Nearly fifty years ago Marshall McLuhan’s book Understanding Media coined the phrase “the medium is the message.” In the five decades since we have been struggling to fully come to grips with all the ramifications of different forms of media and how it is used. Adding to the complexity is the speed at which media is changing, and the options that we now have at our disposal. Over the last six months I have had seemingly dozens of conversations with church leaders about the usage of new media (for our purposes, internet stuff), especially social media, in the church world… in each of these conversations I seem to come back to McLuhan.
It has been exciting to watch churches engage with the internet over the last decade (especially the last five years), and watch how they leverage the tools available to them to advance the cause of Christ… or not. While many churches are doing amazing things through their use of web pages and social networks, some churches are missing the boat completely… and sending a message opposite of the one they are trying to communicate.
Last week Katya Andresen nailed in it on her blog:
Remember: Communications is not about what you say, it’s about what people hear.
Your message is no match for the mental machinations of your audience’s mind.
If you don’t get what makes that mind tick, you’re not communicating. You’re just talking.
So what does this have to do with churches and new media? Everything.
My generation and the generations behind us are more fully bought into McLuhan’s philosophy than any generation before. Savvy churches understand that regardless of how important, beneficial, or life changing a message that you intend to communicate is… presenting it poorly, cheaply, or in an uninspiring manner will ensure that you are just talking.
So, how do churches engage in new media in a way that allows them to communicate? Three things to consider:
- Pay For Your Website. The days of having someone’s nephew or a kid in the youth group taking care of your web page are over. A church website is far too important of a tool to leave in the hands of amateurs, or people who will get to it when they can. As your church directs people to its website for more information, as you advertise your website on promotional materials, or as visitors are deciding whether to give you a chance (where do you think they get their first impression?), the message being communicated by your website will either help or hinder your mission. This is something worth financially investing in.
- Be Intentional. Using twitter (or any other social media tool) because Big & Trendy Community Church on the other side of town uses it, just doesn’t cut it. This is where churches get in trouble (without realizing it) more than anywhere else. As you develop your new media strategy be thinking through why and how you are going to use a tool, and then make sure you are able to execute it well. Be thinking through specifics like how often should we be posting on a blog to make it worthwhile, or does our QR code direct people to a mobile website?
- Keep Focused. Your entire communication strategy needs to be consistent. Several years ago a church I am familiar with spent a large sum of money on television commercials that were aimed twenty and thirty somethings who were wanting to wrestle through their faith issues. The commercials were great… except that a Sunday service was made of of mostly middle aged (and older) who were secure in their faith, and looked forward to preaching that resembled a college lecture. Anyone who came because of those commercials, came once.
How do YOU make sure that your medium isn’t killing Christ’s message?