By Eddie Pipkin
October 27, 2017
Do you ever feel like God is doing amazing things in your local ministry, but you just can’t seem to get anybody to pay attention? Sure, the few people directly involved are seeing God at work in inspiring ways, but the folks in your expanded faith community seem oblivious. My nephews were in town (as I mentioned a couple of blogs ago), and they wanted to go to the Magic Kingdom, so we did, but another perk of living in Central Florida that I did not want them to miss was seeing a rocket launch from the cape. I have the SpaceX app on my phone, so I knew a launch was imminent. It was late afternoon, we had just stepped off Dumbo, and as we were standing in a crowd of thousands of people, watching the countdown on my phone, I directed them to look to the east, between the train station and Space Mountain, and there in the sky was a beautiful ascending flame and the kind of multi-colored contrail that happens if you catch a launch just before sunset. It was spectacular. But not a single person in the vast crowd around us had any idea it was happening. They pushed their strollers, consulted their park maps, munched their popcorn, and totally missed it. I actually tried to tell a family passing beside me, “Hey, you’re missing a rocket launch!” Maybe they thought I was just trying to steal their Fastpass, but they looked at me like I was nuts, and pushed along, the free show in the sky fading away.
I have worked with many of you long enough to know how passionate you are about what you are doing. In any given week you bear witness to exciting stories. You know first-hand how lives are changed by the work you are privileged to do (and that people who choose to partner with you in this work have their lives changed as well). Yet, it often seems like nobody is paying attention. It’s like you’re a one-man band, but everybody has on their headphones, listening to their own set of tunes.
I feel your pain. But I would suggest that we can do a much better job of connecting people with our passion and our stories.
We have plenty of time-honored communications channels available to us which we often use poorly. The first step in connecting people with our ministry passions and the ways they can be a part of the great work that God is doing is through utilizing those existing communications channels more effectively. We all have printed newsletters, email newsletters, web sites, and live worship announcements. Some of us are using those platforms well. Many of us aren’t.
Let’s start with live announcements during worship time. This is a valuable platform, face-to-face time with people who are there expressly because they are interested in our ministry. But we very often reduce this precious allotment of direct interaction to a boring checklist of “here’s what’s happening and how you can sign up” moments. Watch a thoughtful video from Dan Wunderlich and Defining Grace Ministries exploring this topic. [Side note: This video is about eight minutes long, a good length for playing at a staff or leadership session to provoke some useful discussion in conjunction with this blog.]
If you’d rather review the Defining Grace thoughts on announcements in print form, click HERE. If you’d like a slightly different take from church communications expert Steve Fogg, click HERE. If you’d like to be reminded of some of the ways that announcements can inadvertently cause problems, click HERE. If you’re in a bigger hurry than that, let me summarize some of the thinking on more effective announcements:
- Less is more. Some churches are getting out of the announcements business altogether (letting other forms of communication pick up the slack). But there is clear evidence that, if we are going to make announcements, fewer focused announcements are better than a long list when we want people to remember and respond. This is particularly true if all we are doing is reading straight from the printed material we handed people as we came through the door.
- Tell stories. Narratives are memorable, particularly when they speak to the heart. Keep them brief in a designated announcements time, but don’t miss an opportunity to work a powerful story into another part of the service, especially the sermon. This is, of course, one of the reasons that intentional, thoughtful planning matters. It is a home run if you can contextualize an opportunity to serve as a response to a scripture/sermon.
- Be creative. Use all the tools at hand: pictures, video, clever visual props, and even skits. You are in no way limited to a static presentation of the spoken word. Use people who are effective, energetic presenters. Have a script that has been thoughtfully reviewed. Create interactive moments.
- Give clear, concise, follow-up options. Don’t bombard people with too much information and too many options. Give them a clear message about how they can respond to your message and give them clear and easy-to-use tools to make that response. And for goodness’ sake, please make sure the person who is speaking is intimately familiar with these points, not floundering around to look it up in the newsletter or calling out to someone in the crowd to fill in the gaps.
- Spend more time on WHY as opposed to WHAT/WHEN. Rather than just giving details about an event, talk more about why it is important. How does it fit into the vision of the ministry? What is its purpose? “We believe in community connections and building relationships, so we’re hosting Halloween carnival.” Help people understand how their efforts and their donations are going to directly empower your mission and vision.
- Celebrate people and impact. Take this opportunity to introduce ministry leaders and to recognize those who have been serving and making ministry happen. Pray for teams. Have folks stand and be recognized. Announce the results of events and initiatives, rather than just advertising future endeavors. Reinforce why what you are doing matters.
All of these ideas about announcements, of course, carry over effectively into the other channels of available communication, including printed and online newsletters, as well as social media, particularly with the dazzling array of options for creativity made possible by technology. It is heartbreaking to see websites, e-newsletters, and social media posts that basically replicate the bulletin boards of 50 years ago (what, when, where, and here’s how you can sign up or write a check.)
Having an actual plan and training ministry leaders to implement it is a big part of bringing change to this area. I might have personally been far more successful in giving people the gift of rocket launch memories, if I had just had the three of us point in unison to the sky and proclaimed in my best stage voice, “Look, everyone! A rocket launch!” Instead, I reacted feebly, without forethought, and flubbed the opportunity. How would our ministry narratives be changed if we trained all leaders, and even participants, to be part of the reportorial process (taking pictures, making videos, posting to their own social media accounts, gathering content for the more formal communications channels, and sharing their own stories). What if we went into every ministry event with the understanding that reporting about it was part of our faithful response to the work to which we are called? Imagine Christianity today if the gospel had not been faithfully recorded and shared. We might not be sharing this blog moment together.
How does your ministry handle announcements? How do you share stories about how God is working? If you could change one thing about how you communicate events and initiatives to folks what would it be? Share your ideas, questions, and comments in this space.