Obscuring and Illuminating
Last week our Communications team met with leaders from most of the ministries at our church. After a dozen meetings covering the individual goals and calendars of 16 distinct ministries, I found myself overwhelmed by two realities:
First, God is doing a lot of amazing things in and through the people of Irving Bible Church. From Single Parents to Stephen Ministry to Recovery to Small Groups to our free medical clinic, the stories are inspiring. In the months to come, each of our ministries is going to facilitate more stories of redemption and restoration. And that leads me to the second reality:
Someone has to communicate all this to our church community.
There’s the question of what combination of mediums and platforms to use in this undertaking, but that’s a question for a different time. Our challenge today is to explore the process of deciding what gets communicated when we face a surplus of information and a scarcity of time and attention.
Or maybe I should backup. Some people don’t want to acknowledge the scarcity of time and attention we face as church communicators. They’re uncomfortable with the aspect of leadership that requires us to make tough decisions, to mention two or three events from the stage on Sunday and relegate five or 10 other events to less visible channels. I fear folks in this camp are fostering a totally democratic, totally egalitarian approach that is also totally ineffective. Why? Simple: their churches are like announcement factories that pump toxic levels of noise pollution into the atmosphere.
If everything’s bold, nothing’s bold. If everything’s a 10, your audience hears zero.
Scarcity is a reality. We have a finite amount of time, a finite amount of space, with which to work. This is as true for announcements as it is for the sermon or the worship set. None of it can go on forever; all of it must end and give way to whatever’s next.
So, we have to decide. We have to choose what to say, what messages to drive home and what messages to save for another day. Some of us have found an easy way to do so: to use our tastes and preferences to determine what’s important, thereby making our churches into our own image.
We have to prioritize. We have to discern. But we have to find a standard, a filter, outside ourselves. After all, we didn’t get into this to serve ourselves, but rather to serve something far bigger.
The best way to choose what gets illuminated, at least as far as I can tell, is to use this “something far bigger” as our guide. In other words, we have to ground ourselves in our churches’ missions and values, and then choose from there. When we know why we’re here, we’re empowered to decide what to communicate.
What this means is that the church that values life change will give communicative prominence to ideas, groups, opportunities, action steps, and events that are most designed to facilitate life change. The church that values discipleship or outreach or worship would do well to emphasize the manifestation of those values in its communication.
Everything else — the rabbit trails, the oh-by-the-way’s, the meandering anecdotes, the ancient Greek tutorials, the niche seminars, the knitting groups, the Christian composting convention, and so on — has to take a back seat.
Why? Because we’re on mission. We gather together on purpose. We have values and we live them out. Communication leadership is the willingness and ability to illuminate that which is most vital and obscure that which is most trivial.
We do this in hopes that the arrow might find the mark, that we might cut through the clutter, that we might plant a seed. See, we know the difference between communicating and merely speaking. Anyone can speak, right? You can speak English to someone who only knows Korean. But you haven’t truly communicated until you’ve been understood, until you’ve translated your words from English to Korean.
Speaking is about the speaker. Communication is about the transfer of ideas and information from the speaker to the audience, and it’s precisely because we care about both the ideas and the audience that we must do the hard work of illumination. The result — seeing the light come on for others — is always worth it.