An Interview with Kem Meyer on Reshaping Our Understanding of Communications for This Decade
Kem Meyer and I have been friends and colleagues for a long, long time. Way back when, I hired her to fix our website at Granger Community Church near South Bend, IN. In more recent years, she’s been helping churches across the country in a more comprehensive way to simplify and focus their communication.
Kem joined Amy and me on the podcast this week, and she said something during the episode I think many of you will be able to relate to:
A few decades ago, improving communication in a ministry was simpler. Churches weren’t talking about design or brand or project management or technology—overall, we weren’t putting our best foot forward.
But today, many churches are doing those things. Some of our stuff looks better, but overall our outcomes are not better. Many churches are still in decline, and all this cool stuff we’re creating is not putting the mission and vision in action or within reach.
Ever feel like all the communications effort and activity in your church isn’t really driving anything forward?
In this episode, Amy, Kem and I dug into some of the reasons why. We covered things like:
- Why more communications activity doesn’t create better results
- How to rethink your approach to communication to focus on creating the support systems and tools that will help everyone in your congregation own the brand
- Bringing alignment to what you profess, what you practice and what you promote
- Why you may not actually need a communications director
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Links & Resources from the Episode
- Kem’s Brand Cue Card template
- Less Chaos. Less Noise.
- Why Church Communications Is Stuck in 2004 – Episode 61
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Kem: 00:00 Communication really has less to do with what we have to say and more about what we’re learning, asking, helping with; It’s removing barriers and so, less about what we want people to do or what we’re trying to say, and more about answering the questions they’re asking.
Sean: 00:17 Welcome to the Unstuck Church Podcast, where each week we’re exploring what it means to be an Unstuck Church. Over the last 20 years, the ways we communicate as a society have changed dramatically. The adoption of new methods and mindsets around sharing information have evolved at a rapid pace – that’s left many churches playing catch up and struggling to find effective ways to engage their changing communities. This week on the podcast, Tony and Amy share a conversation on clarity around church communications and branding with Kem Meyer, founder, and author of “Less Chaos, Less Noise”. Make sure before you listen to subscribe to get the show notes in your inbox every single week. You can get the links to all the resources that we mention, the Leader Conversation Guide and bonus resources all conveniently delivered to your email. Sign up by going to the unstuckgroup.com/podcast, or you can grab this week’s show notes at theunstuckgroup.com/episode103. You can also join our conversation on social media by using the #unstuckchurch when you post. Connect with Tony, Amy, and myself, and explore this episode as well as others. And now here’s this week’s conversation with Tony, Amy, and Kem Meyer.
Amy: 01:22 Well, Tony, this is going to be a fun conversation today. Kem Meyer, author, and founder of “Less Chaos, Less Noise” is in the house.
Tony: 01:30 Yes, she is. Hey, Kem. Kem and I actually go way back. If we talk about how many years that’ll give away our ages though Kim, so I’m not going to do that, but we’ve been friends and colleagues for a long, long time. Way back when I hired her to fix our website. I don’t know if she ever did fix it, but she’s been working in the area of church communications for a long time. First, as a practitioner, we served on the same team together at Granger Community Church near South Bend, Indiana. In more recent years, she’s been helping churches across the country actually, across the world, in a more comprehensive way. In fact, Kem, could you share a little bit more about that experience?
Kem: 02:19 Yeah, I’d love to. It’s still, I’m still trying to figure out how to communicate about communications. How about you? It’s so simple. Well, really, I think it was easier back in the day, Tony when we got to work together. I mean, communications have been an issue for the history of the human race on the planet. But, back when we get to start working in ministry together, it was, it was simpler things the church wasn’t talking about simple design or project management or technology, and so we just weren’t putting our best foot forward. And so it was like bringing the purpose of all of that to the forefront of creativity. Well, the churches are doing that now. We’re doing that now. We’re creating some really great, good looking output and, and we’re investing in it and we’re talking about, and so that’s good.
Kem: 03:09 I’m happy to see that some of our stuff looks better, but our outcome is not better. We’re still not connecting with our communities or quote-unquote transforming the world like four out of five mission tape statements I read in the churches I work with say we’re still not doing that. I mean overall, our church is still in overall decline, all this cool stuff we’re creating and there’s some really cool stuff. It’s still not putting the mission and vision in action or within, reach. It’s actually creating divides, not just outside the church, which a lot of us like to talk about, but more of what I’ve seen in the past five or six years. It’s creating more divides inside our own congregations and staff. And so, that’s where we need more help and where I’ve been spending my time really, um, the last five years, because that’s just not the outcome we’re going for. And so I just am trying to help churches grow by just putting the right essentials in place and stop chasing the wrong ones so they can connect with their audience and start growing their church.
