Written by Connie Larkman
"OMG! I LOVE this!! Thank you!"
"I don't know who dreamed up this Stillspeaking 2.0 kit but THANK YOU!! We are a tiny rural UCC congregation and we can USE this!"
Two small UCC congregations in Michigan are singing the praises of the Stillspeaking 2.0 Toolkit, released to churches last month, and have big plans for the resource created to help local churches communicate more effectively –– in the media, and in their local communities.
"I loved what I'd seen of the Stillspeaking 2.0 Toolkit in the sneak peaks that showed up on Facebook before the actual release, and shared them widely," said the Rev. Alana Kelley, serving the First Congregational United Church of Christ in St. Clair, Mich. "So when I was made aware of the entire tool kit I was delighted."
The toolkit –– which includes directions and suggestions for social media; graphics for social media, print, and other uses; help with creating or upgrading church websites and Facebook pages; updated brand guidelines; and a list of inexpensive or free ways to increase the profile of local churches in their communities –– is available for free download on UCC.org.
"The church I'm currently serving has begun talking about becoming Extravagantly Welcoming, but even in this, there seem to be people who don't quite understand that this means accepting everyone," said Kelley. "The Inclusive Church Core Team at First Congregational will begin a process of educating our own congregation about inclusivity by way of our print and email news, by way of our Sunday Power Point, and on our Facebook page. The Toolkit will be very helpful in that endeavor; but also, the Stillspeaking 2.0 Tool Kit will help us to speak in a concise way to the general population and especially those who encounter us on Facebook, Twitter and other SM platforms."
Kathy Schuen, who leads a rural church with about 50 members in Constantine, Mich., near the Indiana border, said her busy congregation –– which supports a food pantry, raises the most money of all the area churches in the annual CROP walk, partners with the other two mainlines for VBS every summer, provides holiday meals and presents to 3 area families, "by far the most 'public' church presence in our little town" –– will get a lot of mileage out of the resource.
"We find that we can accomplish much more working with the local United Methodist and ELCA Lutheran churches than any of us can by ourselves. Ecumenism is a huge part of my sense of call, said Schuen. "We plan to use the new Stillspeaking Toolkit to create T-shirts, tweak our church's Facebook page, create new signage and possibly another, smaller custom banner for our ecumenical partners (the two other pastors are jealous of our Be The Church banner). The slogans are also wonderful for our church sign (I was running out of ideas)."
The Stillspeaking 2.0 project, created by denomination's national office, would not have been possible without the assistance of seven UCC conferences, each of which agreed to help fund the initiative.
The seven conferences –– Central Atlantic, Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Pacific Northwest, and Southwest –– and their congregations were also involved in a pilot project late last year, using the first social media graphics, or postcards, created, and sharing them on social media outlets and on websites to gauge the interest in the messages, and providing important feedback on how the messages were received and shared.
The Rev. Rich Pleva, Conference Minister, United Church of Christ in Iowa said it was an idea whose time has come. "Any congregation serious about effective communication must use tools appropriate to the cultural context and audience," said Pleva. "That means there's a whole plethora of tools and vehicles that we've got to learn about and put into play. Many of us (myself included) would prefer that all communication be thoughtful and sober and precise. But people are busy and for many people it takes an arresting sound bite or meme to catch their attention. We cut off our noses to spite our faces if we disdain this functional reality. It's important that we provide resources for those willing to be pioneers in engaging 21st-century people with a UCC-type message that's couched in 21st-century idioms."
"The UCC has something very important to share and to make other people aware of," Kelley said. "We have never been that squeaky wheel church that gets all the attention, but the tool kit can help us to change that. Our churches often don't even realize all that the UCC has supported throughout our history and through resolutions passed at General Synod. We are spectacularly exceptional. The new Stillspeaking 2.0 Toolkit will help us to publicize this in a more unified and simple way."