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Is your church sinking in a communication storm?

Ah, the days of typewriters, carbon copies, handwritten notes and little stress about whether everyone knew when the church picnic would be. Life for the church secretary wasn’t very complicated in the 1970s, I suspect, and neither was church communication.

At some point in the ’80s, someone thought technology was cheap enough that the church should invest in a new computer — maybe an IBM PC 5150. While the secretary likely didn’t have a computer at home, the adjustment from the word processor wasn’t terribly difficult. It required little extra training and used almost identical standards that were taught in secretary’s school.

A few years later, a hand-me-down printer was provided. Eventually a salesman entered the door with a great offer on leasing a copy machine. The church decided it should start printing out its own newsletter in-house, and modern church communication was born. Only, the rest of the world has since moved on, and “modern” church communication is no longer working.

It’s likely that the average traditional church hasn’t given much thought to how drastically communication has changed in the past 40 years. Sure, the delivery system products look quite different: from steno pad, to typewriter, to word processor, to computer with a printer and a copy machine. But at the time, the purpose, strategy (if there was any) and execution were all about the same. Additionally, the secretary was not asked, expected or even encouraged to be in control of the product. Instead, she (and it was almost always “she”) was told what to create, what to type and what to share, and the amount of time, space and money weighed most heavily on the end result.

Contrast this system with the Internet and online communication. Unfortunately, most consider it to just be another delivery system, and treat it as such. However, digital communication is now about process, conversation, relationships, insight, user-focused products, feedback and creativity, with an underlining foundation of over-communicating, multiple platforms, mixed media and a lot of noise.

Please hear me loud and clear: it is not enough for you to show your secretary how to type in the text box of your new flashy website in order to be up-to-date with how communication has changed.

Communication is now about a strategy, and I truly believe it is key to the success of your congregation. Take a moment to look at the newest big-box megachurch nearest you (no doubt, there is one within 50 miles or less of your church steps). Visit their website, sign up for their e-newsletter, like their Facebook page, get on their mailing list, watch their YouTube videos. They aren’t shouting about events; they are conveying a purpose. They aren’t advertising services; they are connecting relationships. They aren’t confusing people with insider language; they are assuming everyone is new and needs help. They reason to reach out is not about attendance in the latest program; they want you to be, or at least feel, known.

I heartily agree that we’re not all striving to become megachurches. However, they’ve figured out communication in 2014, and we’d do well to ask why and how.

The world hasn’t upgraded to the newest computer processing system; it’s reinvented how to communicate while riding the storm of technology changes. The traditional church had better listen and learn quickly before it sinks.

This article originally appeared in Herald, the Baptist News Global bi-monthly magazine. Learn more about the magazine.

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