Communicating the Message
by Mike Mazzalongo • 16 min
In this lesson we'll talk about the use of computers in ministry later but first I'd like to put these types of ministry tools into the larger context of the proper use of the media. Media is the big picture and computers are a part of that overall scheme. So let's first talk about media in ministry.
Media is the vehicle for communication and you as Bible/Mission/Preaching/Education majors are really in the business of communication. In your particular case it is the communication of God's message to man.
So it is important for you to understand how various medias work so you can become effective communicators.
And there is no better place to examine media than the Bible because it contains a history of the communication between God and Man as well as the various "Medias" used to accomplish it.
Direct Communication by God to People
We begin with God revealing Himself to Adam, the patriarchs, prophets, Apostles, various servants without intermediaries. Yet He used a "method" or "media" to communicate to these people as the Hebrews writer states in vs. 1:
He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and many ways
God chose communication methods (medias "ways") suitable and effective for the time and person in question, for example:
- Face to face with Adam and Eve – Genesis 3:8
- In the form of an angel for Abraham – Genesis 18:1-3
- In dreams and visions for Joseph – Genesis 37:5
- With a burning bush for Moses – Exodus 3:1-9
- The sound of a voice and appearance of a dove for the witnesses of Jesus' baptism – Matthew 3:13-17
- Tongues of fire for the Apostles – Acts 2:3-4
All God, all communication, but the methods (Medias) were different based on the need of the hearers and the message in question. For example, God speaks of the future to Joseph in a dream.Moses' doubts are overcome by the dramatic appearance of a burning bush – a dream would not have sent him back to face the Pharaoh. Tongues of fire confirm the anointing of the Apostles with the Spirit of God in a dynamic way.
The Bible demonstrates that even God uses various "Medias" in order to communicate with man. These Medias (burning bush, dreams, tongues of fire, etc.) are always well suited to the time and needs of the hearer.
God's Indirect Communication Through People
Of course, God communicating directly to one person or a group is the exception, not the rule. Most of God's communication has been through the agency of different individuals. For example:
- Noah warning of the flood by building the ark – Hebrews 11:7
- Moses delivered the written law of God to the chosen people for the first time – Exodus 31:18
- The prophets and priests teaching God's people in an organized way – Ezra 7:1-10; (Apostles) – Acts 2:42
Again the people in question were communicating God's word but were using different medias. For example:
- Noah – object lesson – building the ark.
- Moses – written document of authority.
- Ezra / Apostles – organized educational approach.
The message was from God, the messengers chosen by God, but the media changed with time and place and need.
Of course, the appearance of Jesus on earth combines both of these direct and indirect models into one sole messenger. God fashions a human body for Himself and inhabits it to communicate directly with other humans. But even here we see a variety of medias used by Jesus:
- Washing the Apostles' feet – Object Lesson – John 13:3-5
- Parables – Imagery / Metaphor – Luke 8:1-19
- Sermon on the mount – Organized Instruction – Matthew 5-7
Jesus was the supreme communicator so with these examples, I just wanted to demonstrate that the Son of God, able to do miracles, speak the truth without error, full of wisdom and knowledge – nevertheless chose different medias to communicate with the people of that time. The reason for this is evident – there is more than one way to communicate with people and those who are in the business of communication should be skilled in the various medias of our generation in order to be effective communicators.
We live in an information age where there are vast amounts of information about any subject (including Christianity) available and traded each moment of the day. This is a wonderful blessing but there are also several downsides for those of us who are in the business/Ministry of communicating information (preaching the good news). The first is:
1. Our message can become distorted or trivialized because of the overwhelming amount of other information about religion available.
- Google – at least 824 million references for word "Jesus"
- 113 million references for word "Salvation"
- 41 million references for word "Church of Christ"
- Not all of them say the same thing and the conflicting information about Jesus, salvation, and the church has a tendency to extinguish faith, not build it up.
