, the larger the group is, the more formal the communication method. If you use formal communication strategies with informal small groups, you will most likely encounter friction (and it’s usually in the form of deserved sarcastic remarks behind your back).

Setting: Match the style with the situation. An all-staff email surprising everyone about a big change is never a good idea. In a stable environment, communicating a simple message top-down through hierarchical channels is fine. A complex problem, however, requires more lateral communication in smaller group settings.

Structure: Even in formal ministry silos, responsibilities overlap. For instance, bringing on a new staff person requires meeting with both the personnel and budget teams. Putting on a children’s musical falls to both the children’s pastor and worship pastor. Be consistent with each group. Communicating with each group at the same time saves time and helps with a coherent message.

Culture: Is your church tight or loose? Do your people value creativity or clarity? Are the people information-inundated or under-communicated? You must track the pulse of church culture in order to communicate effectively.

People: Pick the right people. Communicating the right message with the wrong person is a common leadership mistake.  Communicating the wrong message to the wrong person is disastrous.

Technology: Understand your technology. What methods of communication are available to you? What new methods might be beneficial to your congregation? We are now in an era when people have instant access to all sorts of information—be selective in what you communicate in each medium. For instance, don’t use sign-up sheets on bulletin boards with a Facebook culture.

Goal: Asking key givers to get on board with a building campaign is much different than recruiting volunteers for the student mission trip. Both are critically important—each goal, however, is quite different. How you communicate to each group should differ depending on the goal.

Transparency: Transparency is a must for leadership. Be transparent, but know when not to say something. Some issues are highly sensitive. Some things very few people need to know. One of the most common leadership blunders is saying too much in the name of transparency.

Sam S. Rainer III is the president of Rainer Research and senior pastor of First Baptist Church Murray, Murray, KY. [www.rainerresearch.com] [www.fbcmurray.org]

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