Imagine if, every morning, I pulled into the local Starbucks to get my morning coffee, stood in line, got up to the counter, took a deep breath … and then shouted at the top of my lungs, “Quad Americano with extra room!” How happy do you think the employees would be to see me every day? Yet we do this exact kind of thing all the time. Think about online comments left in all capital letters.
According to Dr. Albert Mehrabian, communication is 93% nonverbal — and this applies to more than just in person communication. Whenever you speak to someone, through any venue, you’re communicating more than just your words. People won’t respond well to the right message if it’s sent the wrong way.
There have been books written on the do’s and don’ts of communication, online and off. I’m not the first person to observe that writing in all caps is the internet equivalent of yelling at somebody, nor the first to note that yelling at someone is a bad way to try and make them listen. But these simple communication truisms are part of a bigger truth: the first thing someone listens to is not what you say, but how you say it. And if they don’t like how you say it, they won’t listen to what you have to say.
The church has a lot to say, and it’s important — it could influence someone’s eternity. But too often, the way we say it gets our message lost in the endless stream of noise. With so many things out there competing for people’s attention, how do we cut through that and make sure our message is actually heard?
Four Keys to Being Heard
- Know your audience. This is the most basic, most vital key to communication. Who are you speaking to? What resonates with them? What alienates them? Be aware of ‘insider’ language, which creates barriers that prevent guests from feeling welcomed in. If you’re hoping to address people outside of your church community, referring to them as ‘the lost’ is a great way to highlight that they’re outsiders. At the same time, if you’re speaking to your closest core of dedicated volunteers, you should speak more familiarly to them, acknowledging all the time and energy they’ve dedicated to your ministry. As with different people in your personal life, different people in and around your ministry will feel most comfortable being spoken to in different ways — and the only way to identify the right method is to know your audience.
- Speak their language. This is a natural next step once you’ve discerned your audience — when you know whom you’re speaking to, it’ll help you determine how to speak to them. For instance, if you’re reaching out to the senior community, a mailed letter will probably reach more people than an email. If, on the other hand, you are speaking to a relatively young audience, social media is probably your best bet. Asking people to adopt some tool they are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with will only raise barriers between you and them. Know where your audience is comfortable and reach out to them where they already are.
- Connect on an emotional level. It’s great that you have a bustling event program — but for someone who hasn’t already bought into what you’re doing, ‘join us on our neighborhood prayer walks’ isn’t very compelling by itself. What gets people listening, and more than that, involved, is life change. Tell stories. If Shannon gets up and shares about how joining in on the prayer walks in her neighborhood helped her find community during a really rough time in her life, or how it opened a door for the group to witness to someone in their community, that will get people’s attention in a way that ‘doing things’ will not.
- Keep it relevant. Even if you’ve succeeded in getting someone to listen, that’s no guarantee they will keep If Mrs. Jones gets invited to the Men’s Prayer Breakfast one day and the Young Singles Life Group the next, she will start to tune you out. Make sure that you are only communicating what’s relevant to your audience. You’ll have a lot of different audiences, but each one will feel more valued and understood when you take the time to do this. The goal of your church’s communication is to drive engagement, not to create noise; consistently communicating things that actually matter to the people receiving them will make your messages stand out in the crowd.
People are inundated in communication in the modern world. The only way to be heard is to stand apart and speak in a manner that makes people want to listen. The message of the Church can influence someone’s spiritual health and eternal destination — don’t let it be washed away in the sea of noise!