In the Trenches: Switching It Up

In the Trenches: Switching It Up

October 10, 2011 by

I am the communications director for a church in Northwest Pennsylvania. We have, on average, 1,000 people on a weekend across four services and two campuses. Things are getting complex.

For the past three years, I’ve had a consistent message for our staff that I’ve worn like a banner: “cut through without cutting in.” This means a lot of different things. For example:

  • Don’t bombard people with your message. Just because you scream it, it doesn’t mean anyone is listening.
  • Customize and personalize your message whenever possible. It shows that you care about the person and the message.
  • People aren’t thinking about your ministry every day. Real life is just that: real. We can’t ignore it and simply pile on top.

I recently realized that people weren’t really hearing me… they weren’t buying in to my dreams and direction for communication strategies. I decided to switch up the way I was communicating the message of “cut through without cutting in.” Here’s what I did with literally five minutes in a staff meeting:

  • I went through the previous week’s bulletin, e-mail newsletter, website front page, Facebook news feed, sermon and service and I wrote down every single thing we “told” people to do. The list was everything from “get in a GraceGroup” to “think about which vision initiative you want to be a part of.” I put each directive/concept on a half sheet of paper and stacked it (yes… there were enough to make a stack*).
  • I also sat for a while and thought through what people are thinking as they walk in the front doors on Sunday. For example, “I need to go shopping after this,” or “I can’t believe we just screamed at each other the whole way here.” I typed each thought out and, before the meeting, asked someone to tape the thoughts all over their body.
  • I began by talking about how we’re paralyzing people with choice, and we’ve made church just another activity in people’s lives because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we care more about our message than the person receiving it.
  • I then explained the thoughts hanging on the person’s body and held up my stack of paper to explain it.
  • I read through each thing we told people to do, crumpled it up and threw it at the person wearing the thoughts. It was a powerful visual. I didn’t need to say anything else.

I can’t tell you how many people came up to me the following week to talk about what it means to care about the person more than the message. We’re at the beginning of a “new” culture shift.

Am I bent out of shape because I’ve been saying this for three years? No. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to switch it up. I needed to change the way I was communicating my message so it would start to click. It’s OK. It’s good.

Just like the churchgoer who doesn’t think about children’s ministry all week, our staff/team members don’t think about communication strategies all day. It’s our duty to bring these things to light whenever possible and in different ways. Don’t get frustrated with staff members who don’t “get it.” Think more “coach” and less “teacher.”

What do you need to switch up? Is it the way you’re talking to your staff/team? Maybe you need to change the way you communicate an event that happens every month so people see it fresh. Whatever it is, just do it! Give it a try and let us know how it went.

*Full Disclosure: I ended up with a bigger list from the church side of things than I had anticipated, and some of that is my fault. I need to recalibrate some systems and get us back on track.

Post By:

Danielle Hartland


Danielle Hartland is the director of communications at Grace Church in Erie, Penn., where her goal is to create and foster accessible communication strategies that cut through without cutting in. You can find her fastest on Twitter: @daniellesuzanne.
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