Amy: 04:23 You know, when we’re on the ground, Kem, with churches this area of communications is almost always a challenge for the churches that we work with. There’s a lot of confusion about what it is, what it isn’t and I’m just curious, what are you seeing in the churches that you work with when you just immerse in the communications area?
Kem: 04:41 Well, ironically I think the symptoms that I’m seeing in the churches that I work with are probably the same symptoms that you’re seeing. There’s declining attendance. These churches have low first time guests numbers there or just a plateau in weekend attendance or engagement, so they’re not reaching their community. I see generational turf wars or silos and the inside messaging is confusing. It’s alienating different audiences inside and outside the church. And so everyone’s running around trying to defend why their way will fix it. I’ll see that a lot. And I see so much activity and work, I mean so much and it’s keeping us busy and it’s keeping us arguing with each other, but it’s not producing the results we want. There’s just no focus. And I think what’s driving me the craziest is we’re wasting resources. I mean, we are draining resources.
Kem: 05:40 We’re not maximizing the bandwidth and the strength and the giftedness of our staff or our congregations. We’re wasting money on things that don’t bring a return but make us feel good about what we’re doing. And so the lack of focus is wasting resources. So those are probably the biggest symptoms I see. But here’s the thing, all of these symptoms start by lack of clarity. There is no vision or no strategy. So you’ve got to have that in place before we even start talking about communications. And I think Unstuck does a great job with that. You work with so many churches helping them clarify, why are we here? Where are we going? What are we going to do to get there? And if you don’t have that, you’re not going to have effective communication. So that’s where the symptoms always start, but they stay because churches don’t know how to convert that clarity into an operational strategy that everyone can use. They just don’t know how to put it into action.
Tony: 06:38 All right, Kem, with that in mind, what should churches be asking themselves?
Kem: 06:45 Is it okay if I start with what they shouldn’t be asking themselves? Okay, good. How about, “how do we keep up with all of our promotion requests from different ministries?” How big should our communication team be? And that might be a surprising one because 15 years ago we weren’t even talking about communication. So it’s a great question, but it’s not where we should be starting. We shouldn’t be asking, “how do we get the word out and roll out our new brand and logo and social media posts and video?” Like these are all the wrong places to start. We really should be asking what communications do we need to get 200 or 2000 people equipped to own and carry out our mission and vision?
Kem: 07:29 How do we unleash an army of brand ambassadors to communicate as one church? That’s what we should be asking; churches should be asking.
Amy: 07:36 Maybe you let me jump in. What do you mean, Kem, buy brand ambassadors?
Kem: 07:40 I’m glad you asked. This is really critical. If we don’t pay attention to this, we’ll just keep chasing our own tail. Our brand, first of all, is not something that gets assigned to one guy to control: the guy on the platform or the guy with the Photoshop. It comes from the behavior that applies to all of us in the whole congregation. And my favorite definition of a brand comes from Jeff Bezos, and the definition of your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. That’s the definition of your brand. So if we understand that, then we understand every interaction, every little tiny interaction someone has with our church defines our brand; not what we put together in our planning retreat or our prayer meetings or what’s our best intentions.
Kem: 08:24 But it’s actually how we behave like a body. And so if we understand that, we start thinking about, “all right, well how are our congregates talking to their neighbor?”, “How chaotic is it to use our website?”, “What happens if the power goes down when we’ve got kids to check in?”, “What’s the tone of all the stuff we’re putting out everywhere?”, “What’s the tone?” Those little teeny tiny interactions define our brand more than anything we say or produce.
Amy: 08:55 That’s really interesting because I think we agree with that in the marketplace, like where we shop, where we go. I think we understand that they aren’t totally in charge of their brand. It’s the experience. But it’s interesting to twist that and put it in the church perspective.
Kem: 09:09 Well you know why: we’ve got God on our side, so we can just check the God box and we’re immune to the laws of physics and gravity and psychology. That’s what I see everywhere. So I mean, I did it. I took a turn. I’m not being judgy; There’s nothing I like to get all, you know, fired up about that I haven’t done myself. So if we understand the definition of brand, then we can understand communications doesn’t define the brand. It supports the brand. It like it’s the backup. Also, communications are, if it’s the total activity generated by our whole body, not just one department, then we start trying to solve the problem differently. We start thinking about, wait a minute, what support systems and tools are going to help everybody reinforce the brand, not just the preacher or the designer.
Tony: 10:03 That’s good. So, Kem, if churches, or let’s talk even talk more specifically, the communication staff is struggling with how to make that shift and manage the whole, where do you recommend they start? What should be the first step?
