Communication – better when it works!

CommunicationCommunication

Today my internet access has been slow and intermittent.  I see that Chorus are putting cables in the ground for ultra-fast broadband five streets away from me.  My street is scheduled for the update in 2019.  What do these three things have to do with church and mission?

They are all about communication which is one of the most frequently raised concerns in congregations.  Sometimes this lack is perceived rather than actual, but attention to the ways we communicate internally is beneficial to all congregations. The principles I mention here are just as relevant to external communication – i.e. how your congregation communicates its part in God’s Good News Mission – as they are to the mundane matters of filling the rosters.

Let me first say that the most effective communication is face to face between two people.  However, most church communications are from one person (e.g. the Minister), or a group of people (e.g. Parish Council) to another group (e.g. the congregation).  There will be multiple recipients, all who have other things on their mind, when a message is received.  To use a Biblical allusion, the message broadcast is not necessarily going into fertile soil!

Despite the fact that 90% of our homes have internet access and 35% of us use smartphones to access it, the primary medium we use in church communication is still paper-based or oral.  Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not going to suggest we abandon live services for podcasts! But we do need to think about the way we communicate with people – those who are in church and those who are not.

Communication is more than the content of our message.  We put a notice calling for volunteers for the working bee in the newsletter, someone reads it out in the service; two people turn up.  Another example is when we develop a carefully crafted Mission Statement, we print it at the top of our newsletters, we put it in the annual report, on our website, we even preach a series on it.  And then you receive feedback that people don’t know what your vision is.

Communication is not a one-way process.  It starts with the idea in one person’s head, which they turn into words and send via some medium to another person.  That person receives the message and interprets it.  If the feedback loop is completed the recipient will check his/her understanding with the sender.  We seldom consider the importance of the feedback loop.  We think people will have the same image in their mind as we sent to them, but the reality is, just like my choked-up internet, they don’t always get the same picture.

Sometimes the problem is the way the message is sent.  If your potential volunteers weren’t in the service when the notice was handed out, they’ll never know you need help.  We need to use as many media as possible to communicate our messages.  Use the parish website, or Facebook, but also email everyone and send text messages.  Make it easy to respond so you will know who has received the message, understood it and is going to act on it.  (e.g. “Remember working bee tomorrow 8am at church. Text Y to this number if you are going to be there. That way we’ll have enough scones for morning tea!”) Like the ultra-fast broadband being installed – some people respond best to immediacy. These are simple things that will go a long way to improving internal communication.

The final point is that while you do the above, there is still a need for the other traditional means of communication to continue.  Maybe I can paraphrase Paul in 1 Corinthians 9:22 and suggest we use all possible means to communicate with people so that some may understand!

PressGo aims to help churches succeed in mission and one of the ways we can do this is to build the congregation’s capacity to respond to missional opportunities. If you would like to discuss a potential initiative or the ways PressGo might assist please call me on 027 4455 723 or email lisaw@presbyterian.org.nz.

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