Published in April 2005

Communicating with Church Leaders
By David Lee Jr.

A refresher course in business and communication ethics.

    This year, Sound & Communications presented the 8th Annual Worship Center Survey [see March issue]. Over the past several years, these surveys have indicated that there is a growing number of churches investing in new or upgraded multimedia systems. The “good news” for contractors, consultants and integrators is that many religious leaders have “seen the light” and are eager to use new communication technologies in their local churches. After meeting face-to-face with more than 200 church leaders in the past few months, I found that the motivating factor for these upgrades is simple: They are beginning to understand that the 21st century churchgoer values a high-tech and often high-priced multimedia experience. Unfortunately, the not-so-good news is that many of these church leaders stated that the media contractors they have met with presented their wares much like a car salesman and left them with the sense that they only cared about making a sale.
    While working to salvage the reputation of my colleagues, I have shared with many church leaders that the majority of contractors in our industry understand the need to do a credible job for their clients. Regardless, the candid comments of these church leaders suggest that there is a perception problem that has created a divide between the church leader and the media contractor. The task then is to build a bridge across this divide. My experience suggests that at least three essential tools are needed:
• Significant knowledge of the industry.
• Credible business ethics.
• The ability to listen, develop and cultivate genuine relationships with church leaders.
    Before I go on, let me explain how I can make these claims. I am a licensed minister, an academic and have worked as a systems integrator for 25 years. I have designed and installed small to extremely large, complex systems on five continents. During this time, I have observed both the good and the bad on both sides of the divide.
    On the industry’s side, we all know some who deserve the car salesman caricature. On the other side, we all have met with church leaders who fall short of living the model the church espouses. It’s quite a view from the bridge between these two vastly separate worlds. But, we certainly need each other to address the multimedia needs currently emerging in the local church.
    Looking at the opportunity of reaching church clients, I think many of us can benefit from a quick refresher course that profiles this unique sector of the market and how we can bridge this virtual gap. First of all, most church leaders have studied the Bible and are trained to communicate the teachings of God. Thus, they are not necessarily coming to the table ready for money-minded banter. In spite of this, they face countless big business decisions in the midst of a major building program. From my experience, the grueling schedule of meetings fraught with unfamiliar jargon nearly overwhelms many of them, causing them to question their trust of almost everyone involved in the process.
    For example, most of you know that church leaders in building programs must encounter the numerous government agencies that demand money for countless reasons, some of them silly enough to seem newsworthy (I’d love to tell you about the $50,000 a church had to spend to relocate a family of frogs). Then there are the demands of building contractors who need bigger budgets, the congregants wanting faster results and somewhere in line there we are, the media integrators needing whatever it is we need, now! The best thing we can do for them in the midst of this chaos is to become a credible, sincere source that is interested in listening. And if possible, just maybe be their friend—not only across the bridge, but across the negotiating table.
    This simple recipe has kept me busy for many years, and I am blessed with contracts for many years to come. I add here that many of you have far more technical knowledge than I have; you are brilliant. I know this because I am in contact with many church leaders who tell me about the consultations they have received from some of you.
    On the other hand, I often get paid to interpret designs and equipment lists that you have submitted to them because you didn’t. Nor did you spend much time getting to know them as people. Because of this, and with all things being relatively equal, I was awarded some of these projects on the merits that I took extra time to cultivate a credible relationship that garnered their trust. I hope you will receive this as simply a return to the basics and not deconstructive criticism.
    Thus, recognizing that the local church needs your help, I offer here a simple list for you to consider as you plan your next meeting with the leaders of a church:
• Anonymously attend at least one of their church services and develop a sense of their needs in their current or new facility. At your “covert op,” try to get a sense of the pastor’s personality and identify other important staff leaders. (Hint: Read their literature.)
• Check the mirror: Your company representative should be patient, confident, well-spoken, and neatly dressed and groomed. The odor of cigarettes or being seen smoking on church property likely will lead to non-consideration of your company (the “no-go” list also includes alcohol and even bad breath).
• Creatively share past accomplishments, but also work hard to assure them you are there to listen to them and help them accomplish their goals.
• Explain in simple terms the technologies you recommend based on the skill level of their operators, while offering room for growth.
• Avoid fine print. Explain in clear terms any agreements that may be reached. And don’t make any promises you cannot keep.
• If you provide training, make sure the trainer “checks the mirror” (see bullet item #2). It is in your interest to adequately teach the client to use the technology.
• Finally, make follow up contact within 24 hours of your meeting, with a letter and a phone call to the pastor or leader. Let him know you are available almost any time to address questions and concerns. And, respond to any inquiries the same day you receive them.
    This is an obvious communication and business ethics “101” list that could apply to nearly any sector of the market. However, it clearly addresses the needs of the growing church market. Drawn from my experience, I say again that church leaders can be a difficult group. I can also say they can be a loyal group. If you win their trust, they are likely to seek your help to resolve not only their immediate needs, but also their long-term goals.



David Lee, PhD, is CEO of Lee Communication Inc. and travels extensively around the world consulting with churches, organizations and governments. Send any comments to him at david@leecomm.tv.

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