Kem: 10:17 So that’s interesting, Tony. I don’t know, I don’t think we should start with the communication team. I think there are too many churches that are painting themselves into a corner because either they give a communication team that’s administratively strong or output and project management strong or a great designer and they’re driving everything, but it’s not helping the brand. It’s helping the visuals or it’s helping the project management there. And it’s sad because I don’t care if you’re a small church or a large church, you put somebody in charge of communications, they’ve got all the accountability and none of the authority. So we can’t start with them. We need to start with the, we need to start from the top. That gets back to the organizational clarity. So let’s just assume that’s done because there are three parts: There’s what you profess, what you practice and what you promote. Those are the three parts of your brand. Those they have to be in alignment, or you will not have communications that connect with your audience. You won’t future proof of your mission or vision if you don’t have those three things. You’ve got to have clarity in what you profess, you got to make sure that you practice what you profess, then you can promote it and they need to be in alignment. So let’s just say we’ve got the profess done, right? You’ve clarified your aspirational brand in an Unstuck planning retreat.
Tony: 11:42 So, and there you’re talking about your mission, why you exist, your vision, where are you heading in the future, and the strategy for how you’re going to get that all, all of those foundational aspects of clarity are defined. In other words, I think it’s a good thing for pastors to hear. You can’t just hire a great communications team and think that’s going to solve your communications challenges. To have a great communication strategy, the foundational aspects of what it is to be a healthy church have to be in place first.
Kem: 12:15 You know, and I’d even go a step farther. I say this in private, I haven’t said it publicly, but I’m going to say it publicly right now for the first time. I am telling a lot of churches one-on-one that they don’t need to hire a communications director. I’m even helping churches redefine what their communication role is because before you have a communications director, you’ve got to have clarity in that foundational stuff. I think every church, small to large needs a communication advocate and it could be one or two or three communication advocates. They may not have the authority or decision rights, but they know what questions to ask. So yes, Tony, to what you’re saying.
Tony: 12:56 Yeah, so the first step, profess, get that foundation in place, know what you’re going to profess, but then the second step was what?
Kem: 13:03 Right clarity and get clarity on what you want to profess, right? That’s your aspirational brand. Number two, you’ve got to detox your internal communications. That’s where you fix what you practice, and what a lot of churches do, and I don’t want to just like we’re just talking to churches today, but we can jump right to businesses. A lot of entrepreneurial spirits will do this too and so many of our pastors have entrepreneurial spirits and we’re so zealous about our mission and we should be, but we go right from, okay, here’s clarity in what we’re going to profess. This is our aspirational vision. Now let’s just start promoting it. Let’s just start promoting it and we just skip the practice. What does this look like in our daily decisions? Our daily priorities? Our problem-solving. So I know what your next question is going to be, Tony. How do you detox that internal communication?
Tony: 13:52 Well, I had this image going in my brain of what a detox would look like for a church and all their activity, but I’m sure it’s not that image I have in my mind.
Kem: 14:02 Well, gosh, that would be the easy thing, but we’re not equipping people; We’re not empowering people; We’re not future-proofing anything. We’re just, that’s even, that’s symptomatic. We could go in there and do that tomorrow. We can kill the activity. We could kill the output, we could right size that stuff, but we were just telling people what to do. We’re not telling them how to think or solve problems. So there is a simple way of doing this and I help churches build a brand cue card. It really is an essential tool you need to move your aspirational vision into operational reality. And it’s almost impossible to build a brand evangelist that we talk about without a simple cheat sheet that directs individual behaviors towards a shared goal. That’s what the brand cue card does.
Amy: 14:45 So Kem, give us an example of what you mean by a brand cue card. Like what does that contain?
Kim: 14:49 Basically a, it’s an at a glance cheat sheet of your essentials because you’ve got, let’s say you’ve got everything documented thoroughly and it’s been approved, it’s been sanctioned, it’s been prayed over and everybody buys into it. You’ve had the staff meetings, but then how do you make this actionable for everybody to use from a seventh-grade volunteer all the way up to the CFO’s office? And that’s what this is: it’s the simple one-page compass that puts your brand to work across every department. It’s an abridged version of what you already have, your mission, your vision, your values, your audience, your strategy. But here’s what’s different: it’s only one page. It’s all in plain language. There’s no theological or corporate mechanical language on there. It helps shape all of those things, those essentials that, what makes up your DNA, shapes all of that into a perspective tool that helps you look at your community through more empathetic eyes; it helps you look at yourself through your community’s eyes. So that’s a problem-solving tool and anybody can pick it up and use it.
Tony: 16:01 Yes. In fact, what we’re going to do for you is I think a lot of churches are going to benefit from seeing a sample of this brand cue card. We’ll make sure to include that in the show notes so that you can take a look at specifically what Kem’s talking about and maybe begin to build your own brand cue card for your church. So, Kem, we’ve talked about professing, having clarity about what we’re professing practicing it, but then we do eventually get to the promotion. What does that look like?
