Granger website sermon seriesIn addition to my full-time position as an internal communications manager, I volunteer to guide communications at the church that my family has attended for 12 years. I’ve probably faced more challenges in terms of developing communication strategies and obtaining resources of people and budget there than in any of the “professional” jobs that I’ve held throughout my 27-year career.

That’s one of the reasons why I was excited about participating in a communications workshop offered on July 30, 2007 by the staff of Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana (USA). Granger is a solid example of how the Gospel message can reach people who have become disenchanted (even downright hostile) with “organized religion,” and who aren’t attending a church because, according to Granger leaders, they see church as too boring, intimidating, or irrelevant to their “stressed-out, hyper-speed lives,” and/or “they felt unworthy, unloved and unlovable.”

Following the communications workshop, I interviewed Kem Meyer, Granger’s communications director, along with some workshop participants. I posted the discussion on CommaKazi Speek. It was my second recorded conversation with Kem; here is the first one.

As one of the workshop participants points out in our recorded conversation, Granger has become known as a leader in effective communication to today’s tech saavy person, who may also be wary of any hype coming from institutions–including organized religion. So how has Granger reached and retained members? How has it grown from about 10 people meeting in the living room of Senior/Founding Pastor Mark Beeson and his wife, Sheila, to several thousand people worshiping in a large, modern space that also features:

  • a casual atmosphere
  • friendly people who’ll help you find your way around
  • contemporary music, powerful dramas, high-impact media presentations
  • an innovative children’s space and
  • a Starbuck®-esque café?

Communications played an important role. Although Meyer was quick to credit the terrific speaking skills of the church’s pastors, she also provided practical tips for church communications staff and volunteers.

Bad communication is when you are trying to change someone’s “world view,” Meyer said. Good communication is when you speak respectfully to a world view, even if you disagree with it. Instead of trying to send “the right message” to your audience, you need to develop communications that release “the right response.”

Meyer defines “world view” as the bias that affects the story we tell ourselves to make it easier to live in a complicated work. Examples of world view include:

  • A home-cooked meal is better for my kids
  • Church is boring and is for sissies
  • Organic food is “better”

During the communication workshop, Meyer presented five “communication myths” and four “best practices.” The five communication myths are:

  • You (the communicator) are in control
  • The more choices (products, services, message), the better
  • Advertising creates interest and reinforces the brand
  • It worked before, so it’ll work again
  • People care about what you have to say

Although I don’t have time to unwrap all of these myths, I’ll cover a couple of them. People mistakenly believe that advertising creates interest and reinforces the brand, when at best, advertising creates awareness, which is not, in and of itself, a motivating factor. Meyer pointed out that cancer creates a sort of powerful awareness in people–but that doesn’t mean that people want it. Brands are built on experiences, she added.

People remember, on average, 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 40% of what we do and about 100% of what we feel, Meyer said. Emotion is the “on/off switch” for thinking.

The four best practices discussed by Meyer were:

  • Know your audience (psychographics as well as demographics)
  • Remove barriers to entry (is that tri-fold brochure and over-friendly approach to visitors attracting people–or repelling them?)
  • Reduce the noise. Life is hard enough; we shouldn’t make it harder on people trying to get our message.
  • Tell one story at a time. Act as an air traffic controller, and let the ministry leaders fly their own planes. You simply direct the flow and keep them from crashing together.

Among the practical examples of how Granger’s communications staff uses this knowledge, Meyer talked about how the church looked to attract visitors who could be hostile to Christianity and church. The church staff developed a message series titled, “The Most Irritating Things About Christians.” That series attracted people who were looking for affirmation that certain things about Christians can be seen as being irritating. Pastor Beeson was able to shape his messages to address those irritations, while affirming the reasons why Christians may act in a seemingly irritating way.

I’ve only skimmed the surface of the workshop, and haven’t talked about the practical advice for improving the communication process, adding volunteers and determining the ways to reach a particular audience or demographic. I’ll be sharing more with my church’s leadership, and may find other tidbits worthy of posting here.