About a week ago I was invited to a meeting with communications consultant who were doing a communications audit of the conference. I admit I looked forward to the meeting because I would be able to get some of my frustration out with how we communicate. I did get that pleasure but I also heard some common themes during my time at the meeting.
- How do we communicate to the generation that is not logged in?
- There needs to be a person in the congregation who is in charge of communication not just the pastor.
- Abilities and tools differ at each appointment.
1) This will probably be a battle we constantly fight for the next 10-15 years. We have people who want to unplug or have never been plugged in as leaders in our churches. This adds a level of communication to our tasks. I cannot simply send out an email reminder about an upcoming meeting. I send an email to those who have email and a phone call to the others. Both options are cheaper than sending out a reminder. There will be a time when the Boomers finally get to really up there in age that this problem might go away but like stated before it will take some time. Do we as a conference and clergy continue to duplicate communication to suit people’s personal lifestyles? Do we require leaders of the local church to have access and use email? Is there a line that should be drawn and if so where should it be?
2) I agree that as pastors we do have to sort through a ton of bad communication. I look at the junk mail that comes to my church and it takes me at least 5 minutes just to sort out the real stuff from the junk. That is simply the physical paper. Email junk mail is the same. Do I have time to go through our E-news (which I do enjoy) and forward this to the people who need to read it or better yet, print the article? (I can get them to sign up for the email but then that takes you back to #1) If we had someone who could do this for us it would be a little simpler. Mrs. Laity may love to know what type of missions a church in Asheville and I wish she could access it. With a lay person, who likes to communicate, might be the best option because the truth be told, I am simply gleaning what I personally need from the emails and not thinking about who else could benefit from them.
3) Warning stepping on soapbox. I think it is a little insane that pastors have to continue to fight the technological battle at every appointment. Why cannot there be a standard that every appointment has to adhere to? We live in 2009 and broadband or DSL costs around $30-$60 a month depending on what is required. With everything that is online now (which is a great addition to our conference website) you need this type of access. Why not require all churches to have internet access at their church offices. The only reason I have it is because the office is at the parsonage and I pay for it. Not only that but the church computer runs off of Windows 98 and is in an old donated cubical. The only thing it is used for is to print something off and to keep attendance records. Why can’t our conference work a deal with a computer company and create a rule that every appointed pastor is given a laptop. Then every 5 years it is replaced. We are only talking a cost of $500-$700 every five years, that isn’t much. The total cost of providing pastors with up-to-date technology may cost the local church $40-$70 a month. This is truly minimal but could provide pastors with the gift of constancy as we move from place to place. It is a requirement of our “business” to be able to access the internet and provide information, shouldn’t we be granted the ability to do so?
I cannot speak for every conference but WNCC is making some strides. We are at least in 1995 now. Bishop Goodpaster has done some creative things that I think will work out well, like his YouTube address (although I hope to see the next installment soon). Our E-News is good and so is the E-pistle. I think we can take some hints and direction from UMCom’s email newsletter though and add some more headlineish features to make it more accessible.
Communication within the conference is tricky and we are playing catch up. There are some understandable hurdles (I will post on those soon) but I do think we can strive to do better.
What do other conferences do for communications? Is there a paper product like NCC’s Advocate? Is there a conference that has said, only paperless communication, no email…to bad? What ways have conferences made leaps into good communication with clergy and laity? Love to know what is working, because what isn’t is too easy to spot.