Flocknote Founder Offers Communication Tips for Reaching the Faithful
Matthew Warner’s new book, ‘Why They Follow,’ offers timely advice on Church communication and why not only messaging but trust is key.
Matthew Warner has written Why They Follow: Lessons in Church Communication From That One Lost Sheep, a new book published by Word on Fire that is “a practical guide to leading [a Church leader’s] flock somewhere truly meaningful — no matter their church role!” Warner believes that a failure in communication is at the heart of the decline in attendance that the Catholic Church has experienced in recent decades; his new book explores such topics as common mistakes Church leaders make and why Church websites and apps don’t work, and offers tips on such topics as how to get people to be open to and respond to messages and how to ask for money.
Warner is founder of Flocknote, “an innovative communication and all-in-one software solution helping over ten thousand churches and dioceses better connect with their flocks.” He lives in Montgomery, Texas, and is married, with six children. He has been active in ministry for 20 years and blogs at BacktotheHome.com. He is also a former Register blogger.
Tell me more about your background and how you founded Flocknote.
I grew up in an observant Catholic home in Texas. My father was a civil and mechanical engineer, and I had one sister. I became a computer engineer, and I was employed by Lockheed Martin in their Missiles and Fire Control division. I loved the work and its challenges, but I didn’t like the bureaucracy. I gravitated toward smaller business.
It was also at this time I experienced a renewed vigor for my faith when it was challenged in different ways. As I studied, I got excited about what I learned and became more passionate about my faith. I wanted to live it out.
I became active in my parish and discovered that those in Church leadership often struggled to communicate the faith, to get the message out, to evangelize. It was a problem I wanted to help solve. I developed a desire to start my own business helping parishes and dioceses better communicate and evangelize. It blends well with my interest in new media, technology and software.
I created Flocknote in 2009 to help parishes and dioceses improve communication, offering them a smarter way to manage email and text messaging. It grew to include processing payments, managing parishioner databases, getting people signed up for events and plugging people into ministries. We now serve over 10,000 churches and more than 50 dioceses.
What are some common problems with communication you observe with those in leadership roles in the Church?
First off, we must recognize that our communication and leadership skills are not just important, but pivotal to our success. Some parishes function well, and others struggle. One typical mistake I see is not recognizing that communication itself is limited by the capacity of a person to receive the message. If a person trusts you, you’ll be more successful in communicating your message.
Also, often what is most important in communication is not the words coming out of our mouths, but the example our lives offer and the things listeners see we are sacrificing for. And churches must lead their people with a clear vision and purpose. If we do not communicate a direction, mission and purpose, people will not respond.
Do you believe these problems with communication are resulting in a decline in Church membership?
Absolutely. That is the premise of my book. There has been a dramatic shift in participation in the life of the Church, and we can’t just continue doing business as usual.
Before 1970, nearly everyone in the U.S. described themselves as Christian. By 2000, that number had declined to 80%. In 2020, that number had further declined to 65%, and things are continuing in that direction. Fifty years ago, only 3% said they had no religion. Today, 26% have no religion, and 40% of those under age 30 say they have no religion.
We no longer live in Christendom in the West, as we did in centuries past. We’ve gone through the Enlightenment and a cultural revolution, and today find ourselves in an apostolic age. So we must change the way we educate people, how we structure family and work and how we evangelize. We’re in a different world now, and if we don’t take that into account, our message will fall on deaf ears.
Touch on a few tips in your book to help those in church leadership to improve their communication styles.
Be intentional. When selecting your communication tool, consider what you are trying to do and who you want to reach. Seek feedback, so you know if your communication is working or if you need to make adjustments. Make your communication more personal to a smaller group, and start small and build intensity.
What benefits and challenges has the internet brought to Church communication?
It is an opportunity for the Church. If something is worth sharing, word spreads quickly and cheaply. On the downside, we must not treat it like a louder megaphone. Everyone on the internet does that. You want to be able to whisper something valuable and have it spread.
What are some tips you share about effective fundraising for parish needs?
Before you ask for money, you must get people enrolled in your effort. Get people excited about what you want to do and let them know what is at stake if you don’t raise the money. Be clear, and raising money will be easier.
Why is a healthy spirituality an important component of Church leadership?
It is fundamental. It keeps you rooted in a meaningful purpose. Without it, nothing else matters.
How can leaders learn from how Christ himself communicated?
The message that Jesus most profoundly and fully communicates comes through — not just his words, but — two questions: How much is he willing to sacrifice? And what does his entire life revolve around? It is the same for us, whether we intend it or not. What are we willing to sacrifice the most for, and what does our entire life revolve around? That is what people will hear most clearly and convincingly from us.
Any other thoughts?
Why They Follow has been written for anyone who leads at any level of the Church. It has questions at the end of the chapter that readers can discuss so they can develop a clearer plan for their parishes. The first part of the book offers guiding principles, and then I transition into practical lessons. I think anyone involved in ministry in the Church will find it a valuable tool in their work.