For the past two weeks I’ve spent a lot of time considering communications and church. You see, as a church we have typical ways of communicating: Weekly bulletin, monthly newsletter, sunday morning announcements, and let us not forget those pesky phone calls and emails from the pastor, secretary or volunteer coordinator. Now, of course we have many new ways of communicating with our congregations such as e-news emails, but if you look at the types of communication I have listed so far, I have focused on informational communication.
The newsletter or bulletin are perfect examples of informational communication. Green Bay First United Methodist Church has a beautiful example of a newsletter. I mean, the newsletter itself is perfection. It is professionally edited and printed with color and photos and graphics. Yet no matter how often it is sent out, no matter how much information is contained in it’s 12 or 16 pages, there are always people who chronically say, “Why didn’t I know about [church event of choice goes here]?” How many church communicators have had this very problem? Now before I try to diagnose this issue let me step back and say that the newsletter is very effective for those people who receive it and read through the whole thing from cover to cover. (and this is not exclusively the action of the elderly despite common misconceptions)
Well, for one thing, everyone wants to stuff a newsletter or bulletin full of their committee’s or groups news items not to mention local community announcements. Well, this isn’t a bad thing. The newsletter is meant to be a clearing house for information, like a newspaper. Yet, Newspapers are barely surviving right now. Is it perhaps time to recognize that (generally speaking) a new generation receive their news differently than the past? The problem is not how much information is in the newsletter (sometimes, it is actually an issue of prioritizing news: but this is not the subject of this blog) but simply the way in which people are now trained to receive news and information.
For me, I have iGoogle setup so that when I bring up my browser, I have my favorite calendars (my personal, school and church calendars) which show up to the left of the screen, weather in evanston, pittsfield, and st. louis to the right and top news stories in the center. As I get into blogging I’m also beginning to setup a list of favorite blogs and youtube channels. You see, I don’t have to sift through 12 pages of newsprint with information of no interest in order to find the things that are important to me. I can type words into a search engine or have dynamic content streamed right into my browser.
If the church is interested in communicating effectively we need to look carefully at how people already communicate outside of the church. How they calendar; what their texting and facebooking habits are; and how they ‘surf the web.’ What we will find is that church websites that are generally static, have proprietary calendars and are information driven are already antiquated. So what would be effective?
The most memorable and effective communication we do is face-to-face communication. Whether it is a sermon, a story or a simple greeting in the hallway we are communicating information, sure. But we are, more importantly, communicating relationally. We are sharing stories and it is not just one-way. This is what Communicating Christ, when done effectively, will look like. Our websites should have dynamic content streaming in from parishioner’s blogs and youtube channels. We would tell stories and express testimony as our primary goal on the website of the church with concise and clear information with those stories. We will utilize mainstream communication avenues to provide content so that those interested in our programs can pipe our blogs, calendars, and videos into their existing programs and websites and do away with the need for people to sift through long articles and complicated websites for the information that pertains to them.
It is time for our churches to rethink communication and not in emulation of other churches, but we must look at our own communities and ascertain how they already communicate, clarify what conversations our church community should be engaging, and find creative ways for these conversations to take place in ways and through forums which is accessible for our community.