Have you ever played a game called ‘Telephone’? As a kid I would sit in a circle with my friends and one person would choose a phrase. That person would then whisper it to the person sitting next to them until it reached the last person in the circle. The last person would then say the message out loud. If you’re lucky you may have a similar message or even the same one from the beginning. Often though, the message the last person heard was completely twisted from the original. It was always fun to hear how the message got distorted as it went around the circle.
That game may have been fun as kids, but sometimes I feel like I’m playing a real life game of telephone every week in church communication. It’s easy for a message to get distorted from the time it leaves my mouth in a meeting to the time it?s announced during a service on the weekend. Has that ever happened to you?
Today I’d like to talk about how it happens, and what can be done to improve the process of communication so that what a person in your church hears is actually what you mean to communicate?and not some distorted form of the original message.
There are two different aspects to communication that need to come into focus as we think about this message distortion.
- Planning and delivery of the communication
- The people receiving the message
Often we focus so much on the planning and delivery that we forget about how the congregation actually receives the message. As church communicators, we need to strive to understand both of these aspects and do the best we can to communicate effectively.[quote]Often we focus so much on the planning and delivery that we forget about how the congregation actually receives the message.[/quote]
In the planning process of church communications you need to be mindful of the senses we have as human beings: hearing, sight, touch, taste, and smell. Okay, you might not need to worry about the taste and smell senses, unless your church meets in a zoo, but I would argue that the first three are extremely critical to your congregation receiving communication correctly. For example, if you’re planning announcements for the weekend services, how can you consider hearing, sight, and touch for your congregation? Let’s take a look.
This is probably where the most common distortion happens in an announcement. It’s easy for a pastor or leader to say something that may not necessarily be true or how they want to represent it. As church communicators it’s our job to make it as easy as possible for a pastor to communicate a message without distortion. At my church, our team gives our pastors a written announcement each week. This reduces the chance of something being miscommunicated, but it’s still not foolproof. In addition to the written announcement, it’s helpful to bold and underline specific phrases or words that must be communicated.
Of course, we don’t want pastors reading a script every week. Influence only occurs when a pastor is so sold on the message that they can inject their own personality into it. So to avoid the scripted robot vibe, give pastors the freedom to be themselves. But also give them pieces that are absolutely crucial to the message.
After you’ve spent some time on the hearing aspect of communication, it’s important to do everything you can to re-enforce the message. People in your church are only going to remember some of what a pastor says verbally. In fact, it’s been said that we remember only 20% of what we hear, and 30% of what we see. But we remember 50% of what we see and hear. I’m no scientist, but I know if I have a picture to go along with a piece of information, I’m much more likely to remember what?s communicated. If possible, you should include a slide or graphic to go along with the announcement as it is being made during the service. This could just be an image or it could include highlights of information. But it should always point to your church’s website for more details.[quote]We remember 50% of what we see and hear.[/quote]
This sense may be the one we pay the least attention to, but it may be the icing on the cake for your communication. Our culture is constantly immersed in touching and feeling something at almost all times. Whether it’s our iPhone or even a piece of paper, when we experience something through touch it becomes special. In addition to announcing something verbally, as well as including a slide or graphic, this communication should be present on your church’s website, social media channels, and bulletin.
It’s also been said that we remember 70 percent of what we discuss with others. Making communication available on your website and social media channels will make it easily shareable for the people in your church. And social media is the communication tool of our culture. If you’re using it correctly, you’ll have the most powerful communication known to man?personal recommendation and word of mouth.[quote]If you’re using social media?correctly, you’ll have the most powerful communication known to man?personal recommendation and word of mouth.[/quote]
As a church communicator, you shouldn’t get caught up in controlling the message. If you’re doing your job correctly, your leaders and pastors will buy into what needs to be communicated, and when that happens all you need to do is focus on details. When the vision is being communicated correctly, the rest will follow.
I’ve given you some practical tips here, but this doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time and you need to build a relationship with your pastors and leadership. When you have their trust the rest is just details.
So the next time you begin to communicate to your church, don’t pass the message on to the next person in the circle before you put some careful planning into it. Or you may end up playing a game of telephone and you’re not going to like the message that comes out on the other end.