Is there a bigger double-edged sword in the world of church communication than announcements? On the one hand, they are vitally important. Theologically, they tell the story of how your church has, is, and will be living out its call to discipleship through ministry and service. Practically, you need them so that people know when and where and how to do that living out. On the other hand, announcements are just awful. They are often too long and too focused on things that don’t inspire interest and/or won’t be remembered.
There are some great posts out there already about the struggle with church announcements. Lifeway CEO and church leadership guru Thom Rainer has a blog post and a podcast episode discussing the topic in which the following interesting observations were made:
- More churches are dropping announcements from their worship service, especially larger churches (200+ in attendance)
- Announcements that are being made are generally only those that will appeal to a large percentage of those in attendance
- More churches are utilizing technology to project announcements via slides or video
- The effectiveness of each announcement goes down as number of announcements goes up
- Announcements tend to focus too much on the “how” and not enough on the “why”
- Announcements are a perfect time to recognize volunteers and staff for their service and/or celebrate something that went well
While not specifically church-related, the Harvard Business Review recently put out a management tip of the day entitled, “To Get People’s Attention, Cut to the Chase.”
You will notice a theme running through these resources: TOO MUCH. In some churches I have visited, the announcements have run close to 10 minutes. If this is an hour-long service, that is 1/6th of your service time. That’s a half to a third of a typical sermon. How much do you really expect people to remember? And as I wrote in a post about the beginning of the worship service, that expectation should go down even further if there is going to be 55 minutes or more of hopefully-engaging worship participation following the announcements.
Here are some thoughts I had about better church announcements:
- Use more channels. Someone speaking at some point in your service is not the one and only channel you have for making announcements. Your typical church has at the very least a bulletin and/or newsletter. It is becoming more common to have a website, Facebook page, and/or other social accounts like Twitter or Instagram. Thanks to services like MailChimp, it is even easier (and free in some cases) to utilize email lists. Video announcements are also on the rise, as they add the multimedia/screen attraction and can be uploaded to your various online channels. Check out ProVideo Announcements as an example of a company that can make them for you (or an example for your own team). These other channels are available to your congregation at their convenience during the week.
- Make those channels valuable. I once announced an event in the service, the bulletin (including a flier to hang on the fridge), the newsletter, the website, and the Facebook page. No one came, and when I explained all the places it was posted to a church leader, I was told that no one takes the bulletin home, they skim the newsletter at best, and online didn’t work at this church. At the end of the day, I had to accept that the other channels weren’t being used because they were not of value. No one likes that friend that is always asking you for favors, and that’s essentially what church announcements end up being. Find ways to give back value through these channels so that when announcements do come across, it is hitting active readers. Sharing links, images, videos, Scripture, quotes, and devotions can break up the monotony and engage your people.
- Focus on the point, the mission, and the vision. People also don’t listen, don’t read, and don’t show up if they don’t care. There is no faster way to make people not care than to launch into details, procedures, requirements, and statistics (ok- one or two compelling stats can work). Instead, focus in the key question: how will this affect the people listening to the announcement? The whole point of discipleship, mission, and service is not to make us feel better about ourselves, but if we can’t picture ourselves in the announcement, we aren’t going to connect or care. This goes for all kinds of announcements on all kinds of channels.
- Tell a (short) story. Ok, so maybe you’re still feeling like that last one was a little too consumeristic. Announcements should be about more than what we get out of it. You’re absolutely right. A different key question is: how will this event allow the people listening to affect others for the kingdom of God? You see what I did there? It still involved the people listening, and it has to because at the end of the day you are asking them to do something (that’s another key later on). But it is framing it as how they can embody the hands and feet of Christ. So, paint a picture of what will happen as a result of people being involved. This is a great approach for when you have someone giving testimony-style announcements (“I participated in this last spring, and this is what happened/how it changed things”). If you get someone from the congregation to tell a brief story, people can think, “I can do that too!”
