Creating Healthy Communication Channels

Farm irrigation ditch with sunset in background.

By Renee Ruchotzke

The flow of information in an organization is a bit like the flow of water after a rain. Ideally, the information is shared evenly, and the members are able to absorb it like loamy soil. But information that triggers anxiety can be like a heavy rain. Without established channels, information will create its own channels, possible eroding trust or creating other damage.

The following practices will help to build trust and create a culture of openness and transparency in the congregation.

Guiding Documents

When you make your congregation's bylaws, policies, procedures, mission statement, vision statement, covenant, strategic plan, annual reports, budgets, etc. available on your congregation's website, you are setting a tone of transparency. Members and potential members can have ready access to the documents that guide the board, staff and ministries to help them understand how the congregation operates. If you prefer to keep some or all of this information password-protected, it should be easy for members to request and receive access.

Regular Communication Tools

Although many congregations have abandoned the monthly newsletter, there should still be a regular communication tool that tells about upcoming events, important congregational news and other communications. These should also be readily available (including archives) on the congregation's website. (Many congregations use the website blog function for this purpose.)

Communications from the Board

Along with posting the minutes from the board meetings, it's helpful to provide a short narrative of what the board is doing for the congregation's regular communication tool.

If there is a major project or change initiative, the board may want to schedule congregational information meetings to give more detailed updates or to answer questions. This is especially important if a congregational vote will be required. The board will want to have as much discussion with as many members as possible to make sure the congregation is ready to vote to accept the proposal.

Communications to the Board

Congregational boards are unique in that the members of the board are also active members in the institution that they are serving. Being available for organic conversation enables board members to keep their finger on the pulse of the congregation. (Many board members wear ribbons on their name tags to be visible on Sunday morning.)

In times of high anxiety, boards might want to set up a monthly "board listening session" or to have a table during fellowship time where board members are available for questions or comments.

Assessments of the Ministry

Communication about the ministry of the congregation is often where healthy communication breaks down. When the ministries are going well, there seems to be no need to pay attention to it. But when there is a problem or concern, not having healthy communication channels results in unhealthy channels forming.

About the Author

Renee Ruchotzke

Rev. Renee Ruchotzke (ruh-HUT-skee) is a Congregational Life Consultant and program manager for Leadership Development.

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