The key for us here is clarity, consistency, and repetition so that people who hear our message will be able to recognize us as the messengers and have confidence in the message.
- John the Baptist preached, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand" – Matthew 3:2
- After he was imprisoned, Jesus continued with this message unchanged, "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand. – Matthew 4:17
- Jesus sent out the twelve and Mark says that… "they went out and preached that men should repent." – Mark 6:12
In the glut of ever shifting information about the gospel, the Christ, the church, in order to stand out in our community we have to make sure that we have a clear and consistent message repeated through as many "medias" as possible.
Another downside to the vasts amount of information today is:
2. No one hears our message because we are not using the proper "medias" to get it across.
Why do we not use "gospel meetings" anymore? They preach the gospel. They are Biblical in nature. They have the right objective – to proclaim Christ, save the lost. They are often bathed in prayer and hard work. But, in general, they are not very effective in our day and time. Why? Because they are the wrong media in the present culture.
- They are too time intensive. People don't have 3-5 nights in one week to devote to one activity.
- There are better ways and faster ways of getting same info. DVDs, websites or small groups can provide same info in less time.
- There is a distrust of pressure in religious discourse. People nowadays don't trust religious groups who use pressure or manipulation in recruitment – much of this at these type of meetings.
Many churches bemoan the fact that we don't do the "meeting" anymore – they think this is the "Biblical" or "anointed" media for evangelism. Others do it anyways because they don't know what else to do. I am not saying people still aren't converted at meetings but when you examine the cost ratio in time and money spent by the people involved, you realize that there might be better ways of investing the Lord's money and the church's time.
We must make an attempt to examine the various media available to most churches and how to use them effectively.
The final downside in today's information age is the one I find most frustrating:
3. No one believes our message because we are not properly using the media we do have to communicate.
Notice the difference between the last point and this one:
- The last point said we are not using the right media.
- This point says we are not using the media right.
Sometimes a church will use different media (like print, radio, etc.) but will do such a poor job with it that it has a negative result.
GOOD MESSAGE + POOR PERFORMANCE = CONFLICTED HEARERS
And poor media performance creates doubt! For example, flyers with outdated graphics and cheap paper. Outdoor signs that are faded, damaged, burned lights, neglected. Ads in newspapers where the printing is too small and the layout is amateurish.
We would not think of building our meeting places without professional architects and engineers but leave the building of our message and image in the community to those without any training. And yet our message is much more important than our meeting place!
You would not go buy food or have your car repaired at a business that "LOOKED" like it was run by people who are less than competent. That's why car techs at lube joints wear uniforms – they are trying to look competent.
Why would you entrust your soul or the souls of your family to a church that cheaps out on printing paper or has a sign out front with burned out lights and misspelled words; or no website in this day and age.
We not only have to be competent and trustworthy ("…handling accurately the word of truth…" as Paul says in II Timothy 2:15), we also have to be perceived as being competent and trustworthy by those who hear our message. This is where proper use of the various Medias in ministry comes in.
The gospel message communicated through effective media produces confidence not only in the message but also in the messengers!
So there's a little theory about the relationship between the messengers, the message, the media, and the masses. Let us now take a look at the practical side of media and its use in the ministry of the church, and where computers fit into the mix.
5 Media Types
I know that as soon as we mention media in ministry students immediately think of the internet/facebook/twitter and other social media. Of course, online media is important but there are 5 media "types" that you need to be familiar with if you want to effectively communicate the Word of God to everyone. Not all people are online. Even people online are not always online.
When it comes to media, you have to be careful not to be too far ahead of the technology curve. Remember technology serves ministry, not the other way around. Always need to use the correct media/technology with the right people in the correct way.Here are 5 media types that are used most often in ministry.
Media Type #1 – In-House Media
In-house media includes everything and everyone used to support the communication process within the church. From the moment visitors or members approach your meeting place, they are impacted positively or negatively by various in-house media you have in place. I want each group to visualize a member and a visitor driving or walking to your church building for Bible class and worship.
