Yvon Prehn’s Six Strategies for Effective Church Communications is a 70 page book of church communication strategies. Self-published in 2012, it’s available on Amazon as a print-on-demand physical book (the version I read) or as a Kindle ebook. The preface claims that the content in this book is from The Five Steps of Effective Church Communications and Marketing, to be published in June, 2012, but as far as I can tell, this larger work doesn’t exist. [Update: See the author’s comment below.] Moving past the slightly dubious sounding origins of this book, it actually has quite a bit of good, useful content to keep in mind for an effective church website. For my book review, I’ll say a few words about each of Prehn’s six strategies and how they relate to church websites.
The first strategy, Create Multi-Channel Communications, is good advice. As Prehn writes on page 10, “Today to be an effective church communicator, you have to use every channel available to you.” To me, that has to include the church website. Some other books that I’ve read for this project have advocated establishing a specific location for specific content and using other channels to push congregation members to that specific channel. While I can see their point, I think Prehn’s strategy has more potential to be effective. It sounds good to say that all church communications about a certain retreat (for example) will direct visitors to a designated webpage, and it certainly is easier to update one specific point of communication if something were to change, but what about the person (and they do exist) who doesn’t have a computer? Or the person who refuses to go pick up the event pamphlet? Prehn argues, and I agree, that since each church is made of wonderfully diverse people who communicate in diverse ways, to minister to them where they are, we need to use multiple channels of communication.
To make this multi-channel church communication strategy possible, Prehn points out that it doesn’t have to be the same person doing all of the communicating on all of the channels. No one has the passion, desire, or even skills to use every channel. As the Body of Christ, we all have different gifts and passions. Let volunteers contribute by empowering different people for different communication channels. Odds are there is someone in your congregation with a passion for a given channel. Use the gifts of others, offering appropriate training and support. Once volunteers are empowered, the role of the church staff person becomes what it should be: coordinating ministries, not doing all of the work.
The second strategy is to Divide your Communication Team into Two Production Levels. Here Prehn discusses dividing all church communications into two layers, a PR communications level and a ministries communications level. The PR level is staff-led and is for “official” church communications, including the website, church mailings, etc. The ministries level is volunteer-led and is for communications from different ministries of the church, for things like advertisements for an event hosted by a certain small group or ministry in the church. “The person in charge of communications for the church can create templates and the volunteer team can update them as needed.” (Pg. 32) I appreciate both Prehn’s suggestion that a church should consider creating a style guide for use in its communications, and her caution that if the style guide is too stifling, volunteers and groups will either avoid communicating altogether, or they will avoid going through the church office at all. I also appreciate her honesty that it can be hard for a leader to let go of a communication piece. What if it’s done poorly? What if there’s a typo? The key is to prioritize. Which communications truly need the attention of busy church staff? For instance, I definitely think staff should pay attention to the overall design and front-page content of the church website. However, volunteers from different ministries can take responsibility for pages about their specific ministries.
I also totally agree with Prehn’s advice for churches to, instead of investing several thousand dollars on a completely professionally designed website, create your church website with WordPress yourself and use the money for training volunteers on how to maintain the website. An up to date website is far more important than a slick, professional design.
This fits in with Prehn’s third strategy, Don’t Let Money be a Determining Factor. The quality of the software used for any communication piece, including the website, is important, but far less so than the amount of effort that goes into it. Low cost or free software can be used to produce very effective, professional church websites.
Strategy number 5 is Make the Most of Seasonal Events. This isn’t something I’d given a lot of thought to, but it is definitely relevant to church websites. Prehn writes, “Seasonal and special events are one of the best ways to get people to begin the process of connecting people with the church.” (Pg. 55) So take advantage of seasonal events! Use the website to publicize them. Have the information about the event easily available well before people are making holiday plans, and remove it immediately afterwards. If people go home after the holiday and go back to your website, don’t let it still be advertising what’s already happened. This is your chance to make a good impression.
Prehn’s final strategy, Do Not Confuse Irreverence for Relevancy, is a little different in tone. I’ve heard criticism of the term “marketing” in the context of a church before, and she’s seeking to address that criticism. She argues that marketing is only a tool, not something good or bad in itself. “Marketing can be manipulative, false, and self-indulgent or it can be a servant communication that honestly, clearly, and consistently leads people to the church and the Savior. Don’t discard [the] tool – use it properly and in a Christ-honoring way.” (Pg. 63) Amen!
She also writes words of caution about the tone of church marketing. “When the church mocks itself, it doesn’t draw people to Jesus. It gives people outside the church permission to mock the church and our Lord.” (Pg. 63) I agree, to a point. I do think we need to keep in mind that God created a sense of humor, and the church must not be opposed to humor. I also believe that, while the church should always be reverent towards God, it must not confuse itself with God, and should not take itself too seriously. I think it’s ok as the church to poke fun at ourselves, but not in a mean-spirited way, and certainly not using language intended to offend others, which seems to be what Prehn is talking about.
Finally, she advocates authenticity in church communications, including on the church website. “Bait and switch in any area of advertising results in resentment and anger. Bait and switch in the presentation of the gospel an have eternally harmful consequences.” (Pg. 67) This is why not to use stock photos on a church website. Which is better, a website with genuine people, even if they’re not the most diverse, perfect looking group, or a website with beautiful photos of perfect, but non-existent people? People come to a church website to get an idea of what a church is like, so let’s be as honest as possible! Read more about why not to use stock photos on your church website in this post.
Overall, Prehn’s Six Strategies for Effective Church Communications is a useful book. It has no technical details of how to create a church website, but there are other resources for that. Instead, it contains strategies for making a website and other church communications as effective as possible. It’s a pretty fast read, and low-cost. I’ll be interested in the larger work when it’s completed. Verdict: Worth reading for the communication tips, even though it’s not all directly relevant to church websites.