By: Michael Euliss
Originally published in Church Solutions Magazine
There's a scene in one of my favorite movies, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which the main character, Indiana Jones --representing good -- is racing against evil to locate the Holy Grail.
In the story, the grail is being guarded by a knight who's several hundred years old. In that room are many cups -- but only one is the right cup. The evil character chooses a cup that's very ornate and elaborate. When he drinks from that cup, he dies. The knight responds: “He chose poorly."
Indiana Jones, however, figures out that the evil character went for a cup that had a lot of allure, but unknown negative consequences. Without the proper information, he overlooked the obvious choice. Indiana, armed with knowledge, chooses a very simple cup. The knight says, “You have chosen(wisely."
Many times, we choose poorly when selecting communication tools. Often they're trendy, shiny and elaborate, sometimes causing us to overlook the obvious.
Since the late 1980s, communication as we know it has undergone multitudes of changes. In 1876, Alexander Graham Bell started the person-to-person communication revolution with the invention of the telephone. The ability to use a device to call another person was not only a novel idea ,but in just a few years most people had this device in their homes and offices. It was great to be able to converse with others, even though they were miles away. The parties also could ensure the recipient not only got the message, but understood it too.
As technology progressed, we saw the change from a crank on the side of the phone to summon the operator to connect us with another person, to the rotary dial. The advent of touch-tone dialing in the 1970s opened up even more avenues for sharing information.
Today we have cellphones, PDAs, computers and other devices which offer a selection of communication mediums. Many users can choose to send an e-mail or text message, or to call someone. These are all great ideas -- but churches today must insure they choose wisely for their audiences and applications.
Look Beyond the Trends
As I travel through the United States and speak with pastors, business administrators and ministry leaders, I'm seeing an alarming trend: Because there are so many communication choices available today, and the church office is growing increasingly busier, we often resort to concerning ourselves with broadcasting messages rather than delivering them. Therefore, we choose tools just because they're in vogue. (I use the term “we” because I, too, have fallen into this trap.)
I began using e-mail as a government employee in 1979. At that time, I could send email -- the equivalent of today’s instant message -- to other government employees, provided they were on their terminal.
When e-mail was introduced to the general public, it was done with much pomp and circumstance. America Online, CompuServe and others touted the ability to send messages to other users and share information around the world. The only requirement was that the other user have a computer and an email address.
Since that time, very little has changed with that requirement. We can now receive e-mails on our cellphones and other portable devices, in addition to our computers. However, we must still have an e-mail or messaging address, which a growing number of people get each day.
But it's not the “Holy Grail” of communication.
Do the Math!
When I poll church leaders regarding how they communicate with their congregations, a growing number tell me they use e-mail as their primary vehicle because it offers convenience and speed. But are they choosing wisely?
When I ask them to estimate what percentage of their congregation has an e-mail address, their general response is "between 50% and 75%." I then ask them to estimate how many of those addresses are current and accurate. Their responses are "between 20% and 50%." The last question I ask is for an estimation of how many people read e-mails from the church in a timely manner, regardless of the topic. Their estimate is usually about 25%. That means that if email is the only way they communicate en masse, they've chosen to ignore a significant number of people they serve.
You should decide if these statistics fit your church -- but there are certain facts about e-mail we should never ignore.
1. Currently, everyone does not have an email or text messaging address.
2. Many workplaces prohibit personal email messages.
3. Many people don't check their personal/home email in a timely manner.
4. With the invention of SPAM and other email filters, many times your message never makes it to the recipient.
5. Emails can be interpreted in many ways, so we must carefully choose our written messages.
What's the Answer?
It’s simple, really: We should choose communication tools that engage and inform all members of our congregation. Understanding technology, communication tools and their limitations are key to success. For many applications, I recommend combining mediums.
For time-sensitive announcements, always use the phone first. You can follow up with email or US Mail, but make the initial announcement by phone. Nothing feels worse to members than finding out about an event at which they could have served, or wanted to attend, after it's over. If you want your congregation to be responsive to the needs of others, you must keep them informed.
For general announcements, be sure to notify everyone involved by phone and -- for those you can -- by email. Then post the announcement on your website. This delivers your message to as many people as possible.
Newsletters can be published in a number of formats such as email, HTML, PDF and print. I suggest allowing recipients to choose how they'd like to receive their newsletters. You can save costs by e-mailing or posting it to the Web for those who have Web access, then printing and mailing it to those who don't. Consider if you were the member who wasn't included just because you didn't have Web access. How would you feel?
If using the phone more is the solution, how do we make all these calls? There are tools today that allow you to record a message and contact the entire congregation, or just selected groups, and automatically deliver that message by telephone. These systems leave the message an answering machine if there's no answer.
Some systems allow you to combine that with email or text-messaging, giving you the best chance of delivering the message. A few integrate with your church management software, making data entry a snap.
However, here too you must choose wisely. Many of these tools cost each time you use it, taking vital resources away from other areas of ministry -- a hidden consequence.
Shifting the paradigm from broadcasting to some of the people to delivering messages all the people is essential to ministry growth. Choosing the proper medium is a must for success.
Let your people know they're appreciated and that they belong. Show them they're important enough to you to insure the message gets through. Don’t be lured by technology just because it's shiny and trendy. Arm yourself with the knowledge to choose wisely!
About the Author
In 2006, Michael Euliss was Director of Marketing for PhoneTree and has been serving in church leadership for more than 30 years. He currently serves in ministries which help churches sharpen their focus.