by Amanda Box
When elders need to address the congregation to communicate significant information, they are usually limited to a precious few minutes during the Sunday morning hour that is rightly designed for worship. This presents some special challenges for church leaders who want to keep the congregation informed and involved in significant leadership decisions that will affect the identity, future, and function of the church. On Sunday, elders have the best chance of being in the same room with the largest quantity of members. Unfortunately, there just isn’t a very effective way to communicate substantive information since the message will basically be a brief announcement without the opportunity to field questions or check perceptions. In addition, you have several factors working against the success of this format: many members are not in the audience because they are children’s program volunteers, parents may be wrestling with young children, and there will always be absentees. The wide age range and demographic difference of the audience doesn’t make communication any easier. The final blow is the depressing statistic that people only listen effectively 25 percent of the time according to Communication Works. Although elders are volunteers and aren’t expected to be communication professionals, it is important to understand that church members are accustomed to sophisticated messaging in every other part of their lives. In fact, people are absolutely bombarded with messages from every other group, possibly with our church elders being the only exception. An elder spokesperson simply makes sense.
Yes, it’s tough, but that makes the communication strategy even more important. Appointing an elder spokesperson can be very effective in informing and involving the congregation at any point, but it is critical during times of transition and change. Whether the spokesperson is simply seen on Sunday mornings, on the web site, an email signature, or other, having one voice can be an important part of a successful communication plan.
Any time the church can see the elders leading in a tangible way, credibility increases. This is a luxury church members don’t often get to enjoy and one that has a high potential to build trust because of the transparency. Having an elder spokesperson lets the church see and hear directly from the elders in a consistent manner.
Consistency is important because listening accurately is difficult. How many times have you said, “I thought you said …,”but you were wrong? When people know the spokesperson’s job is to convey important information, there is less work to do in order to listen effectively. People can reliably predict the type of message and are accustomed to the communication style. In addition, this helps with the ability to be verbally consistent with terms, names, titles, and processes. All drastically help improve listening accuracy.
The elder spokesperson should be someone that already has a high credibility rating and an easy rapport with the church. Although he does need to have a moderate to high amount of public speaking skill, polish is not the most important factor. Sincerity will trump polish every time and people will feel comfortable asking questions when given the opportunity.
Ideally, when an elder talks directly to the church, his sincerity will be obvious. This is as important as the actual message since 65-90 percent of all communication is nonverbal according to Communication Works.
If people don’t hear directly from the leadership, they make up their own stories. Not to say that people are liars, it’s just that people will make sense out of the information they believe to be true and it may or may not be based upon fact. The silent treatment is never a good communication strategy.
Some fear that an elder spokesperson will be repetitive and irritating to the church–not so. Repetition is absolutely required. Research tells us that churches have access to people about 40 hours per year according to Reggie Joyner. If you break that down to actual time allowed for verbal church news, it’s scarcely a percentage of the 40 hours. We must repeat important information in a clear and consistent way if we even hope to have a chance of getting a message across effectively. It may become a bit monotonous to the church leaders, but not to the congregation. When people start saying, “Yeah, we know,” you can celebrate that significant win. However, you can’t stop communicating; there are hundreds of others not quite there yet. “A word aptly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver,” Proverbs 25:11.
Gamble, Michael and Gamble, Terri (2004). Communication Works. (8th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw Hill Higher Education.
Joyner, Reggie, (August 8, 2013). Family Ministry Questions and Answers. Children’s Ministry, Retrieved from http://childrensministry.com/articles/questions-and-answers.