Kem: 16:30 Well, you may need to get help with promotions at the end. Somebody’s helping you clean up your website or somebody helping you with your logo identity, you know, your visual identity. But more often than not, once you’ve gone through clarity and who you want to be, and then you start acting like you say you want to be, you start to realize you need to promote a lot less. You start to see you’re spending less money in the things you’re creating and start putting more money into ministry. You start chasing all that activity. I’ll tell you one practical example of a church I recently worked with. They spent so much time doing a lot of the right stuff. They went through the planning exercise, they got clarity, they restructured, they made changes in hires. They made some really hard decisions.
Kem: 17:17 And then the minute it got to promote, they went back to their old patterns. They had defined, you know, who’s the audience we’re trying to serve? What’s the goal we’re trying to reach? What matters, what doesn’t? So Christmas comes and there was a simple invite card that was being sent to their community and it invited the community to Christmas service. The whole project got stopped. The executive team, which had seven people, seven pastors, multisite church, they stopped production. They went to all the staff and it said, let’s not send this out. We need to have a meeting about this because it should be advent. This leadership team had a three-hour meeting. Whether this invite card should say advent or Christmas. This is happening over and over and over again. You just pick your scenario. So the brand cue card, much like your strategy, if you don’t keep it in front of you, you’re just going to revert back to your old muscle memory. So sometimes it helps to have someone from the outside come in and help with that promote or you’ve hired the right person to be the advocate inside that asks those questions.
Amy: 18:24 Can I ask a quick question, Kem? So I what I see sometimes with churches that have a lot of things that they’re still doing and they’re knowing that they need to prune and they want to prune. Would it be true based on what you just shared, if they’re clear about their mission, their vision, and the key ways they want to get there, that communication should be able to leverage that to discern what they should put energy towards promoting and what they shouldn’t put energy towards promoting?
Kim: 18:50 Well it does, but even at the start of your question, Amy, you said if it’s clear that too often it’s clear to us, but once we leave our boardroom, it’s not clear to anybody else. So even clear, you need an outside, you need a few sets of eyes and that’s what this brand cue card does. It makes sure everything that you just invested in is not just clear to you, but can be clear to somebody who’s brand new.
Tony: 19:15 Kem we’ve been talking a lot about promotions and obviously as a church with a mission, a vision that we believe God’s called us to accomplish, how we encourage people to take their next steps, particularly in their own spiritual journey, we have a message that we want others to hear, but I think one of the challenges I’ve seen in churches is they’re so focused on promoting next steps that they’re not actually helping people answer the questions that they’re asking. And I’m wondering if part of what we need, how we need to be approaching communications different is thinking less about promoting something and more of actually just engaging with people – those that are already connected to the church and then those that are not even yet part of the faith and not part of our churches. And it’s really more about a content strategy that answers the questions they’re asking and less about promoting what we’re doing as a church. Do you sense the tension that I think I’m aware of more and more as we engage churches? And how do you recommend we address that?
Kem: 20:22 Tony, I don’t just sense the tension. This is the type of stuff that keeps me up at night. I mean, it really does because communications really has less to do with what we have to say and more about what we’re learning, asking, helping with. It’s removing barriers. And so yes, to what you’re saying, less about what we want people to do or what we’re trying to say and more about answering the questions they’re asking. But we’re even over-complicating the questions we say they’re asking, you know, well, they’re asking about their purpose and they’re asking about, you know, divinity and they’re, I’m like, no, they haven’t got there yet. There’s like 17 things they’re going to ask. Like, how do I just find the register button on your website? How do I get out of here in less than an hour to do my grocery shopping?
Kem: 21:12 I mean, these are, these are valid questions because people are coming in pretty darn tired and overwhelmed and being pulled in so many different directions. They don’t need another person, another institution, another organization telling them, here’s what you need to change. Here’s what you need to give. I need more from you. You need to rearrange your whole, that’s higher-level thinking stuff. They need just like some basic stress relief and the church should be providing that. So one of the first challenges I asked churches to solve in their communication, I don’t, I want you to have clarity on what you want to say, but then I want you to put that down for a minute and I want you to look at everything you’ve got and I want you to tell me, is it easy to find?, Is it easy to use? And it is easy to share? And if you can’t do that, then you don’t have effective communication.
Sean: 22:05 Well, thanks for joining us on this week’s podcast. As Tony mentioned, you can download the brand cue card in the show notes. Go to the unstuckgroup.com forward/episode103. At The Unstuck Group, we’re working every day with church leaders to help them build healthy churches by guiding them through specifically designed experiences that focus them on vision, strategy, and action. If that’s a need in your church, let’s talk. You can start a conversation by visiting us at theunstuckgroup.com. If you like what you’re hearing on the podcast, help us get the content out by subscribing, giving us a review and telling your friends. Next week we’re back with another brand new episode. Have a great week.