July 2008
Parish Communications

What's in your toolbox?

We use a variety of media at St. Stephen’s, Richmond. This is not an exhaustive list, but these are the basics I suggest you consider:

Telephone/Reception area: Is your “Director of First Impressions” the right person for the job? Friendly? Knowledgeable? Helpful? If you use volunteers, make sure they are well-trained and well-informed. (I recently called a large parish and asked for the rector by name. The volunteer seemed unfamiliar with the name, and spent an embarrassing amount of time finding his extension number.) While I don’t recommend using an automated telephone-answering system during normal office hours, if this is a necessity, make sure the prompts are clear, the system easy to navigate, and the information up-to-date.

Printed newsletter: The parish newsletters I admire most are those that are focused, well-organized, truly informative and well-designed (adhering to a consistent grid,using good typography and avoiding poor-quality clip art). Too many parish newsletters look as if they were put together by a committee.

Email newsletter: This is a low-cost way to communicate regularly with anyone in the parish who has Internet access. It can work hand-in-hand with your website — providing links to different pages of your site within the announcements in your email newsletter, which will drive more traffic to your site — and it can also be a useful tool to use between editions of the printed newsletter. Our printed newsletter, The Spirit, comes out monthly; the eSpirit comes out every week via email. We also have a weekly email newsletter that goes only to the vestry, called In the Loop. We use Constant Contact (which offers nonprofit rates) for the eSpirit and In the Loop, but there are other providers from which to choose.

Website: These can range from very simple to very complex — but content must be kept fresh or people will stop visiting your site. We update ours several times a week. If your church does not have a website, you are being “left behind.”

Sunday bulletin: These vary widely in content, complexity and quality. We have a liturgical bulletin that includes the entire service (minus hymn texts), which we believe makes newcomers and visitors feel welcome and included. We also produce an insert that includes announcements, a weekly calendar and other information; it’s meant to be a takeaway piece, a reference for the week.

Verbal announcements: Easy to overdo. Be intentional about what you announce verbally in church — one or two highlights, then refer people to printed announcements.

Signage: Is it clear? Is it helpful? Evaluating your signage requires an outsider’s perspective.

This article is part of the July 2008 Vestry Papers issue on Parish Communications