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September 2, 2020
The challenge that we have in the church is to communicate the message that we want everybody to know about. I've grown up in the church. I've watched my dad preach the message of the gospel from the front pew since my earliest days.
The playbook that I saw him use 30 years ago was built around two things—in-person preaching and a personal invitation to become a part of the church.
Fast-forward 30 years and the playbook has completely changed. The way that people attend and engage has changed because their attention spans have been reconditioned. We can no longer use the same playbook that we used before. We can't merely communicate when people come to the doors because we're missing so many opportunities that we have in the church to communicate the gospel.
When we think about attendance, 30 years ago, most people showed up to church every week. If they were engaging with your church, they would come every week. That was their priority on Sundays. They would come every Sunday and you knew when they came. You could communicate with them on the condition that they would attend church.
The new reality for us now is that people aren't coming once every week, or even every couple of weeks. Sometimes they're coming from what we found as a church in Northwest Atlanta—they might be coming every four to six weeks. For us, as church leaders, what we have to rethink is how we would communicate to somebody that may only be coming 8 to 10 times a year. If we don't rethink how we communicate to them, we're going to miss out so many opportunities to engage with them. Attendance looks completely different.
Engagement looks way different than 30 years ago. Before, we would only be able to interact with people when they walked inside the walls of our church. Now, the expectation is that we need to be able to engage with them through all the different channels of communication through social media, through email, through text, through video and YouTube. Again, that playbook from before no longer works. When you think about engaging people where they are, we have to rethink our approach, knowing that the greatest opportunities we had to communicate the message of Jesus used to be inside the walls of the church. Now, it's outside the walls of our church. We have an opportunity to leverage that message to more people than ever before. But doing it well takes us rethinking communication. It takes us being more proactive about how we're using all these different channels of communication to get our message across.
Think about attention. You used to be able to assume if you are talking with people that you would actually have their attention. I know that when I fly on an airplane, just because somebody is giving the announcements at the front of the plane on how to put your seatbelt on, that doesn't mean I'm actually paying attention. The same applies for our church. Just because we say something from stage, that doesn't mean people heard it, understood it, or applied it. Just because we think it's important to us, that doesn't necessarily mean it's important to them. We have to be rethinking these things based on the new reality of the people we get to reach.
All that being said, we don't have a message problem. We have the greatest message ever. We have a message delivery problem, so to rethink that it's going to take us actually leveraging some of the greatest opportunities we've ever had in communicating the gospel, and it means being proactive and really looking at all these different communication options as a way to engage people and to get our message across to deliver that message in new and fresh ways, because I believe the greatest opportunities we've ever had are right here in front of us, we just need to leverage it and take hold of it and lead through it.
I believe if we care about our message, we have to care about how we deliver that message. Our church reaches 4,000 to 5,000 people every single week for people that walk inside the walls of our church. Our 21-year-old social media manager is preaching to about 200,000 people every week on social media. He’s only 21-years-old, and he’s taking a megaphone to the message that we're sharing and reaching more people than ever before.
Does that limit the impact of the message that we're preaching? No. It just means we don't want to limit the impact of that message by failing to leverage all of these other opportunities. It's really a failure of stewardship to say: "God's given us all these opportunities that we have to say, ‘Hey, this is too hard’ or ‘It's too new’ or ‘Change is hard and I'm not ready for that.’” This is simply negligent. I believe that these tools that we have—social media, YouTube, and the rest—they're not a surprise to God. They're actually a blessing and an opportunity that we have to reach more people than ever before at just a click of a button.
Excellence in church communications matters because the message that God gave us matters. That's why we need to leverage these tools. The felt need that most churches have when they're communicating their messages is that they want more ways to advertise, they want more people to get to their events for people to come to the church. The challenge is we're missing so many opportunities when we look at all of these communication channels as just a way to advertise and to market. The reality is these are actually the tools that we have to engage people better than ever before.
When you think about social media, text messaging, email, and other similar church communication tools, these are two-way tools that we have to actually to communicate and to engage back. They're conversation tools. When we use them as a church merely to blitz people with announcements, we're limiting the impact and reach that we can really have.
For us as a church, we have to reshape our thinking of these as the digital mission field, not just the digital promotion field. It's not an extension of your bulletin, it's an opportunity for you to be and be joining the mission field that we have on all these channels to engage more people than ever before.
Watch the full video of this episode here: https://youtu.be/ThuYAO8D9a4
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This is a guest post by Phil Bowdle, Creative Arts Pastor at Westridge Church. Get Phil's book Rethink Communication: A Playbook to Clarify and Communicate Everything in Your Church today. Connect with Phil at PhilBowdle.com.