1. Outdoor Signage
These should include:
- Directions at cross streets for difficult locations.
- Billboards in local community
- Outdoor sign with name of congregation
- Could have electronic message board.
- Signs indicating special parking, (visitors, seniors, families, handicap)
- Signs for entrances/visitors/classes.
2. Visitor Desk / Counter
It needs to be manned during class and worship for late comers.
3. Visitor Information Packs
These can include welcome messages, the most recent bulletin, information linking to your website, etc.
4. Message Center
This is for congregational communication. It could be computer terminals with access to church website / members' area with information, etc.
5. Interior Signage
Clearly indicates directions to and location of nursery, restrooms, classes, etc.
6. Bulletin Boards
Need to be maintained and updated or don't do it. Produces negative results when left unattended. Says nobody cares.
7. Church History Boards or Displays
Tell visitors your story. Remind young members of their history. Builds a sense of belonging, history, continuity.
8. Membership and Leader Boards or Displays
This is a good idea but the hard part for congregations is that they need to be updated regularly.
- Scripture references/mission statement.
- Don't put in the church building what you would not put in your home.
- Cheap decorations look cheap – spend the money!
10. Bulletins / Inserts / Worship Schedule
- Key communication tool for the congregation.
- Don't use pre-packaged clip art only!
- Members like to read about what is going on in their church. Names, events, the life of the body reported on.
- Change the style and layout every 1-2 years.
11. Elder / Deacon / Minister Identification
This is needed in a congregation of more than 200.
12. Songbook / Bibles
Need to be maintained. Visitors are sometimes turned off by damaged books improperly stacked in pews. It communicates carelessness and lack of respect.
13. Proper Auditorium Lighting
Bright enough to read easily, not so bright as to be uncomfortable. Burned out lights say we don't care. A lighting consultant can tell you if you have enough candle power for a public meeting place.
14. Stage Lighting
The stage should be in brighter and stronger light than the auditorium. People should be able to clearly see the speaker – no strain.
15. Sound System
Some people will spend 1M$ on an auditorium and then go to Radio Shack (Circuit City) for the sound system to save money. The quality of the sound is more important than the quality of the carpet! It is worth the money to have it installed by professionals who will analyze the needs of the room and fit a proper system to it.
You want the sound to naturally come to the person in the audience wherever they are sitting – not the person having to strain to get his ear to the sound. Eventually, people get tired of poor sound and tune everything out.
16. Good Microphones
Wired microphones are best (no batteries, no distortion, no interference). Can get a wired lapel mike. Have one for the table, one for prayer leaders, one for the pulpit (if they are pre-set).
17. AV Equipment / Screen / Computers
More song leaders use PowerPoint as well as preachers. Again, have the pros set it up for best results. Each room has its specific needs. Today you can archive sermons and services on video. 2 points to remember in the use of these in preaching and teaching.
- Pre-test your equipment every time you use it.
- Have someone else work the slides. A preacher looking back at the pictures or fiddling with his remote or computer loses momentum and audience attention. It is an aid not a crutch. A good lesson can stand alone if it needs to.
This is also a good area to get younger people involved who normally are hard to integrate.
18. Closed Circuit TV
If you have AV and computers, it is not too hard to set-up a camera in the auditorium and feed the service to monitors in the nursery, cry room, etc.
19. Hearing Impaired / Translation Audio
Today they have wireless headsets. Check out http://www.listentech.com
20. Greeters / Ushers
One of the most effective media tools are greeters who welcome and direct visitors and ushers who assist folks in finding seats or escort visitors around an unfamiliar building. On rainy days, we used to have a dozen umbrellas and had youth volunteers escort seniors, moms with kids, visitors from the parking lot to the foyer. Greeters need to be trained also in safety procedures.
