Faith Works 2-27-11
Communicating Some Bad News
Behold, I come bearing bad news.
At least for some.
In faith community internal relations, a common subject of concern is "communications," as in "we need more communications."
Unfortunately, this is not exactly what you might call a "transparent" statement. In other words, it doesn't mean something clear and direct.
Rarely do you actually find a situation in the church or congregation where the leaders or clergy are not communicating at all. Folks will say "we need more communication," and the response will be, usually quite accurately, "but we've published articles in the newsletter, put notes in the bulletin, announced from the pulpit!"
Here's the bad news. People learn about things best in the way they expect to learn about them.
Yeah, I know. It sounds like a non sequitur. Let me try again.
People who usually learn about things from, say, a handout at a board meeting, or from their buddy in the parking lot, will sincerely and honestly not hear or see a word of what was in the newsletter or bulletin or service announcement. Likewise, someone who expects to see the entire week recapped in their bulletin won't likely know or care that you posted on the church website or at the Facebook page any new details about an upcoming event for the community.
There's a growing awareness we have that there are auditory learners, and visual learners, and it's not that the twain never meet, but they pay relatively little attention to each other. Then there's the whole question of what "visual learning" means in relation to text, to print, to . . . stuff like this column.
If you are a regular reader here, odds are you're less focused on worship service video productions to get your information, and if you prefer a live skit or digitally animated visual to drive home the reminder that the deadline for the next "Women of Faith" is coming up fast, you probably don't read long paragraphs of text unless it's to mine out of the vein a fact nugget you realized you needed (you're scanning for the price or the phone number, not "reading" the whole thing).
It's easy enough for me to insert here a rant about living in a "post-literate" culture, where people may well be able to read, but they just don't read except to extract data. I feel that frustration as a pastor and teacher often enough, but I go back before the internet and even before cable TV enough to be skeptical that this is entirely a new problem.
The UMC theologian Tex Sample was writing about this challenge for the church in the early 1980s, and today, the complication is that the profusion of tweets and status updates can fool people into thinking that reading is back in vogue.
The kind of rapid scanning and skimming that was once the province of PhD candidates with twelve books to "read" by Monday is now a broadly applied skill set known to fourth graders, and reading for impression and nuance and narrative content – oh, my. You are verging on what it means to teach Biblical Hebrew or Koine Greek to your parishoners when you're trying to promote that sort of reading experience.
But that's not the bad news I had in mind. (Whaaaaaaa? There's worse?)
The reality is that, since "people learn about things best in the way they expect to learn about them," we are now leading and ministering, lay and ordained, in a world where we have to communicate in multiple modes. That's right, more work to do the same job. Ask any of your fellow worshipers who work at a fast-food drive-up window about this.
We still need a bulletin, albeit formatted a bit differently; we still need newsletters to some degree, for certain segments of our fellowships; we'd best keep the e-mail updates and blasts, even as e-mail is becoming for today what hand-written letters became twenty years ago; and yes, even a fairly small church should have a Facebook page and Twitter feed, and you should use it.
Once upon a time, kids, there was a world, very near our own, when you just announced before the service, and posted a scrap of parchment inscribed with a goose quill on the outside porch notice board, that the box social would be on Palm Sunday between services. Then you got on your horse and went out calling on families that were usually home.
Isn't that a lovely story, once upon a time?
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; yes, he's on Facebook and all that stuff. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow Knapsack @Twitter.