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