21. Public Relations
Someone needs to be designated as the person who speaks to the media when necessary. He / she issues press releases about church activities or official responses during crisis. It should be same person who makes "announcements"
Keep announcements down to
- Things not in bulletin
- Big events coming
PR is, in many ways, one of the most effective communication tools for the local church. It is presented as news or information but works as advertising. Churches do not use it enough!
If your in-house media is not up to date, effective, well thought out – it doesn't matter what other media you plan to use. In the end people will take away their first impression or their lasting impression from the in-house media they are exposed to in your home congregation.
Media Type #2 – Print
There are many examples of print media. Here are the most common:
1. Yellow Pages (This is now online these days)
Be in the main one (many local and regional). Visitors and new move-ins use this (People looking specifically for you, not religion. Be easy to find!). Provide map/times of services Make sure there is an answer on the answering machine for office phone because Yellow Page people call on weekends and off hours.
Don't just advertise the existence of your church – yellow pages does that. Newspaper ads work best when you advertise an event, program, service. Some rules:
- Buy space in advance because papers need lead time.
- Have a pro layout your ad for it to look professional.
- Not too much copy. Tiny print turns off readers.
- Make the point (event, service, etc.) clear & simple.
- Don't cheap out. Small ads need many repetitions, large ads less. Buy a group of ads – better price.
- Stay away from religious page. Place ad where the people are (men: sports/women: lifestyles/older: editorial, business, etc.)
Circulars are one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to canvass your local community. The secret to success with circulars, however, is repetition and consistency.
Many churches send out one brochure to the neighborhood in a 2-year period and wonder why they don't get great results. Companies that print and distribute circulars will tell you that people will read or look at your brochure after having received it a few times or if it arrives at a time when there is a need for your "product".
For examples, movers in the spring/tires in the fall/tuxedo rentals at the end of school, etc. The ideal situation for the local church is that it budgets for 4 circular deliveries each year following the seasons. The circular needs to have the same "core" (image of meeting place, times, general ministries, etc.) and change the rest according to activities, services, projects that suit the season. For example:
- Summer: VBS program, Daycare, Camps, Kids activities
- Fall: Marriage seminars, college classes or activities
- Winter: Small groups (grieving), new Christian classes
- Spring: Senior outdoor activities, ladies/men's retreats, new baby wellness classes
If you sign up for 4 deliveries per year, you get a better price and can have "shells" preprinted. Some churches have their own circular printed and go through the Post office for "bulk" mailing (11ȼ) each (No address – each household gets one) Circulars cost from 16 ȼ to 25 ȼ each to print/handle/mail but that is not too expensive to reach every household in your community.
Unless you have a specific project and a specific target group, magazines are not the most cost effective way to advertise for a local church.
Billboards are great for establishing your identity and location in the community. Billboard ads are signed for weeks or months by contract (1-3 months usual) Rules for billboard ad:
- One idea only for the board, people are moving too quickly to "read" and digest.
- BIG BOARDS MAKE BIG MISTAKES so be sure of what you want to convey because once it's up – it's very large!
- Stick to basics: Who/What/Where
- If possible use more than one to reinforce message
- Have a pro design it because they type and size have to be done to be legible at a distance and while traveling.
Media Type #3 – Audio
Let's look at some of the most use types of audio media available.
The most common use of audio in the church is to archive lessons and sermons.Today, we are moving away from audio tapes and going towards digital recording: CDs, MP3 files . I recently transferred over 500 audio sermons stored 7-10 cardboard boxes onto a couple of CDs or onto a memory stick that fits into my pocket.You can now store sermons and classes on your church website and members can access these at will, also share and distribute to others as evangelism method.
There are still many programs on radio that feature preaching and teaching. These are being displaced by the internet which gives the listener the freedom to choose the time and type of material he wants.Best use of radio today is like circulars – to create awareness of your presence in the community. (Do for 1 year MIN)
- Short 15-30 sec. spot ads
- Focus on building awareness of church presence and spec. programs, minister
- