6% of Teens Check Email Daily

I was just talking with our youth minister and he told me that a ridiculously small percent of teens check email on a regular basis. I went to find out what the stat is and according to an article at cnet only 6% of teens check email on a daily basis. The communication tool of choice is texting (63% do that daily). This is a really important “aha” for me because in ministry communication is so important. You have to learn how to adapt. I have been so used to using email and facebook that it is easy to think that is where everyone else is as well. You can’t reach a generation if they aren’t getting your attempts to communicate with them!

Have a look at the breakdown of how young people are communicating. It is eye opening for sure and is going to impact the way I communicate in the future.


Revitalizing Bible Class – Advertising

Many of the people who organize the Sunday morning Bible school grew up at in a period of Christianity in America where if you opened the doors you would get 95% attendance. The remaining 5% would respond to the invitation and repent for not making it to Bible class that morning. While that may be a stretch it highlights the point that our assumptions are powerful. If your Bible class ministry is run from the assumption that people will figure out what is going on, want to be in class and show up regardless of what is being taught or how well it is communicated you are probably missing a ton of people who don’t share that assumption.

Advertising Rule 1: Be Timely:
In many congregations Bible class schedules are cobbled together in the last few weeks before a quarter begins. That means there isn’t enough time to advertise classes in a timely manner or even at all. Bible class lineups need to be in people’s hands in the weeks prior to the beginning of a new quarter (if you are on a quarter system).

Advertising Rule 2: Communicate What, Who & Why
People need to know what is being taught on Sunday morning. There needs to be a print out, a power point, an email, on the website…and however many more ways you can get this information in people’s hands. Some churches will just be glad to get the word out in any form but advertising in and of itself is not enough. People need to know what is being taught, who is teaching it, who it is for (specific age group, stage of life, or circumstance such as grief or divorce recovery, men or women) and why that class is relevant. If we can’t demonstrate why a class is needed, should it be taught? If we can’t answer the “why” question maybe we need to take a step back and make sure we are actually speaking to where people are in their lives rather than lecturing over the heads, teaching disconnected topics, or thinking that any teaching is relevant as long as it is biblical…that is just not true. That may sound harsh but anyone who has been in Bible class for decades can attest to material presented in ways that were completely disconnected from reality or relevance.

Advertising Rule 3: Use many forms of media
It is important that advertising is done in many forms. An announcement on Sunday won’t cut it. People are often talking and not tuned in. Even if they are listening they will probably forget by the end of worship. Several ways of getting the word out include: facebook, email, church website, phone tree, hand out, power point slide. I am sure there are more but the point is, use many forms and use them repeatedly. People may not hear you the first few times but eventually they will get it.

The main thing here is…go where people already are. If you have a younger audience where will you find them? Facebook. So start a group for your class or ministry and invite them into it and communicate through it. If you have an older audience it may take mailing them something, email, or a periodic phone call. This all takes work and it is important those who teach Bible class know that what is expected is more than just showing up to teach 1 hour a week…they are the class leader and that requires them to communicate with those in their class.

Advertising Rule 4: Encourage people to tell others
Your best advertisement is word of mouth. If people are excited about what is being taught or find it particularly relevant they will tell someone else about it. I noticed in our 20s & 30s class that when I asked them for their questions and then began a series of discussions where they learned to think through their questions and come to conclusions that they found it relevant enough to tell others about it. Our attendance increased. Often all people need is a reminder from the teacher/facilitator that they are welcome to invite others.

Advertising Rule 5: Weekly communication to class members
I have made it a weekly habit to email all the classes I teach about what is being taught that week. When new people come I get their email address and send them updates, what is being taught in class that week, etc. I think often people don’t come just because class isn’t really on their mind. But when they get a weekly reminder of what is coming within a day or two of class it is one more thing that can help them remember to plan on attending. Every teacher needs a list of emails and phone numbers of those who attend their class to keep people up to speed. When I complete a series I often email the notes to the class so they can review it or catch up on classes they missed.

Last, again…don’t assume people will just show up. Be proactive. Be a good communicator. Over communicate it. Don’t have a poor attendance because people just aren’t informed as to what is going on. What other ways have you seen Bible classes effectively communicated to the congregation.

Assumptions and Communication

Assumptions are powerful. What we communicate has everything to do with the assumptions we have about what is going on, who people are, and what people need. Assumptions usually grow and develop based on things being the same or constant for a period of time so that we begin to expect things will always be that way or at least are currently they way they were at some point in the past. Everything we communicate, in classes, sermons, small groups, etc comes through the filter of our assumptions. If we assume people are the same as they were twenty years ago (in their struggles, knowledge of scripture, and worldview) and don’t make adjustments to the way we communicate, don’t keep up with shifts in culture, or aren’t aware of changes in worldview then we assume that our communication is just as effective as it was five, ten, or more years ago. That may not be true. It is important that we evaluate how effectively our message is making the desired impact on the people we are communicating to.

