The story of a stubborn general in the Old Testament book of 2 Kings, illustrates the critical importance of not ignoring the seemingly little things in church communication because of a focus on the expensive and extravagant. For example, when churches spend lots of money on big communication projects such as a website redo, buying high-end design software with thinking the software will result in impressive designs, or spending so much time on launching a social media campaign that you forget to put adult Bible class schedule on the web. When the large amount of time or money spent does not produce the desired results, discouragement and questioning often result.
The danger of ignoring small actions
It's not that these things may not be important and there are times when they may need to be done, but we mustn't forget the importance of little things, when we do them in God's service. The Old Testament story of Naaman illustrates this lesson well.
Naaman in 2 Kings 5, was commander of the armies of Aram. He expected significant results from extraordinary efforts on the battlefield and he was successful in his expectations. But when he got leprosy, he found an enemy he couldn’t conquer. On the advice of a captive servant girl in his household, he went to the prophet Elisha in Israel to be cured.
As befitting his status, Naaman expected the prophet to appear and with thundering words and grand gestures, heal him of his leprosy. That didn’t happen. “Go wash in the Jordan seven times,” was the message delivered by Elisha’s servant to the general. Naaman was not pleased. In anger, he vented his opinion and prepared to return home, until his servants convinced him to try the little thing suggested by the prophet.
Naaman dipped himself into the Jordan seven times and the seventh time, “his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy (2 Kings 5: 14).”
Applications to church communications
Often as I interact with pastors, church leaders and church communicators, I find they know something isn’t working well in their church communications program. It may not be leprosy, a life or death of the church situation, but it is serious. Most often the key symptoms, even though the church prays and plans, are in following categories:
- Lack of church growth: not enough people coming into the church.
- Lack of member spiritual growth: not enough people attending the events outside Sunday morning that will help them grow to Christian maturity.
Right answer, wrong approach
Improved communications are often seen as the answer and I agree with that conclusion. But just as often, I see the desire to improve communications takes a wrong turn. The wrong turn is that like Naaman, a church will often look for the grand and glorious; the latest and greatest either software of new social media as THE solution to their communication problems.
Remember when email was advertised as the solution to all church communication problems? Currently we're told Facebook and other social media are absolutely essential to church communication success, but a couple of weeks ago NPR had an extended program with the headline:
Letters are dead. E-mail outdated. Text messages so passé. What’s going on with how we communicate? (http://onpoint.wbur.org/2013/04/03/communication)
The feature interviewed people who have shifted to the new social media and texting platforms including: WhatsApp, kik.com, and Snapchat, while declaring that Facebook for many was so outdated.
This is the true story of a church that decided that lots of money and impressive design would solve their communication problems: they hired a national company to create an incredible website for them. They spent thousands of dollars. It took months to create. Their communications director contacted me and asked me to look at the website and a redesigned bulletin that went with it because with all the money and time spent, little had improved in terms of people response. The church spent a lot of money, but attendance had not only did not improve, it declined.
Why the money was wasted
After looking at the website and the revised bulletin I could see why. Both had beautiful graphics, lots of color, pictures, action, etc. The problem wasn’t in the big things, but in absence of the seemingly little details that were essential for people to actually connect with the church events. Lots of graphics, few meaningful links to information that actually informed you of specific events.
The church bulletin was worse. Not in looks—it was beautiful and probably because someone thought they needed “white space” there was a beautiful graphic design and lots of open area, but in the section to inform visitors of ministries going on in the church outside Sunday morning there was a list. That’s it—just a list of the ministries. No information whatsoever on when they were meeting, how to attend, who to call, social media links, website info, who to contact for more information, nada.
The designer designed a beautiful bulletin, but people don't automatically know what time the discipleship class meets and if child care is provided when they look at lovely graphics and cutting-edge typography.
Do the simple things seven times
Interesting graphics do not guarantee people connections—the simple repetition of connecting details does. It doesn't matter if you use Twitter, Facebook, email or send a postcard—a great graphic or the newness of the technology doesn't actually get anybody anywhere. Clear content: who it’s for, when things start, when they end, how to get there, who to contact, how much it costs and if child care is provided—this is what actually connects people with events that will change their lives.
And you need to repeat these details through the various channels of communication: print, web, email, social media, projected media, postcards, whatever you can. In addition, to be sure people get the message, professional marketers tell us you need to get out this information seven times, in seven ways for effective communication. Just like Naaman had to dip himself into the Jordan seven times, though he probably didn't understand why the repetition was necessary, and though we can't figure out why people don't remember something when we tell them about it one time—that's just the way it is and we have to repeat information for it to change lives.
These little details are the links that connect people to the church events that will result in church growth and in personal spiritual maturity for your people.
Why, why are these things routinely left out and money spent on the big and extravagant?
This is a question I agonize over.
- Maybe, I wonder, is it because of our human tendency is to want to do the big, the quick, the extraordinary to get results and get them now?
- Is it an unconscious carry-over from the world of business that assumes that throwing money on a problem is a way to solve it?
- Is it a lack of faith that if we only do the little things, like print boring details week after week, that God can really use them?
- Is it that if we put our money and time into training the staff to do something like the website instead of hiring an outside professional that we have that we might have to trust God for results we won’t see immediately?
- Is it because we are impatient and forget that the often used analogies in the Bible, about farmers, shepherds, about growing and tending plants all teach us to wait for results that only come in small, incremental ways?
- Are we a bit blinded by the media that reports and idolizes the big and spectacular when Jesus described the Kingdom growth as yeast permeating, a small seed germinating?
Our churches need healing and I wonder what would happen if we’d stop looking for the spectacular solution and humbly focus on the little things, the communication tiny tasks that connect people. I wonder what would happen if we focused on training our people at church to do communications, even though it might take longer, instead of hiring for immediate results. Like Naaman, after his seven trips into the water, in our church, after weeks of training and encouraging the people closest to us and a focus the little details that actually connect people to life-changing events, we might be surprised at the new life and healing that results.