A Great Communicator -part 3

This is the third part in a brief series on communication as part of the very quality of God and His Kingdom. It is also a clarion call to that Kingdom to become excellent at this vital issue, the very thing we were made for. You can find part one in the series here.

I sit in staff meetings often trying to figure out why announcements are not communicating effectively. There will be times when an event that we know meets the needs of our community and has been sufficiently announced will be quite modestly attended. It is not a rare occurrence when we hear after the fact, “Oh, I wish I had known we were doing that,” when I knew that person sat through several Sundays of announcements on that very event. Now, our church is a healthy and growing congregation with vital and growing ministries.  People are not bored with out church, and our events are usually well attended.

Honestly, I am not griping about my church, its announcements, or especially my congregation. I also don’t think that this is an issue that is particularly unique to our church. I hear very similar complaints from other pastors across the nation. Chalk it up to over-advertising, busy lives, congregations who are trained to not listen, whatever you want, it doesn’t solve the issue.

In communication theory, there are always at least two parties involved. There is the sender of the message, and the receiver. Imagine two people on opposing sides of a tennis court. One person serves the ball to the other. The ball is the message that is trying to be communicated. The main difference is that in tennis the goal is to get the ball past the person receiving. In communication, the goal is to get the receiver to either return the ball, or commit to action based upon the message.

When a teenager comes home from school, the parent says “How was school today, Junior?”
The teenager responds with “Fine.”

The ball isn’t really returned in this case. The teenager really has no interest in returning the ball, but the parent has also not done a good job in serving, either. The goal was to start a conversation. In this case, the attempt was a failure.

In Church, most communication is of the other sort, though. A sermon is not intended to motivate people to talk back with the pastor, but to put into action in the people’s lives what was talked about. A sermon about loving one’s neighbor is intended to motivate the parishioner to go home and act in God’s love to someone who is around them (and someone who is not so easy to love).

This brings up a difficult question. If our announcements are doing a poor job of motivating more than a handful of people to attend the, All-Church Prayer Night, is the Sunday sermon on loving your neighbor motivating more than a handful of people to go out and love people? How many of our Sunday morning tennis-serves are coming up aces? If we are really honest, I bet the number is depressingly high.

I am not saying this as an attack, far from it! I think that preaching has power, infused by the Holy Spirit of God to change eternities, motivate the faithful, and break down walls that the Devil, himself, has built in our midst. I believe that God has called His Church to be a Kingdom of preaching priests. I believe that we are called to be amazing communicators of the most amazing message ever created. But if a tennis player must continually practice his serve in order to insure that he is effective on the court, shouldn’t we be working ever so much harder to insure that our serve is the best it can be?

I am positive that there is some great effective preaching out there. But I am equally aware, and I think the Church needs to be, over the fact that there are a lot of us who are convinced that we are serving 90 mile-per-hour scorchers down the line, when we are hitting the net almost every time.

Now there is a danger inherent in saying this. The danger is that we turn ourselves into consumers of preaching. We must never come to the point where we look at the pastor in the pulpit thinking, “How effectively is he motivating me to do something?” If we do that, then we are de-stringing our own rackets, and are being ineffective hearers. It also creates the danger of deeply hurt feelings.  Preaching and teaching are deeply personal endeavors, and criticizing your pastor’s sermons will do little to help anyone. But these dangers should not stop us church communicators from asking ourselves these difficult questions.

For as long as I’ve been preaching, I have secretly distrusted the “Good message this morning, Pastor,” comment as folks exit after church. It isn’t that I really can’t take a compliment, or that I think people are lying to me. However, I am fed in my preaching by the occasional, “I thought about what you said last week and decided to…” That is success. That is what we should aim for.

So in looking toward this target, maybe we need to start re-assessing how we are communicating. How many people in our church know what our church’s mission statement is? What is the measurable fruit of our Sunday sermons?  What methods are bearing fruit in trying to communicate upcoming events and ministry opportunities in our church? If people aren’t attending or getting involved, is it because they don’t know, or is it because they don’t see these opportunities as vital and important? –Ryan

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10 Replies to “A Great Communicator -part 3”

  1. Studies have show for a while now that people remember less than 5-10% of what they hear (even if it is repeated week after week after week). I’ve been trying to get people in churches for decades now to realize that we need to be teaching people what we want them to remember, not just announcing and preaching. If only I could some day convince the Church to take educational theory seriously! 🙂

  2. Well, that is thing – I would have us as the Church teach EVERYTHING instead of preach and announce.

    There are textbooks full of this theory stuff, good for one long nap if you are in need 🙂 I think most preachers want people to apply what they preach on, to synthesize it and make it a part of their life. Those are all higher order educational concepts, above communication of facts on Bloom’s taxonomy scale. But to go from communication of facts to application and synthesis would require a major change in the structure of the way we do things (we as in the Church in general).

  3. I agree with you here. My prime directive in preaching is to have people somehow be different on Monday and going in a direction. Billy Joel has a great lyric that goes, “I still don’t have this all worked out, but I’m getting closer, getting closer. I still have far to go no doubt, but I’m getting closer, getting closer.”

    I want people who sit in the seats on Sunday to be able to say that about their lives. Christianity must by nature be pragmatic, in a sense. I am no proponent of “Pragmatism” as a philosophy, but Jesus calls us all to be incarnational.

    Sometimes I fail at this in preaching. I believe part of it is that we become so programmed to not having sermons be impacting. In some sense familiarity breeds contempt (or at least a lack of perceived value). However, sometimes my sermons aren’t as impacting as they should be.

    I want to make that percentage of life-altering sermons as high as possible.
    Um…so lay it out! What in layman’s terms would you have us do? Step by step? If you blog it on your wordpress, I’ll cut and paste (with permission, of course) or I’ll give you an account on here to post your thoughts on this. Part of the whole point is to teach us (the Church) to be good communicators.

  4. Wow – that is kind of a tall order to lay it out like that. It’s kind of like asking what is the best way to teach a class… the answer would depend all on the age of the class, the size of the class, the topic, etc. For example, when I taught Junior High, it was at an urban inner city school. All of the techniques that I was taught at a mostly-white college just didn’t work there from day one!

    I can give it a shot, but there are lots of different ways to go about it, lots of different theories out there. I personally subscribe to a school of thought called social constructivism, which larger churches would have a hard time to use in any way. But I will collect my thoughts and revive my dead blog…

  5. Hmmmm…. don’t pass out or anything. The world of educational theory isn’t that glamorous at all. My boss’s boss is always joking with me about putting people to death by sleep with this stuff.

    (I work for the state – every two people have to have a manager, so it is possible to have daily contact with people several steps above you on the food chain…)

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