Less Clutter, Less Noise: 5) Myth: People Care About What You Say

I love using brevity as a tool for blogging. There is nothing more obnoxious than reading a blog post that should have ended 1000 words ago. However, there is so much that I wanted to talk about from my chapter that I wrote out nearly 1500 words of self-indulgent prose. After an hour or so of debating, my wife convinced me to cut it down. After all, I am writing on a chapter called “The Myth: People Care About What You Say”.

In my opinion the overarching theme of chapter 5 was this: You don’t know anything about the people you are trying to reach and that should bother you.

For decades we have bought into the ridiculous notion that people in our church are sitting on the edge of their seats waiting on us to deliver tiny sparks of brilliance in the form of announcements, newsletters, and bulletin inserts. We have treated our congregations like a heard of cattle that all drink from the same pool of information. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is no formula for universal communications. There is no one way to make everyone know everything that they need to know. In order for us to effectively communicate to people we must get to know them. What does this look like?

1. Fight Your Bias: We all have pre-conceived notions about things based on how we see them. We need to stop assuming that we know how people will receive our information. This is especially true when dealing with external communications to non-Christians. Example:

My city hosts a large, annual motorcycle rally. The weekend of the motorcycle rally a local church purchased a billboard across the street to put up an ad to reach out to the bikers and invite them to church. The billboard featured a photograph of a small child on a toy bicycle with the caption “We Are Biker Friendly” (in comic sans, of course).

I’m sure they were thinking to themselves “the bikers will appreciate the cute kids and the irony of the photograph and choose to come to our church”. However, this is what the billboard communicated: “The only bikers we want at our church are little kids on bicycles”.

2. Get Outside of Our Circle: The only way to combat bias is to get to know the people we are talking to. If we want our church’s billboard to communicate to bikers, we should spend time with bikers first. If you spend time with people you will learn more about them than you could have ever deduced on your own.

I really admire churches that take the extra step to gather opinions about their marketing from non-Christians. They are the people we are trying to reach, after all. Their opinions should be the most valuable to us.

3. Narrow Your Scope: We must learn to stop carelessly spouting universal messages through all channels of communications and hope that people filter out what they need to hear. If a majority of your audience doesn’t need to hear an announcement, don’t make it in that forum.

We live in a world of smart phones and 24-hour cable news. We are constantly inundated with information. If people see that you are giving them too many messages they will shut down mentally and accept nothing.

Example:

Our church’s facebook group is filled with young, stay-at-home moms. When I want to advertise an event for our children’s ministry I start there… not from the pulpit.

To communicate more effectively we must communicate less information, less often, more precisely.

So, what is the point of all of this?

When Jesus wasn’t busy healing the sick, calming the seas, and raising the dead he spent a lot of time hanging out with people. He chose his company carefully; He chose to hang out with prostitutes, swindlers, and social outcasts. You know what’s awesome about this? Prostitutes, swindlers, and social outcasts still exist. And, much like in the time of Christ, they still need to hear about the healing freedom that is found in the resurrection of Jesus.

If we are imitating the life of Christ we have a responsibility to live our lives alongside them, regardless of what other people think or say (Pharisees still exist too, you know).

You can’t reach people you don’t spend time with. For the sake of the Gospel I implore you: get to know your audience. They don’t relate to you and they don’t care what you have to say.

Discussion Questions:

1)    What can my church do to engage (and therefore understand) the culture of my community better?

2)    In what ways do I live my life that makes me un-relatable to people outside of the church.

[image by graymalkn]

4) Myth: It Worked Before so It Will Work Again <– Less Clutter, Less Noise –> 6) Know Your Audience

My name is Thomas... I write the blog Over-Communicate. I am currently the Technical Director at a large Methodist church in North Florida. My background is in broadcast news and video production. You can follow me on twitter: @overcommunicate or @thomasirby

17 Responses to “Less Clutter, Less Noise: 5) Myth: People Care About What You Say”

  1. Pre-filtering our communication sounds like a great idea. I think I'm often tempted to skip it because it takes a lot more work. :) Great post, and straight to the point.

  2. I think one big takeaway is illustrated by your Facebook example. Just as culture has gone from mass media to long tail, so should our communication strategies to reach people where they are. But part of that is being strategic and developing a clear understanding – both ways – that you are going to use certain outlets as home base for various interests and audiences.

    It is a good reminder for us to think what can we cut out that people won't miss and yet make sure it shows up in places where people are waiting for that news, update or information.

    Thanks for the post!

  3. I agree – great post. The illustrations are great. Thank you.

    Personally I spend a great deal of time with people outside the institutional church – or even Christianity as far as that goes. Getting to know people as persons not labels or part of group label has served me well in everything from homeless ministry to refugee/immigrant ministry. I'm comfortable and they respond in-kind usually. That is why I to keep encouraging people to get outside their church doors and them personal comfort zones. Watching the transformation, joy, and serious learning in the lives of those who do is, quite frankly, exhilarating.