I remember teaching a Bible class several years ago and referencing something about John the Baptist. I made my point and moved on. I didn’t realize until some time later that they weren’t following me at all because they didn’t really know who John the Baptist was, his purpose, or anything else really. I had failed to communicate because I had assumed they knew some things they didn’t know. Someone in their seat twenty years ago would have been with me but they weren’t. Things have changed and so we can’t assume people haven’t changed. The result is we have to adjust the way we communicate.

You see this in ministries that use events as their main way to minister. Maybe it is an event that used to go well but is now struggling or we watch once vibrant Bible classes slide or Sunday morning attendance take a nose dive. It may well be that our assumptions haven’t changed when they should have. It used to be that if you advertised an event or fellowship activity that people would come no matter what and you could fill the place up with very little effort. That is no longer the case. It is easy to assume that if you say we are having a big church wide event that people will just want to come and they will show up so we don’t tell them what to expect or what is happening at the gathering. People don’t come. They don’t come because our assumptions were not adequate to address the people we are trying to connect with,  therefore, our communication missed the mark and the end result was not as effective as it could have been and less people are reached.

This is true in Bible class and preaching as well. Some of what was relevant 5-10+ years ago is still very relevant today but some isn’t. Our culture has undergone change at the most rapid pace the world has ever seen. Has our teaching caught up? Are we still reaching out in relevant ways? Or do we just continue to assume that if it worked in the past it will continue to work? Assumptions are powerful and if we aren’t willing to change them the effectiveness of our communication will suffer.

I want to share a few tips/questions to ask to make sure our assumptions are still accurate. My primary experience with all of this is more through teaching than it is through preaching. So maybe some of you guys who preach on a more regular basis can offer your insights on assumptions in preaching and how to gain effectiveness in that venue.

  1. Is what you are saying in your class/sermon actually making a relevant point? Some times I thought it was until I get in the middle of delivering it and then find out it wasn’t what I thought. It needed to be more relevant. I just hadn’t considered who I was teaching like I should have. Would the lesson have been relevant to someone? Sure. But what is the point if it isn’t relevant to the people who actually showed up?
  2. Are there people in the room that, because of their differences from me, as the communicator, are getting very little from what I have to say? Let’s face it, we all have the things we like to talk about, the scriptures we love, and the approaches that we like to take in communicating our message. But does that leave some people in the dust week in and week out? I am very logical in my approach and I have to be careful with that because I know some people don’t learn as well thinking linearly like I do. How am I going to teach them in the most effective way at least some of the time?
  3. Read and relate to stay relevant – know the culture through reading relevant literature and through having genuine relationships with people from various generations within the congregation. In doing so you will increase your relevance because you will be better connected with what the real issues are in the church and the world.
  4. Go to someone in your class/sermon audience and ask them what they heard you say in the sermon. See if they got the main point.
  5. Listen to yourself – if your class/sermon is recorded go back through it and see if you said what you were trying to say. What worked and what didn’t? I hate doing this and have only done this on a few occasions but it is time well spent in order to refine the communication process for future effectiveness.

What other things have helped you stay relevant in your ministry? What assumptions have you noticed block that process? What tips do you have to make our communication of the Gospel as effective as possible in a culture that is vastly different than the one many of us grew up in.

A Failure to Communicate

I had one of those times in class this morning that are very few and far between, thankfully. My brain just couldn’t seem to get on track. It was like I had too much to focus on, too many things running around in my head. I also had too much information. There was no way I was going to pack in all of my notes into our class time. I don’t know what I was thinking with that much material. So I had to start picking and choosing and I really did a poor job of that. So we fumbled and bumbled through Bible class this morning. Hopefully some good came of it. It reminded me of a few things that I needed:

  • Don’t neglect good questions – they were in my notes, I just didn’t bother to look
  • Stay focused – say what needs to be said with no distractions
  • Don’t over/under prepare – Keep it simple and too the point otherwise communicate can suffer
  • Don’t give up on your notes – Once I knew I didn’t have time to get it all in I dropped my notes. This can work out well in some instances but it didn’t this morning. I really should have kept with my outline and dropped side issues along the way to make up time.

Any of you had times like that when you know what you are trying to communicate but you can tell it just isn’t happening. And I have to say we have a great class because they were really trying to stay on board this morning but it was a stretch. So kudos to them for being troopers. Hopefully, I learned my lessons and won’t repeat that experience for at least a couple of years or more!

