A Different Take on All Things Communications

I find myself in an airport this Saturday afternoon waiting to board a flight to Brazil for a conference of international religion journalists (Read more about this exciting event). It’s the pay-off for months of work with a team of first-rate people from across the globe in no less than three languages (Portuguese, Spanish, and English).

We are a tech-savvy group. Skype and Facebook and Twitter and Dropbox and Constant Contact and sophisticated online travel tools were all important to bringing the event to pass. Indeed, we could hardly have pulled the meeting together in as little time as we did had we been working in the pre-internet age.

All of which has little to do with church communications, save this. At no time in this process did the technology itself take center stage. Sure–you can do some pretty amazing things in incredibly short periods of time with online tools and communication channels. But at the end of the day, the technology isn’t the story. The people who are coming together, are. It’s a reality that many churches (and nonprofits) I encounter need a gentle reminder about.

An odd observation from a guy who makes his living teaching organizations to make smarter use of technology? Not really. In an age when newer and faster seem to trump everything (What, your church is still using e-mail? Your pastor still uses the iPhone4? You aren’t live-tweeting events? You’re still checking in with FourSquare?), we too often forget that technology is a tool for, not the solution to, better communication.

Your Kids Aren’t Technologically Smarter

In our organizations’ fervent races to reach new audiences, we routinely point to “the young” as a reason for expanding an existing technology, and adopting whatever new tool the young are turned on to at the moment. It’s a kind of social-networking arms race that Apple has turned into a multi-billion dollar business (as well as the major phonemakers and carriers) and convinces us that we ignore it at our own peril.

But are our kids really more technologically savvy? Perhaps in the sense that they adopt and adapt to new things earlier. But why? Because the new works so much better than the old, or does something radically new? No. (Ask most youngsters why they want the newest and the latest, and you’ll get an American-Bandstand-type answer: I love the graphics and it’s faster. Sounds like “it has a good beat and you can dance to it.”) They adopt new technology to stay one step ahead of their parents, grandparents, and other, older, family members.

By buying into the arms-race mentality, we lose sight of a fundamental truth. Technology won’t improve your communication. Surprisingly boring, simple things will.

  1. Talk with people. I use “with” and not “to,” intentionally. Churches and nonprofits need to talk with their members about their needs, their wants, their successes, and their lives. The power of really listening is as potent today as it ever was.
  2. Grow the community you have, not the one you want. Yes, be forward-looking, plan strategically for the future, and for growth. But grow with the people you have, not the ones you wish you had.

it’s into this strategy you bring social media and other communication channels. To serve and enhance what you’re building.

A small group of committed people building upon relationships developed over time upon trust and respect can move the world with the help of social media. Or simply put you on a plane to Brazil.

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