  4. Sadly, I am much less effective at getting to know people inside the church and thus with communication with them. Not that I can't and don't, but the sets of presuppositions that go with being in a church and the extreme variety of inside (unspoken) cultures in local churches proves daunting. Many church people tell me they are more afraid to be real in the church than when they are outside. Usually they are afraid of being hurt or of being gossiped. Edgy, within their own environment, make person to person communication and relationship development more difficult for me than it is to break through to person to person communication and relationship with people who at first consider me part of the "other."

    All that to say, applying this chapter within in the church is my struggle and I find the content great on that point as well.

    • Wayne, want to let you know that your honesty is appreciated. I don't know the church community context within which you worship, but I find that people are able to start to chip away at those fascades when they become engaged in a small group or a smaller ministry as a volunteer. You are right about the preconceived notions that run amuck across the public areas of the church. But in one and one settings, it is hard to sustain those barriers for long without revealing our true selves. It is at that point where you can see yourself as a leader for culture change to embrace the vulnerability of others and risk your own. Being the champion of privacy, confidentiality, respect, and encouragement will usually bring others out to join you. The hunger to be real is there, sometimes they need a courageous peer or leader to start the process of transforming the culture.

      Hope this blog series stirs up some good ideas for how you can better engage those in your community!

      • Thanks Kenny! I have stepped out of the larger context into a 5 people to 7 people group that meets and eats together at my house. All you say is being demonstrated here. When I had the whole church pastorates many individuals did not find it comfortable in the more vulnerable group setting. Those who did had great experiences and did the most growth. Those are the positive fond memories I seldom speak about. Unfortunately in my last pastorate the elders hated participation in anything outside of Sunday AM worship. The two small groups which clicked were a dynamic group of young men 16-25 and a newly instituted praise and worship team.

        • The worship team ran aground on two issues – jealousy from the "we're the singers” family and the decision of two group members that they knew how to do it now – three praise songs, two hymns, with scripture worked in. They did not get the advance planning that occurred when the team leaders sat together in prayer and waiting on the Holy Spirit for his will for the service so they felt the service could be thrown together in 5 to 10 minutes at the beginning of practice. The young men's group was opposed by the elders because of jealousy over the life dynamics and learning occurring in these young men's lives. It became a major reason for my dismissal – older pastor/young men is inappropriate (shades of "are you getting your sexual jollies that way), the group met too late at night (8:00-9:00 start), met longer than an hour, met in a home not the church building, etc. I really must lay that old hurt aside and write from the joint joy and pain which is ministry but a more honest source of lessons. Again thanks for the encouragement.

  5. We have more work to do to reach our community. Much more work. We are not reaching the community (as we should be) within a 2 mile radius of our campus. The one positive step, is the relationship we are making with an elementary school near by. Steps are being taken to "adopt" the school and this has been slow. Please pray for our efforts.

    I struggle as a Communications Director with our message to un-churched people. What makes it relevant, why would people come to our church? Each communication piece (on all platforms) these days I wonder if people that look at it will connect, this is troublesome to me and keeps me awake at night.

    I have been on the other side most of my life (I became a Christian in Sept 2001). My conversion began with seeing the transformation of a friend's husband during a low point his life. His openness about sharing the Gospel and what the Good News did to him is what softened my heart. Relationships.

    The one thing that I am happy about is the Sunday school class that I teach is growing and we accept all types of people (and I mean all types). It has been amazing who is coming, so with this I wonder what God is telling me. I believe it is "these people need love and acceptance. Put your bias thoughts behind you."

    • PaulSteinbrueck Jan 21, 2011 at 2:27 pm

      Sarah, I think it's becoming increasingly difficult for church marketing to do more than reach people who are already Christians and either not a part of a church or dissatisfied with their church. As the title of this chapter says, people don't care what we have to say. I think before people who don't know Christ will listen, three things have to happen.

      1) Love. People don't care what you know, until they know that you care. Again it comes back to relationships. People need to either know someone personally who has demonstrated they care, or seen the church caring for people first hand.

      2) Results. People don't care what you're doing, until they see what you're doing works. Every individual and organization around a person is trying to sell them on the idea that they have solutions that can make their life better. People are skeptics. People need to see other people's lives changed before they'll consider join us.

      3) Personal solutions. Even after someone has experienced love and seen results, they still won't listen until we speak specifically to their needs. For example, a church can promote a new Sunday series about financial freedom, but it will only show up on the radar for those people who are struggling financially, and again only for those people who have experienced love from the church or the person who invites them and seen results.

      I see all 3 of these elements in your story.

      • PaulSteinbrueck Jan 21, 2011 at 2:33 pm

        I meant to also say that the reason it's so difficult for church communicators to reach the unchurched is because communicators can really only do #3. Communication can't love a person or produce results.

  6. Great post Thomas!

    And you get the quote of the day award for me:

    "[Jesus] chose to hang out with prostitutes, swindlers, and social outcasts. You know what’s awesome about this? Prostitutes, swindlers, and social outcasts still exist."

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