Did you play the game of telephone as a kid? The first person whispers a single sentence into the next person's ear and the cycle continues until the last kid announces the sentence to the whole group. The sentence is never quite the same as it was in the beginning. The message was distorted multiple times as it went from person to person. The same thing happens to us as grownups. We're using much more sophisticated technology nowadays, but we still end up with lost messages and misunderstandings.
Let's step back for a moment to consider why we communicate in the first place:
- We want to disseminate information.
- We're interested in motivating people to make a decision or take a specific action.
- We may want to persuade others to our viewpoint.
- We're trying to serve by letting people know how we can help.
If we have great intentions and are trying to communicate clearly, why does our message get garbled as it reaches our audience? There are several possible reasons, but here are a few key issues:
- We don't really know our audience how they access information, what they're looking for, their worldview and background, etc.
- We may be considering more what we want to communicate than what our audience wants to know.
- We aren't strategic in the methods we use or in the timing of our communication.
Let's take a deeper look at these issues and how to handle each:
Communication Issue #1:We don't really know our audience.
We all interpret what someone is saying based on our own life experiences, viewpoints, and interests. You could ask five people to read the same news story and you're likely to hear five different interpretations of the root issues regarding that article. Where we're raised, our childhood experiences, education, career, and more are all significant factors that tend to filter what we read or hear.
These factors influence your audience as well. How much do you know about your congregation and community? What are the demographics? What are the predominate worldviews in your part of the country? Who are key influencers of those in your church? What books do they read? What news channels or TV shows do they watch? What's going on in your community? What social media channels do they use most? How tech-savvy are they? The more you know about your community and specifically, about the people in your church, the more you can tailor your communication style, methods, and content to reach them.
Communication Issue #2: We may be considering more what we want to communicate than what our audience wants to know.
Each ministry area within your church has announcements to make on Sunday morning, right? If you made all of those announcements from the stage, your pastor wouldn't have much time left to preach the sermon. Did Mr. and Mrs. Johnson bring their family to church to hear a string of announcements or to hear a message that will help them navigate raising their teenagers? On the other hand, if most of the attendees at your noon service are single adults, do they really need a message on marriage and family? Granted, we should tell people what they need to hear not just want they want to hear. However, we should at least take our congregation's interests into consideration as we craft a message and decide what to announce at a service.
Communication Issue #3: We aren't strategic in the methods we use or in the timing of our communication.
If you're trying to reach teens, snail mail or even email probably aren't the best tools for the job. However, if you're looking to get information out to the women in your church, Pinterest might be an excellent choice. Identify the communication channels that work best for your congregation, and then segment your communications and the methods you use based on who you're trying to reach.
Communication isn't about the flashiest video announcement (although those are cool) or even the most eloquent sermon.
That may require you to communicate in a way that's not your preferred style or by using a new tool. As ministers of the Gospel, we have a message that is too important to risk being missed. It's crucial to invest the time to understand your audience, recognize their interests, and leverage communication methods they use most.