Examples of Communication from The Key to All TransitionPosted: July 1, 2011
Examples of Communication from The Key to All Transition
Published in Baptists Today by Chris Gambill with Natalie Aho
Change is inevitable. Significant transitions do come, but because they occur infrequently, most congregations do not naturally have the tools to cope with them effectively. Transitions – positive or negative – create anxiety. Whether it’s hiring a new pastor, changing location, saying goodbye to a church patriarch or matriarch, adding or subtracting a worship service or even deciding how to handle a large financial gift – transitions can cause discomfort, distrust and conflict.
The primary way to decrease discomfort and anxiety and to increase trust during a transition is through communication: intentional, consistent, multi-modal communication. While effective communication is important to any faith community, it is vital during a time of transition. Communication engenders trust when leaders do what they say they will do. Effective communication can move a change process forward by creating positive energy and anticipation. Where transition can be foreseen, congregational leaders should create a communications plan and assign responsibilities.
We wanted to provide a few concrete examples of when we have seen churches using communication effectively during a transition.
Quarterly Church Conference:
- An example of a quarterly church conference to discuss “our common life together as God’s people in this place.” (Congregational Conversation Nights)
Search Committee Process:
- As mentioned in the article, the church first created a “logo” of sorts that provided some graphical consistency (colors, font type, font words) – example: “2011 FBC Pastor Search”. In their printed pieces (newsletters) and online (website), they provided a timeline with the full search committee process (in the consistent colors) and they would move an electronic arrow along the timeline as they moved through the process. They also created a “life-size” version of this timeline on white board and hung it in a main hallway of the church. They moved the arrow along this timeline as well.
- To provide a participatory experience, the church created a time capsule. They wanted to say “good-bye” to their past in order to move forward with a new plan and a new future. They put in the time capsule the things (or image representations) they want to stay in the past and they also included gifts to the future members. This was an opportunity for them to physically “bury the past” and expect there will be a future. They held an elaborate, focused outside service. One particular memory for Chris Gambill was of a very old member pointing to a group of young children watching her place a “future” item into the time capsule. She then said to them, “I want you to give this to my great, great grandchildren.”
- One congregation wrote a play depicting the life and history of the congregation. They had vignettes portrayed by characters in costumes from the past. This is a great way to mark a significant time in the life of the congregation and then move forward into a new time.
- The best way to communicate effectively when the church receives a significant financial gift is to have a policy in place NOW (before any gift is received) to prevent any problems. The church should not have react but should be proactive. Eliminate designated funds (the outsider now handling the gift may not know if the designated fund still needs money). There should be a process of review, input, and decision making. Be thankful and acknowledge the gift. Put it in escrow, and then move through the process of discussion and input opportunities for anyone who has an investment in the outcome of this fund (which should be every member of your congregation). Every idea should be heard, and then evaluated. The conclusion of what to do with the fund should be a decision process with a possible range of outcomes (the fund may not be used in just one way).
Significant Transition of Change:
- Recognize that a lot of change-related decisions are really about trying to resolve a polarity, rather than solving a problem. The question may be, “Do we want to be innovative or traditional?” and the answer is “yes.” Options that seem to be opposites must be held in tension with one another. You need to be able to recognize when the question at hand is really about polarity and develop a strategy to wrestle with the benefits and liabilities of any decision (from both sides). The Center for Congregational Health has experience in helping your congregation make a better decision. Contact us to learn more about polarities through a workshop or a consultation.
- The wide use and availability of the Internet and mobile devices has allowed the average church to communicate instantly and, in some cases, intimately, with its congregants. Visit the icm4clergy blog created by Natalie Aho for tips and theories on how to use the Internet for communication during transitions.
If your church has other examples of successful communication plans used during times of transition, please comment here or on our Facebook page.