One-size-fits-all doesn’t fit

One challenge in nurturing a “multichannel church” is to ban “one-size-fits-all” thinking.

Just as Sunday worship isn’t the only, or even most effective, way to reach constituents, so the wise church offers multiple venues for learning, for fellowship, for care giving, and for mission.

Diversity is especially important in communications. If you want to reach people with your message, you need to understand how they receive messages and adapt accordingly.

During a recent jury-selection process, for example, all prospective jurors were asked how they stayed current on events, if at all. I read two newspapers each day, plus two dozen e-letters, several blogs, and numerous web reports. It was revealing to hear that I was virtually alone in this mix of media. Others read different papers, watch CNN, listen to public radio, or choose to be uninformed.

An ad in The New York Times would reach some of us, but not a majority.

A typical congregation is a smaller sample, of course, but probably has as much diversity. Some read everything the church sends their way. Some read e-letters but ignore mailed paper. Some rely on social media. Some listen to announcements. Some might even read bulletin boards.

Reaching what I call “touches” is an even greater challenge. Touches are “leads,” people who attended an event at church, bought a raffle ticket, expressed interest in a concert, or agreed to “like” the church via Facebook.

Touches aren’t members or even regular constituents, and treating them as such misses two opportunities. It misses the opportunity to cultivate leads, to draw them closer to engaging with the congregation.

And it misses the opportunity to communicate with regular constituents in the accents of belonging.

One medium, in other words, can’t serve all.

The weekly e-letter that announces Sunday service times, the pastor’s sermon topic and after-church meetings means nothing to touches. They’re still wondering why to care about this congregation or the Christian enterprise at all. They need excitement about faith, stories about mission, reasons to devote one more minute to reading a message.

Regular constituents need that excitement, too, but in a different way. They need to know how mission, for example, is changing the lives of people they recognize. They need to know how God is transforming the body, or raising up new leaders, or working against injustice. (No one, by the way, needs a weekly reminder of the Sunday schedule or a picture of the church sign.)

There is an interesting article in the Harvard Business Review about different ways to use social media. Their audience is business, of course, but the principles apply to us, as well. Regulars need to communicate with each other in unique ways. A single one-size-fits-all Facebook page won’t accomplish that. Some companies use a tool like Yammer to create a private social network that enables employees to share information just with each other. They use different tools for the general public.

Yammer has a cost, though it seems quite low for the benefit received. Other tools are free. Ask people what tools they use in their work.

My point is to think strategically, to see multiple audiences needing tailored communications, and to realize that a single e-letter isn’t all you need to do.