Something is broken in the way that the Church communicates. There is a serious disconnect between how the culture communicates and how the Church does. This is in stark contrast to the church of a hundred and fifty years ago which was the catalyst of cutting edge communication technology and strategies. Starting with the Hebrew culture of story telling and the passing down of scriptures, history, genealogy and arts through simple spoken word.
Eventually this lead to tablets and writing on papyrus. Dedicated guilds of highly skilled scribes would meticulously transcribe documents. The next evolution came some time later in the form of the printing press.
Up until now, this was the most violent shift in communication technology and strategy for the Church. Soon the Bible was potentially available to every Christian family and community…in their language. This distribution is still an important work today as organizations work to transcribe the Bible into every written language on Earth and in some cases creating a written language to compliment a spoken language that lacks it.
This was a huge shift for the Roman Catholic Church which held very tight control over content distribution. In a way was a step back to the early church or content was expected to be distributed in shared by all Christians. The centralized church eventually became the only source for content for believers. This is far from a healthy thing and it’s taken us hundreds of years to get where we are now which is beginning to look a lot more like the early church in terms of content consumption and distribution.
And we’re only talking about the Bible here, not to mention the arts, mass communication through public oration and other contextualized mediums specific to various cultures and time periods.
I’m not an expert in Christian history by any means, but I can see the big picture of this evolution of technology. In that light I can say with confidence that the next, and in my opinion, most violent change in technology is clearly the internet. I’m guessing you already knew that. As we explore that, you will see how the internet is informing how we communicate in all other mediums also.
The Internet will not cause the next revolution in the church but it will make it possible as the ability and the responsibility of content distribution goes back into the hands of all Christians.
Before we move into that thought, we should start at the beginning; or at least my beginning.
I was a church planter and as church planters often do, I had a side job to support my family as my fledgling church wasn’t in a place where it could pay me much. My education is that of a pastor and my work experience was that of a pastor so I didn’t have much in the way of real world job skills but I did know a little about building web sites. All be it a very rudimentary knowledge of it.
I developed an interest in the web as an intern in a church while in college; I was tasked with figuring out how to launch a web site for the middle school ministry. In college I was studying the Bible and I didn’t even own a computer and I didn’t even have an email address. I knew a little about what was happening on the internet and I was excited about the possibilities for communication on the web. So I spent an afternoon with a couple people from the IT department and picked up enough information to be dangerous and I was on my way. It fit well with my model for getting things done; I start by getting in over my head and then hustle and grit my teeth to get through it.
I took to it like a fish to water and quickly I was the proud parent of a brand new baby website! Every time I was near a computer with an internet connection I was showing people my creation and telling them how it all works as we watched the images slowly come into focus on each page. Most people didn’t seem to care much but they smiled and said stuff like; ‘that’s neat’. Later on I created my own website on Geocities (RIP) which, we didn’t know at the time, was a precursor to social media as we know it today.
So here I was; a guy who barely knew enough about websites to be dangerous and I was working in a web development company as a project manager while trying to start a church. The experience took what I instinctively new about the web and put some teeth on it. I learned about analytics and how to figure out trends online and this was the part that peaked my interest, all the technical stuff was cool and everything, but I was really excited about the human element of what we were doing. I wanted to know what the people who were visiting these sites were doing. Where they were clicking. Where they came from. Where they went when they left.
I learned what web site users habits and tendencies were. I learned how to craft a ‘journey’ and tell a story using a web site. The sites I was working on were all business sites and one of the most important elements on these sites I learned, was the call to action.
The whole point of each web site was to get the user to act as a result of consuming the content that was presented. We would tell a story using text, graphics and video and potential customers would then act by purchasing a product, calling a phone number or filling out a form.
Sometimes they would act by leaving the site.
I would spend hours pouring over analytic data to get a picture of what people were doing on our sites and making tiny tweaks to the journey to see what change that would effect. I was amazed that the smallest change could impact the actions taken in such big ways. I would have a designer change the color of a small button on one page and we might see sales go up twenty percent on that page. We might capitalize just the right word and see drastic improvement.
On the flip side, sometimes a tiny change would negatively effect the actions taken by users and we would quickly revert back.
We never stopped tweaking the web sites. We told clients all the time; ‘a web site is never finished’.
Sound like a familiar scenario?
You probably do a similar thing every Sunday. You use spoken word, music, video, art and architecture to tell a story.
Not just any story. The greatest story every told. The story of God and his relationship to the world and the human race.
As important as it is for a business to tell a story through advertisements, web sites, billboards and various interruptions in our lives; the acquisition of money pales in importance to the acquisition of the knowledge of Jesus Christ.
On Monday morning you get together with your team (maybe just your wife) and you analyze what happened so that you can make adjustments the next week.
The big difference in the Church space is that the data is much more subjective and less absolute. Our data is attendance, salvations, baptisms, contributions and people signed up for serving roles and small groups.
For me, business models don’t tend to get me excited nor does making more money. I’m sure this is true for most church leaders and communicators. What gets me excited is hearing the stories of changed lives and of lives in process.
Donald Miller in his book, ‘A Million Miles in a Thousand Years’, outlines the elements of a story. He does so in a way that makes the concept of story applicable to just about any person or group of people that seeks to accomplish something.
In the book Miller points out that the goal you are trying to achieve is represented in a story by the [Final Climactic Scene]. The end of the movie where all the pieces come together.
The guy gets the girl. The hero destroys the villain. The village is saved.
This final climactic scene is what your vision, purpose and values all point to. The story that your church is telling should be leading people down the path toward the final climactic scene. You may have a final climactic scene for your entire church and maybe different versions of it for different departments, events and groups. This is what your call to action leads to…the final scene. At least for this week or for this movement.
Just like church leaders, business leaders have a final climactic scene in mind and cast vision for their organizations. As a church, our calls to action very a lot more than the average business who’s goal is clear; make more money.
We are calling people to act on calls to salvation, service, leadership, contribution and various other things depending on your church’s vision and leadership.
Notice; I didn’t list attending as an action yet it’s our favorite one to measure.
Everything we do as an organization communicates to people who are on a journey toward some kind of action even if that action is to say no.
Hopefully in this book you will see that you and your church are communicating in so many more ways than you realize and a lot of that communication is not helping people on their journey to action; it is actually hurting your story and slowing down, if not stopping people in their tracks.
I think we can fix this by starting with a fresh look at how the Church communicates. As near as a few hundred years ago churches were the closest thing to a mass media (excuse the pun). The Church had the resources and the attention above and beyond any other entity. This has changed dramatically with each new development in mass communications and it is all coming to a head right before our eyes on the internet.