Communications Corner: Rethink Communications

(wearing my hat as the co-convener for the Troy Annual Conference Communications Team)

IMG_8104I like to talk back to my books.

Anyone who has borrowed a non-fiction book from me after I’ve read it can attest to the fact that I underline, asterisk, and write comments in the margins of nearly every page of text I read. The more I agree—or disagree—with a passage, the more likely I am to cover that passage with notes. You should see my Bibles.

I just don’t like the authors to be having a one-sided conversation with me. Maybe it’s my extroversion, or perhaps it’s a generational thing, or maybe I’m all alone in this. But I think that communication, even in written form, is meant to be more than one way. I believe that what is written is, or should be, an invitation to respond.

The United Methodist Church’s current advertising campaign invites us to “Rethink Church,” and I suggest that we also need to rethink communication. Like all aspects of our life together, communications are not one-way affairs; what we communicate should always invite and allow for response.

Back in the day, way, way, back when we communicated by telling stories around fire circles, we knew that one story’s end was an invitation to comment, rebut, or begin a new story. As we learned to write, our communication became a little more static, but still letters and scrolls flew around like ancient-day emails, in conversation with one another. I blame the printing press, and then the radio, and then the television, for stripping communication of its conversation, for making it possible for one person to share his or her ideas to a broad audience without allowing that audience a chance to respond. To me, that’s no longer communication. It’s distribution of information or opinion. It’s broadcast.

Thank goodness for the Internet. The first wave of Internet technology was another form of broadcast media: static information, put up as a webpage by one person, accessible to many. But now that static information has given way to what is called Web 2.0: information and opinion posted for all to see, with invitation and room for comments, rebuttals, and telling our own stories. Blogs and social network pages allow users to respond to one another’s thoughts and to share their own ideas.  Multi-user sites like the public encyclopedia Wikipedia allow everyday average users to write, edit, and share the content of the webpage itself. For many, this is an empowering thing, entrusting the end user to be responsible for her or his own thoughts. It is also a collaborative thing, building relationships, however entry-level, between the people who dialog and work together generating content and sharing their own ideas.

I believe churches should be well versed in this open-source communication. We should, in fact, understand it very well. We are accustomed to speaking in the language of invitation, of proclamation and response.  People who plan worship know that a great proclamation of the word (be it a sermon, a skit, a song…) invites and elicits a response, and that this is a miniature reflection of the divine Word that calls us all to respond with our very lives.

And so, I invite you to rethink the way your church communicates: in newsletters, in advertisements, in bulletins and worship services and websites and facebook pages and tweets. How can you invite and encourage people to respond to what you have communicated? How can you help them feel engaged in the conversation, connected to what is going on, and perhaps ready to explore relationships as they engage in conversation? Where in your worship service is the response to the Word? Where in your newsletter is the place for people to tell their stories? Where on your website is the forum for conversation? Which questions on your facebook discussion thread generate the most response? Where might you offer greater space for people to write in the margins of what you communicate?

Do you have thoughts about how to make our church communications (at the local, Conference, and denominational levels) more response-able? I’d love to hear from you below, or on Troy Conference’s Facebook page under the discussion thread.

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