It kind of reminded me of this famous scene from Cool Hand Luke…

Communicating for a Change – Pick A Point

One of Andy Stanley’s strengths is his ability to laser beam focus on only one point and really drive it home. In the last post on this book I mentioned that you have to know where your goal is. Notice I didn’t say what your goal is but where. The point in that is you are trying to take someone from point A to point B. Communication is a journey. Journeys are trying to get people to one place, not two, three, four, five, or more places. So Stanley believes having one point and communicating it to the best of his ability makes for great communication. He goes on to say, “once that point, that idea, that destination is clear, then the goal is to bend everything in the message toward that one thing.” (p.101)

In picking the one point approach Andy vocally dispells the multi-point method. He has a few reasons for doing so that you may or may not agree with. Ironically, he has three points in explaining why he believes three point preaching is not the most effective way to get results:

  1. By the time you get to the final point people hardly remember the first couple. “Whatever impact they might have made is washed away by the information and illustrations that follow. On a good day, it is that last point that usually sticks.” (p.102)
  2. We don’t live lives full of lists of points, “so there’s no compelling reason to remember a list of points.” (101)
  3. Points are designed to “move people through an outline” and he admittedly says good things can and will come from that, “But if life change is your goal, point by point preaching is not the most effective approach.” (101)
    1. He makes it clear that life change can and does come from this form of preaching but in his view it is not the “most effective” way to produce it.

In some ways this makes preaching easier. Each point of a sermon can now become a sermon to itself. That makes coming up with creative sermon ideas way easier because if you use that approach you now have 1/3 as many creative ideas to come up with each week. Those three points can now be three sermons with one point each. That makes for a good series!

So how do you get your one point, and yes you should have one point!? Stanley poses two questions that must be asked before of the sermon before it is delivered (p.104):

  1. “What is the one thing I want my audience to know?”
  2. “What do I want them to do about it?”

This does two things. It defines the focus of the sermon by setting the one thing that everything in the sermon needs to point back to and support. Next, it gives direction by setting up what the sermon must communicate in order to produce the desired result, call, or action on the audience. Let’s face it, change isn’t change unless something happens and pew sitting alone isn’t that something.

The next post will review how he goes about developing the one single point in each lesson.

Communication that Sticks – Andy Stanley

I recently watched Communication that Sticks by Andy Stanley and found it very helpful for learning to refine and improve the way I communicate whether it is in preaching or teaching. Here are a couple of highlights:

  1. Get across one central point. People won’t remember much more than that anyway. So make it and make it really, really well
  2. That one point needs to feel like a burden on you. If the lesson isn’t pressing on your heart it won’t press on anyone else’s. Just preparing a lesson isn’t enough. Just communicating information isn’t enough. Each lesson needs one BIG point that is so pressing you feel like you are going to explode if you don’t get it off your chest. Sermon prep is not until you feel that.
  3. It is all about transformation. Move people to action. Don’t just move their minds or hearts. Take the next step and -lead- them to transformative action.
  4. This takes leadership. Some don’t equate preaching with leadership but it really is. You are trying to take people from point A to point B. But they won’t follow you there if they don’t see you as a leader.

Many other great points were made. These are just a few I took away from it. This would be a great DVD to show your Bible class teachers, ministers, and church leadership.

Your Best Form of Advertising – The Andrew Model

Last weekend we held the No Debt, No Sweat workshop with Steve Diggs here at Northwest. We put up banners. We had spots run on local Christian radio. We had nice signage. We made flyers for people to take to people they knew. We put it on our website. We did just about everything we knew to do in order to get as many members and visitors here as possible.

We didn’t have a single visitor come who said they heard about us on the radio. We didn’t have a single person who said they found out about it on our website. Not a single person came because they saw the banners we put in front of our building on a very busy street in St. Pete. There is no telling how many thousands of people heard even just one of our 12 radio spots heard all over the Tampa Bay area, referring people to our website. There was no noticeable difference in web traffic! 100% of the visitors that I can put my finger on why they came were personally invited by someone. That was the cheapest advertising we did and the most effective.

That really tells us something about what is meaningful to people. It doesn’t mean much to drive by an impersonal building or hear a radio spot for something, even if you really need it. People only came if they knew someone. The one lesson we learned in advertising from this event is that people have to get mobilized. We need to provide them the materials, the handouts, the information, and motivate them to invite the people they know.

