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How Does Your Congregation Communicate?
By: Michael Euliss

Here comes the future…

First, there was the shared voice message: one to another, just talking. Then, we learned that by separating the message from the messenger — that is, writing it down — we could deliver messages to more people than just through the oral traditions. So began the print age, changing the way we communicate forever…or so we thought. Remember reminder postcards?

Now, we are in the last days of the broadcast culture. This is the age of telephone, television, multimedia experiences, Web sites, and e-mail. The print age and traditional printed communication are fast being outpaced by the digital culture.

For example, as of February 2009, the FCC is requiring all television broadcasts to be digital. Why? Among many other reasons, the switch allows the television to be more than a "sit and watch" experience — it becomes interactive. The switch allows viewers to become participants, using their remotes to do things never before possible. Seeing multiple angles in a baseball game, getting information about the program they are watching, rewinding or recording "live" television are just the beginning. I remember when I could only get two black-and-white channels and thinking my friends were advanced because they could get three in color!

How does the digital culture affect the way we communicate?

As the church, we have moved from oral traditions (talking and telling stories), through the print culture (letters and mass mailings), through the broadcast culture — and now we sit on the cusp of major technological advances.

We are experiencing a change in our telephone structure not seen since the telephone was invented. Home-only, or land-line, phones have steadily declined since 2000, bringing their numbers in use today equal to that of 1991. The land-line phone is becoming less of a utility and more discretionary as wireless phones become more popular. This is an easy choice for most people. They ask, "Do I want a phone that allows me to only make calls from home, or a device that sends e-mails/text/pictures/video, has multiple ring tones, and makes and receives calls virtually anywhere?" As you can see, that is not much of a choice.

And, what about the social networking sites? Futurist Rex Miller says it well in his book, The Millennium Matrix: "When did the unfamiliar become more common than the familiar?"

One thing is for sure—the future is coming, and there is nothing we can do to stop it. As a church, we must ask ourselves, "Are we still operating in the oral, written, or broadcast cultures, or are we embracing the digital culture?" This is a question with an answer as individual as the church itself.

Maybe a better question is, "Where should we be?" The answer is largely dependent on the makeup of the congregation and the community it serves. This is a dynamic target that the typical church has seen change many times during its existence. However, how has the church reacted? Did it remain stuck in its ways, or did it adapt to continue to engage?

Engagement. That's what all this technology is truly about. Amidst all the bells and whistles that manufacturers throw on products today, the job of the church is to discern the outcomes it seeks and create strategies to get there. Outcomes include: spiritual growth among members, inviting others to join, increases in giving as a result of spiritual commitment (not guilt), and overall satisfaction in our spiritual lives.

We as a church must understand today's communication tools, learn and use them, and then reach out and engage others. This means doing whatever is necessary to supply people with the basic needs of affection, belonging, and recognition, thus building up the body of Christ.

* Affection – Providing people a sanctuary where they know they are loved unconditionally

* Belonging – Providing people a ministry where they can use their gifts and talents, thus becoming a part of something more. This means letting them know that they're important when they're present and missed when they're not.

* Recognition – Recognizing the gifts and talents individuals bring to the table as well as letting them know how significant their contribution is to the church and God's Kingdom

So, what's really important is a clear, cohesive communication and engagement strategy that's right for your congregation.

To begin this, you must learn how your congregation communicates today. Once you know that, make your plans to communicate with them in that fashion. It may mean having messages delivered in more than one way.

One group will get a text, while the next will get an e-mail. Others will prefer a phone call, and some will like combinations. And, remember, this will change from year to year, so keep checking.

Whatever you do, meet them where they are. Engage them with a servant's heart. We have many scriptural references where Jesus took time to meet and engage others where they were. As the church, we should follow His example.

What about the outcomes? Remember, communication is part of an overall engagement strategy. True engagement produces results.

In his book, Growing an Engaged Church, Dr. Albert Winseman says that engaged members are 10 times as likely to invite someone to church, three times as likely to say that they're satisfied with their lives, are inclined to spend two or more hours per week giving time in their community in addition to what they do in church, and typically triple their giving.

Envision what engagement would look like in your congregation.

Michael Euliss is a certified congregational health specialist and recognized expert in the field of church communication. He is the president of Euliss Consulting Group, www.euliss.com.

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