Updated: Oct 5, 2020
by Rev. Marj Funk-Pihl, Director for Evangelical Mission, SWCA Synod
Which method of communication to you use MOST OFTEN to get the word out about events and volunteer opportunities in your congregation?
Announcements, newsletter, and bulletin articles.
Intentional conversations between friends.
During Synod assembly this past June, I asked folks to raise their hands in response to that question. Most chose “A,” and indeed, that is the most common method of communication in our congregations. If we put something in the bulletin, and the newsletter and make an announcement for a couple of weeks in worship, we believe we have gotten the word out. Yet studies on how new products are received by society show that we aren’t using the most effective method available to us.
Dr. Everett Rogers has researched “the diffusion of innovations” since 1962. His studies have found that mass media (announcements, bulletin blurbs, emails) only persuades about 10% of the population to act. The other 90% are moved to action only when someone they know talks to them about the product, event, or idea. There’s also a sociological adage at play here. Studies show that if a group consists of around 35 – 40 people, everyone in it assumes they are a valued member.
Here’s an example of how this theory and Rogers’ findings combine in real life. Maybe this has happened in your congregation:
For two Sundays in a row the Pastor/lay leader has announced that volunteers are needed for VBS. It’s also been in the bulletin and in the e-newsletter. There are two services in this congregation, each has an average worship attendance under 50. Only three people talk to the VBS coordinator. When the coordinator complains to friends that not enough people are helping, each one says: “Oh, I didn’t know you needed help! I figured if it was important, you tell me!”
The operating assumption in this scenario is that since we are a close group, when something needs to be done or a decision is in the works, someone will include me! I am a valued member, why wouldn’t I be included! The damaging side of this is that when no one talks to me, my feelings get hurt. Somewhere in the back of my mind I wonder if you love me as much as I love you. I resent the fact that I was excluded, which damages my sense of trust.
Every congregation in our synod who has taken the Congregational Vitality Survey (about 33 so far) has high scores for how close members feel to one another. This is the great strength on which we need to build, because those same congregations gave themselves low scores for their satisfaction with communication and how decisions are made. My guess is that we need to have more intentional conversations between friends. We aren’t utilizing the network of relationships in our congregation as a communication tool. The result is that people who feel deep love for one another are, paradoxically, also feeling left out.
An underlying premise of this three-part series about Living the Resurrection is that words have power. Our goal is to pay attention to the words we use to describe our relationships with one another. Once we know which words we use, we can build on the most life-giving words to overcome the damaging ones. Our response to this discovery could be: How can we expand our strong sense of closeness to create a more inclusive communication strategy?
We love one another. Let’s encourage that love. Use the network of relationships in your congregation to communicate so that everyone is heard and can be as involved as they want to become. Our synod vitality process, “Living the Resurrection,” teaches us to map our relationships to make sure everyone is covered.
To learn more about this process check out the information this website under 18 month process and consider attending an introduction to Living the Resurrection workshop.