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Communication Is What We DO

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This post is a bit of a rant, but not a mean one. I spend a LOT of time on the phone and on the internet connecting with church leaders. I’ve observed, in the wild, the communications strategies of hundreds of churches, and I keep noticing that the very basic principles of messaging and communication are often missed. Let me give you some examples of what I mean…

I see church websites that are poorly designed. It isn’t just aesthetics, which on the whole tend to be a decade behind modern web design trends. It’s also the communication strategy. Information is poorly arranged with no logical order. Events are out of date. Contact information is missing or old. Navigation and menu structures are often… shall we say discombobulated?

I see logos and identity design that reeks of “I paid $99 bucks for a box of templates and slapped our church name on one.” The vision, values, culture, and identity of the church is rarely captured in the imagery. Symbols are used that are only familiar to the deeply churched and never explained anywhere.

I see content published on websites and blogs that seems to target no one other than fellow ministry leaders, not people who have huge questions about God and spiritual things. When I search Google for answers about divine questions, I see that the cults are killing us on search engine optimization. In other words, we aren’t intercepting those questions. We’re allowing false teachers to catch the passes instead.

I so want to grab church leaders by the ears, albeit gently, and persuade them to do just a brief and cursory reading about how to use content to reach people, how to build a usable church website, and how to design great brand imagery to represent your church.

Does that mean every Pastor needs to become a communications expert and buy design and coding software? Absolutely not. Pastors need to be in the Word (unless, like me, tech stuff is just your thing). But every Pastor with a message worth spreading needs enough of a grasp on design and communication principles to either empower or hire the right person for the job and then inspect the work along the way.

If I could throw out some random tidbits of advice to church leaders about communication practices, here are a few of the things I’d say based on recent observations…

  • Make it as easy as possible for people to find you. Have a nice website optimized for search engines, especially for terms like “churches in Anytown.”
  • Make it as easy as possible for people to contact you. A contact form, a phone number, and an email address are all essential. Which of the three is best? It doesn’t matter. Publish them all to catch everyone.
  • Do things that are remarkable, like preaching the timeless gospel, without compromise, in the midst of an often crooked and perverse generation. People will talk about you, which is the goal.
  • Do more things that are remarkable, like getting outside the walls of your church and getting engaged with the problems of your community in the name of Jesus.
  • Make it easy for people to share stories of all the remarkable stuff you’re doing. If Facebook were a country, it would be the third largest in the world, and you’d see it as an optimum mission field. So open your eyes and look on the fields…

I’m not looking to argue with anyone over whether we should “market” the gospel or not. I’d rather just use different words instead – words like “preach,” “proclaim,” and “publish.” It’s the same process with less controversy. God wants the world to hear about His Son, so communications really ought to be one of the church’s highest priorities. It’s what we (the church) DO.

Where does preaching, proclaiming, and publishing fit in your church’s priorities?

photo credit: x-ray delta one

Toy Story 3: Inception Trailer – Awesome Creativity!

You may have seen this, but having seen both movies, I thought this was genius!!

Hat Tip to Khayyam (@iamkhayyam)

Mind Mapping and Sermon Preparation

Below is a mind map. Behold…

three-things-that-come-up-to-god

If you’ve never used mind mapping, you might want to give it a try. I’ve found it to be an excellent tool for brainstorming, organizational charting, sermon preparation, memorization of large amounts of data, planning, and collaboration. Essentially, mind mapping is a means of throwing our thoughts out on paper with some kind of spatial representation that our brains tend to enjoy.

[Read more…]

The Creative Juices Are Flowing

God is the great Creator of the entire universe and all that is in it. He created time and He creates every life that enters into the world. In short, God is extremely creative, so He loves creativity.

I agree with many modern church leaders that creativity, in and of itself, is glorifying to God, so long as what we create does not represent any form of idolatry or contradiction to the revealed truth and standards of God’s Word. I have two tables in my home made by my late grandfather. He made them to the glory of God, with excellence. That’s a kind of worship. I have three quilts my grandmother made. They too, represent a form of worship. Creativity is good, so long as its God-honoring (no huge astrological towers allowed – e.g. Babel in Genesis 11).

In recent days, I’ve felt my own creative energy stirred by the Holy Spirit, partly due to observing the methodology of such guys as Andy Stanley and Ed Young. Last Sunday, I took a Dremel into the pulpit to illustrate that faith is not a magic formula that does anything, rather it’s a tool that we must put into action. This Wednesday, I’m taking a fish net with me to illustrate how God caught Jonah in the net of chastisement and Jonah caught God in the net of prayer. To some, I’m sure these symbols may seem trite, but to me, they merely present a way of communicating a truth in a meaningful, visible, and memorable way.

I’m afraid that we often have a tendency to squelch creativity in Christianity. We frown on new methods, new technologies, and that which may distract us from a plain-spoken message. I’m all for the plain-spoken message for that is God’s chosen method of communicating the gospel to all the world – preaching. I’m a believer in the primacy of preaching, but I’m also a believer in getting life-changing truth into people’s lives in whatever way we find beneficial.

I’ve been challenged to think beyond the borders of what is “normal” for me, and I hope that you are challenged to do the same. No matter who you are, no matter where you work, no matter what you do, ask yourself, “what can I create for God today?”

Our Freedom in Ministry

Yesterday I had the privilege of talking with Donny Parrish, Director of Church Ministries for the BMA of America about church ministry today. My heart and eyes were opened to some great principles concerning reaching the lost today. I was also reminded to lay down my own preferences in ministry so that I might be as effective and flexible as possible to see what the Holy Spirit wants to do next.

This morning, I preached from Romans 8:1-4 in which Paul talks about some of our great freedoms “in Christ.” The phrase the Scriptures use is a thrilling one – “now no condemnation.” When I arrived home, I flipped on the television to a Calvary Chapel pastor from Florida who just happened to be preaching on the same theme. I had tuned in at just the right moment to hear his closing prayer thanking God that there is “now no condemnation to them who are in Christ.”

Amazingly, this pastor’s approach to ministry was obviously different from my own. His church practiced a very contemporary form of worship, he was dressed in casual clothing, and the background of the stage created a much different atmosphere than my stained glass background in my home pulpit. Nevertheless, the content of our messages was essentially the same message – “now no condemnation to them which are in Christ.”

I want to thank God for the freedom we enjoy to differ slightly and yet remain true to the Scriptures. They will always provide our content in preaching and our context for ministry, but our methodology, within reasonable and biblical limits, must remain flexible if we are to reach each new generation of people with the life-changing message of the gospel. More on this generational shift in our ministry later…