New models of communication

Image“Life is hard and people are bombarded, used, abused and skeptical. They live day to day in a stressed-out, over-committed, overextended survival mode—whether they go to church or not. They simply don’t have the margins for more, but they are looking for answers that will make a real difference in their lives.

“The church should make it easy to find those answers.  Most of the time, unfortunately, that is not what happens.  Too often churches just add to the confusion.”

-Kem Meyer, “Less Clutter, Less Noise: Beyond Bulletins, Brochures and Bake Sales”

I found this to be an incredibly useful book.  As someone who has an advertising background, what this books shares lifts up how much things have change and how a new approach to “getting the word out” is upon us.  This is important in local churches that are restarting or revitalizing, especially as resources (time, staff) are often scarce.

What Kem talks about is something I experienced during the last five years of ministry, but couldn’t put my finger on what was going on until I read this book.  Her insight is both relevant and easy to apply.

Kem starts with the “myths of today” which include, “you are in control,” “the more choices the better,” “advertising creates interest,” “it worked before it will work again,” and “people care about what you say.” 

While I didn’t hold to all of these myths, several did resonate.  Kem does a good job in laying out the changing world and inviting a new, more appropriate response.

The rest of the book highlights best practices, two of which spoke to me in my work with the House Church Network and as interim at Redondo Beach 1st UMC.

In “Removing Barriers to Entry” Kem discusses the roadblocks, distractions that stand in the way of ministry.  She uses a photo from a restaurant in Taiwan where the plates are in the shape of toilet bowls.  Yep.  Toilet bowls.

She uses this to help us see where we have sent out confusing, contradicting, or just plan “not understandable” communications.  For example: asking a newcomer to stand in worship, using words like “commitment,” “challenge” & “step-up,” in general communication that go to both leadership & newcomers to the community, jumping in someone’s path to shake their hands (can you say personal space), and using “pictures of people holding hands in a circle with their eyes closed to promote small groups” (loved that last one especially)….

She also has a great list of “say this, not that”—

Say “connection” not “intimacy”

Say  “group” not “small group”

Say “community” not “ministry”

Say “next step” not “go deeper”

Made me think…how am I communicating?  Where do I confuse people?  I see a bit of this as I try to explain the House Church Network but I am sure I don’t see it all.  What about you?

The second concept that jumped out at me was in her “reduce the noise” chapter.  Here her illustration comes from a friend who has 3rd and 4th graders who received from school 100 pieces of paper (and in just 5 days)! The overwhelm factor is immense!!!

She then asks the question “is there any way to simplify what my audience sees to make their experience with the church easier and more rewarding.”  This invites me to think about how to discern what gets publicized and how it happens. 

This chapter has changed my approach to church communication.  I will be looking at what drives how and when we publicize things by asking what are our communication values and priorities?  Kem recommends giving heavy emphasis to what speaks to 80% of the group such as (a) what is the next step to take after the sermon (b) all-church events.  Medium and small emphasis go to the more niche events. Only 2-3 things are shared as announcements on Sunday.  Print is minimal. The website is up to date and a computer sits in the lobby so newcomers can be shown what is coming up by going to the website and highlighting events.

I have been attending The Garden Church (Long Beach) and find they follow some of this.  Most everything I need to know is great little postcards (special events, etc). No order of worship.  Use their Facebook page and website for info you need to know. But, I will say their announcements go on FOREVER….

As I look toward doing things more “low maintenance and lightweight” so I can free up time from paper and for ministry, I am interested to see what this might look like….