I GREW UP IN the church. Literally.
With my dad being the senior pastor, and mom being the children’s director, I found myself inside the walls of the church a lot growing up. Every Sunday, you could find me causing trouble during Sunday School, which included making faces at my dad from the front pew of the church, as he was preaching.
From that first pew, I’ve seen many changes during the past 30 years at a number of different churches I have worshipped in. There’s a good chance your church, or other churches around you, look and feel very different than they did 30 years ago.
Traditions have changed. Musical styles have changed. Discipleship models have changed. Even architecture and building styles have changed.
Unfortunately, communication in the church has been an area that has been incredibly slow to change with each passing year.
The reality is, we’re currently living through the most radical shift in how our culture communicates, since the printing press changed the world in the mid-1400s.
The digital revolution we’re in, and its beginning stages, has changed everything. What was effective before, doesn’t necessarily work anymore.
Four things that are no longer true for church communication
1.PEOPLE ARE ATTENDING EACH WEEK.
I made a big assumption (and mistake) when I got started leading communications in the church. I assumed that if we communicated something during our services, that we had reached the majority of the church.
I was wrong.
In the eight-plus years I’ve served at West Ridge Church in Dallas, Georgia, we’ve been consistently tracking our attendance numbers. The number of people that call our church home today has reached an all-time high.
However, the frequency of how many times those people attend our services has changed. In 2010, the average person at West Ridge attended church every 2-3 weeks. In 2018, the average person attended church every 5-6 weeks. The new reality is that people are attending church very differently, and less frequently, compared to 30 years ago.
We can no longer base our communication strategy around anticipated, regular physical attendance at the church. With the communication shifts that have happened in our culture, we must engage people with our message when they go (attendance) and as they go (digitally).
What would need to change if you knew you had only 8-10 times a year to communicate in person with each individual in your church?
2.YOU HAVE THE ATTENTION OF YOUR AUDIENCE.
The average attention span of a goldfish? Nine seconds. The average attention span of people in 2018? Eight seconds.
Recent studies have indicated that the average consumer sees up to 10,000 branded messages every single day. That’s an insane amount of information to process! How are we responding to the massive, daily information overload that we face?
We’re fighting back. We’re tuning out.
Based on the most recent numbers, our attention span is lower than a goldfish, and we’re only giving our attention to the messages that add value to our lives and meet a need that we have.
That presents a challenge for us in the church, because everything we communicate first requires the attention of those we’re communicating to. If the people you’re communicating to have an average attention span of eight seconds, how intentional are you being with those first eight seconds of communication?
Attention can never be assumed and must always be earned. What are you doing with the messages you communicate to capture and keep the attention of your audience?
3.IF IT’S IMPORTANT TO YOU, THEN IT MUST BE IMPORTANT TO YOUR AUDIENCE.
The challenge church staff and leaders deal with is the curse of knowledge.
We can’t help but think like insiders. We’re invested in our mission and our message. Because of that, the way we communicate is too often built on the assumption that since we care about our message, so too will our audience.
As a response to the information overload we all face, we have developed a survival mechanism to filter the messages we receive. We filter messages through the question: “What’s in it for me?” That may sound harsh and selfish, but it’s the new reality for how our audience filters the more than 10,000 messages they receive each day.
My favorite author says it this way: “Doesn’t matter if you think it’s important. It matters if your audience thinks it’s important.” -Seth Godin
Do you want to capture the attention of your audience and make those first eight seconds count? Start by speaking to the felt need your audience has, and address why it’s important to them.
4.THE PRIMARY ROLE OF COMMUNICATION IS FOR PROMOTION.
The basic job of anyone working in communications in the church, has been to promote.
Promote the church. Promote events. Promote the ministries that people can engage with.
Is this wrong? Not entirely, but there’s something that has been overlooked in the process.
30 years ago, the church’s primary communication opportunities were inside the walls of the church. Today, the primary communication opportunities are outside the church. Don’t miss this. 30 years ago, the primary communication methods (in-service and print) were dependent on people attending church for you to be able to communicate to them.
Today, with methods like websites, apps, social media, email, and text, you have multiple ways to communicate with and engage people, during the 167 hours of the week, outside of the church service.
Check this out. Last year at West Ridge Church between July 2017-June 2018, we had a weekly average attendance of 4,302 people. That’s 4,302 people that we got to share our message with in-person. Through the digital communication tools that we utilize, we were able to put a megaphone on the messages we were sharing, so we could reach people who were not able to be there in person.
Each week, our volunteers and staff members used the gifts and talents they had to put a megaphone on the messages we were sharing as a church. We used digital communication tools with a ministry mindset, and were able to see this kind of impact:
- 84,889 visitors on our website (1,632 weekly average)
- 10 million impressions through our Facebook Page (192,307 weekly average)
- 991,700 video views on Facebook
- 28,140 message podcasts/videos watched online (541 weekly average)
- 13,518 sermons watched online This is uncharted waters for the church.
Never before have we had these type of communication tools in front of us, to be a megaphone to our message.
For us to take hold of the greatest opportunities we’ve ever had, it’s going to require us in the church to stop looking at the role of communications as a service department and start looking at it like a ministry.
My Challenge to You
A lot has changed in the area of communication in the church. The people we’re communicating to and the methods we’re communicating with, have changed dramatically. While our methods need to change, our message remains the same.
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus calls all of us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” God has given us new opportunities to go and proclaim that message. That may require for us in the church to step up and lead strong through change.
Change is never easy, but for what’s at stake, it’s worth it.
We’re currently living through the most radical shift in how our culture communicates, since the printing press changed the world.