Here are seven points on using communications to leverage limited time:
1. The more personal, the better. A personal visit is tops. They don’t need to be made often — one visit a year should be sufficient for most constituents — and not every visit needs to be a home visit. Coffee, a meal, and a walk might be even better for some people. But nothing equals the impact of a church leader taking a few minutes to talk personally with a member.
2. A telephone call comes next, followed by a personal e-mail. This is true for all ages, by the way, including those who seem most wedded to technology. If at all possible, a church’s telephone should be answered by a person, not a machine or a menu tree.
3. Personal e-mail and instant messaging are useful extensions of a leader’s time. They are targeted, brief, and when handled correctly, communicate the important message: you matter to me.
4. Broadcast e-mails should be considered marketing. They are useful for disseminating information and for generating enthusiasm. The best broadcast e-mail drives the recipient to your Web site.
5. Social networking tools proliferate, such as MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. They tend to target young teenagers, although business uses of them are emerging. LinkedIn appeals to professionals. Be savvy and sensitive when using social networking tools. Information shared reaches an immense audience immediately and without any control on where information goes next. These aren’t good tools for sharing pastoral information. They are good for floating ideas.
6. Blogs, chat rooms, and discussion forums offer interesting ways for constituents to share ideas and experiences. If you want to establish such a venue, be aware that church people aren’t always polite when exchanging ideas, and your forum will need some monitoring.
7. Cost usually isn’t an issue. Once you have invested in a decent Web site and high-speed Internet access, most other tools are virtually free. Be aware, however, that your message competes with a sea of other communications for the constituent’s attention. Your e-mail and Web usage must be of the highest quality. And Web tools can consume your time.
Tom Ehrich is a writer, church consultant, and Episcopal priest based in New York. He is publisher of On a Journey, and founder of the Church Wellness Project.