The first and most important element of a parish communications strategy is having a parish communications strategy. Developing a parish communications strategy seems like a time-consuming task. But in reality, having a strategy to guide all of your parish communications efforts will save you time and make your communications more effective.
Developing your objective
What do you hope to achieve through your communications? This should be one to three lines summarizing high-level goals. You probably have more than one goal. Most likely, at the very minimum, you want to inform people through your communications. Maybe you also want to invite new parishioners or parishioners who are on the sidelines to learn more about your parish community. Maybe you want to involve more parishioners in parish activities or parish leadership. Whatever your goals, make them specific. For example: communicate all the great things the parish does to spark greater engagement among parishioners and inspire new members to join the parish. You need to have a clear and concise objective or set of objectives to guide your work. After all, you can’t get where you want to go if you don’t know where you are going!
Clear and concise messaging about your parish identity and how you live it out
Do you have a mission statement that accurately describes the identity of the parish? Do you have a vision for what is to be built or experienced through living out of your parish mission? If you have a mission and vision statement, how do these statements guide your parish? If they don’t guide your parish, then maybe it’s time to rethink them to make them useful in driving your communications and other activities. To develop useful mission and vision statements, invite your entire parish community to take part. Involve young and old, parish volunteers who are involved in everything and young parents or others who want to be more involved but have very busy schedules. Cast a wide net to involve all parts of your parish when working through this essential messaging.
Commit to using plain language in your parish communications
If you are using Church terminology, explain it. Not everyone knows what catechetical instruction means, but most would understand what formation in the Catholic faith means.
It is better to over-communicate than under communicate
Parishioners have varying needs of “needing to know” and varied lives that make it harder for some to keep up on all parish communications. But if you are communicating all the important news out of your parish on a regular basis and in a consistent way, you will help satisfy all of your parishioners needs. Create a structure so that parish leaders remember to share regular updates from the finance council or faith formation program (just two examples). A communications calendar that outlines when you communicate about certain topics every month or every year will help ensure consistency. Provide your updates in a standard way so people know what to expect. For example, a short update in the bulletin with an invitation to find greater detail on the parish website. Frequent, short updates can often be better absorbed than less frequent and longer communications.
Pledge to do the basics well
In your parish bulletin and on your website: Update your parish leadership/staff directory promptly when changes happen. On your website: make sure your home page information features timely or “evergreen” (not date specific) content that is meaningful to long-time parishioners as well as potential future parishioners. On your website: Keep the parish calendar up-to-date, listing basic information – plus how to get more information – for each event.
Developing a successful parish communications strategy takes some work. But when it improves your ability to inform, invite and involve those you are trying to reach – the work is well worth it.