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Recently, while surfing through several faith-based blog sites, I came across the lament of a denominational leader in Illinois. When it came to communication, he wrote, "I don't think people care about communicating with one another." I understand the pain. I've worked, professionally, around communication for 35 years first as a newspaper writer and then publisher, and the last 17 years in vocational ministry.
While I understand the pain expressed by my colleague, I disagree with the statement. People do care about communication. God wired us for communication at conception. That wiring was and is necessary for a relationship with Him and with others around us. And, we thrive on relationships, and all the healthy ones thrive on communication. So, deep within us, communication is crucially important. Why then does it seem so out of sync in the local church? Why does it seem so ineffective? Most of that problem rests within the church leadership and system management. We just aren't communicating with audiences the way they want to be communicated with and with messages that are simple and easy to understand.
Here are three things to consider, and for discussion within your own congregation. If you are interested in additional support, please visit my online store (www.shopsvministry.com) for a library of essays to help.
- Churches don't conduct research among the members. There are so many ways to cmmunicate with people, and most of us have a preferred method we like to use. College-aged and younger love to communicate by text. More and more adults are utilizing social media, like Facebook. Almost everyone above the poverty line and with an active lifestyle is connected somehow by e-mail. Despite all this technology, what's old is suddenly new again - some print methodology is surprisingly alive and very well. But, churches - organized almost exclusively around print methodology "back in the day" - have been unwilling to adapt (efficiently) to new forms of communication and worse have not explored the membership to understand how people really want to receive communication. Quite honestly, most of all that print can be stopped or re-engineered to be more effective. We may have to send communication personnel back to school to learn about social media, e-mail strategies, and even text-messaging services. We must ask our members - the rank-and-file - how do you want to receive information from our church? And, then make all the required changes.
- Churches don't edit the message. I am weary of the 27 word sentence, the confusing use of pronouns, and the over-attention to the religious jargon that few of us really understand. In most churches, communication managers are forced to receive promotion or editorial copy (for all uses) and use that copy just like it was written. This results in a mish-mash of messages, the publishing of poorly written copy, and copy that creates more questions than provides answers. Churches can improve readership and audience action by empowering communication managers to edit what's received. We must get to a place where the message is communicated in 200 words or less, can be understood by 12 year olds, answers questions and includes simple word, simple sentences and simple paragraphs. I should be able to read whatever is sent my way in less than 5 minutes. (expand that to 10 minutes for church newsletters)
- Churches dont' call people to measurable action. We are no longer in the who, what, when and where era of promotion and messaging. These are the days of explaining "why this is important". Our messages must communicate benefits to audiences, and then push people to respond immediately. We need to say, "Call and register" or "Sign Up" or "Click this link" or "Volunteer now". And, then measure the success of what we do by measurable response. All to often we just promote the who, what, when and where of what we are doing, and pray people slow down and show up. That's an outdated and poor approach to communication. We've got to be more intentional, thinking through how the reader will read and react to our communication, and visualizing whether they will respond or not. And, if we can't be sure they will - we need to go back to the drawing board.
Do you live in driving distance to Columbus, Ohio? AmericanChurch, Inc. is bringing Scott Vaughan to Columbus on Tuesday, September 20th for a morning workshop "Church Forward: Relevant Communication". To register or learn more, click here.