When Andrew met Jesus the first thing he had to do was go and get his brother Simon Peter (John 1:40-42). Imagine if some stranger told Peter they found the messiah rather than his own brother. Do you think he would have believed them as quickly? He wouldn’t because trust isn’t there. But when someone he loves and trusts tells him something important is going on he is quick to respond. I wonder what percentage of our advertising money is spent on impersonal invitations and how much is geared toward a more organic approach of mobilizing people who know people?

When people think something is important, meaningful, and useful to those they know they will go and tell. But if people don’t feel there is anything worth repeating, chances are they won’t. People are our best form of advertising. People put a face on it. Already established relationships have rapport and trust that just isn’t earned in a 30 second radio spot or a sign in front of the building. People telling people is a method that is thousands of years old but still the best thing around.

Improving Communications in Your Congregation

We are starting to put more focus on improving our communications at Northwest. I wanted to pass along two helpful resources in helping the church and church leadership more effectively communicate its message and mission. The first resource is a free e-book called “Branding for Church Planters” by James Dalman. This is from the website Church Communications Pro. The book has information on (quoted from their website):

  • How to tell your story with relevance and accuracy.
  • The “Free Myth” and why freebies aren’t always good.
  • What makes a great church brand identity…and what doesn’t!
  • The benefits of custom work vs. pre-designed work
  • How to save money on printing and other forms of media

Another helpful resource is by Andy Stanley. It is called Communication that Sticks. A lot of his material has to do with communication through preaching there are many relevant points that go beyond what is said in the pulpit. What resources or strategies have you used to help your congregation communicate more effectively?

Communication is a Funny Thing

Have you heard about this sign in Wales that they emailed a translator to translate a portion of the sign from English into Welsh? What ended up on the sign was the response to the email request for translation, “I am not in the office at the moment. Please send any work to be translated.” [HT: BBC]

Communication is a funny thing. I find communication especially challenging online. It is so hard to read tone and intention into emails as we discuss things online. This is especially true when issues are heated or things are being disagreed upon. I cannot tell you how many times I have read and re-read things I have written on this blog in order to understand why someone responded so strongly to something I wrote. Many times miscommunication was at work. Either I communicated something poorly or did well but was somehow misread. Sometimes we just have to smile and just do our best. It is also wise to try not to make too strong of statements about other people’s positions online because often we don’t know the whole story.

When Missy and I went to the grocery store for the first time together as a married couple I remember telling her we needed waffles. She came back with the generic brand with blueberries added in. What she didn’t understand was that when I said Waffles what I really meant was an Ego 8 pack of plain buttermilk waffles. I couldn’t believe she didn’t know what to get when she was asked to get waffles! Assumptions often color the way we communicate and it is often helpful to keep it simple, say exactly what we mean, and discuss only one or two things at a time before moving on to more issues.

I humbly and willingly accept my own fault in misreading others, making assumptions about what people mean, and for plain old not really listening or reading what someone else is saying/writing because I am busily formulating my answer to each point rather than letting their words impact me.

So Many Connections and So Little Connection

How many ways can someone contact you during any given day?  We have more ways to be connected than ever before: phones, cell phones, pagers, email, faxes, letters, internet (including blogging, facebook, myspace, classmates.com, del.icio.us, flickr, friendster, LinkedIn, Twitter, Xanga, and about 500 other options…). We have never had this many ways to find people and be connected ever before. When I look through my facebook, I see people from high school, college, mission trips, graduate school, work, etc. all in one place. If you need to get in touch with someone there is almost no escaping it any more. When I was on call in the hospital during graduate school I thought I was really something. They gave me a pager to wear, which I thought was pretty amazing. Then I found out that people actually page you and expect you to answer and do something for them. Being connected all the time was not as much fun as I first thought.

Things have gotten so crazy that you can even slap a phone to the side of your head and talk away “hands free.” That is a schizophrenic’s dream – just put on bluetooth and no one will know you are actually talking to yourself! You have probably experienced the awkward moment when someone is looking right at you and talking…you figure they are trying to tell you something but they are just talking on the phone. I saw a couple the other day at Wal-mart and I thought they were married because they were standing next to each other talking back and forth…little did I know they both had bluetooth. I figured it out when they went their separate ways!

With all of these means for connection, how connected are we? It used to be that people had a few dozen connections and know those people extremely well. Today many of us have hundreds if not thousands of people that we are connected to in a very limited way. We don’t really know people like we used to because we give 1000 different people .1% each. What is the result? Community has been destroyed. Relationships are loosely connected even between husbands and wives, parents and children, ministers and Christians. What does that say about the relationship with have with God? How connected have we stayed with him? Have we realized that prayer is still the most important and effective means of communication that has outpaced any technology that the world has ever or will ever see?

How have you remained connected with God and others in a generation that has remained so loosely connected?