- Cut as many details as possible. If you can use the previous two points to make a connection and inspire a response, you don’t need details. If people are interested, they will seek the details out on their own. Have those details available in the bulletin or newsletter, or better yet, give them a contact person and/or email address to reach out to for more info. Worried that people will lose interest when you explain the cost, time, effort, or training needed to participate in your specialized event/ministry? Don’t include it in the announcement! Focus on the mission and the story. Drop the “scary details” that turn people off immediately because they won’t seem so scary later if you inspired passion first.
- Have a call to action. There should always be a clear call to action. What do you want people to do? Do you want them to sign up somewhere, talk to someone, write a check for something, tell other people about a new event? And limit the announcements that start “just be aware that…” Sometimes, there are things we simply need to make people aware of for which there is no practical call to action, like the fellowship hall being rented by an outside group on a day when people normally drop by. But somethings that we think are awareness announcements are actually opportunities for a response. For example, turn “I wanted you all to know that our youth group participated in the Imagine No Malaria 5K” to “Let’s celebrate together that our youth group gave up part of their weekend yesterday to participate in the Imagine No Malaria 5K! Let’s give them a round of applause!”
- Consider the context. Don’t just think about the three sentences you are going to say in worship, but think about what is going on around you in the moment. If your announcements are in the beginning of the service, realize that people may not be engaged yet. So, how can you catch their attention? If they are at the end, be aware if the service ran long and people are getting restless. Consider the mood of the room–if it was a sermon that ended on a reflective note, perhaps don’t start with the tone and energy of a used car salesperson. If there is an event coming up or a ministry of the church that fits with the sermon topic, see if the preacher can highlight the event or ministry in the message as a way to put faith into action. If you have screens, what is going on the screen? It should be something that specifically supports (not doubles!) what you are saying, or it should be nothing. For example, put just the contact email or just a date, time, and location on the screen. A common mistake is to have an auto-rotating slideshow of announcements that continue during the spoken announcements. The movement is distracting, and the slides that pop up having nothing to do with what you are saying can only confuse.
- Target specialized announcements. Similar to using more channels, when you have an announcement that applies to a particular segment of your organization, consider if there is a better way to reach them than the up-front, large group announcement. Sometimes it can be good for people to hear that certain things are going on even if they aren’t involved. But the smaller the target is in relation to the size of the group, the higher likelihood people are checking out–and what are the chances you will get their attention back? Consider emailing groups, using particular online channels that your target frequents, or even ask specific small group or Sunday School leaders to make announcements.
- Create an announcement strategy. If you can have an intentional strategy and supporting policies ahead of time, it will help organize and streamline the whole process. For example, decide what kinds of announcements get presented in church, if any. Decide when they will happen in the service, and have a reason for it–how does it fit in the larger movement of worship? Decide who will do the announcements. Perhaps you have a regular staff member or volunteer do the announcements, and you reserve the “announcements from the pulpit” for strategic use when you need extra emphasis from the pastor. Having policies will also help with issues like someone approaching you two minutes before the service begins. You can say, “I am sorry, but we need all announcements via email or voicemail by Friday afternoon.” A policy that asks non-regular announcement givers to prepare a script (or at least an outline) ahead of time for review will help reign in the improvisers and allow you to help them. Lastly, a strategy of how you will coordinate your online channels can give you and you team direction.
- Consider an announcement worksheet and/or script template. Create a worksheet for people to fill in and submit if they have an announcement. Ask them to provide the logistical details, but also ask them to help provide the vision/mission/story material. Creating a script template can not only provide guiding structure, but it can help craft the most effective version of the announcement.
Announcements are always going to be a challenge, but they don’t have to be as bad as they are. If we stop improvising and put a little time and energy into creating a strategy and approach, it creates a pattern we can use and tweak along the way.
How well does your church/ministry do announcements? What’s working? What’s not working? What other channels, besides spoken announcements in a worship service or at a group meeting, do you use? What has been most effective and why?
The Rev. Dan Wunderlich is a United Methodist pastor who is passionate about worship, preaching and effective communication. He blogs at Defining Grace, where this post originally appeared.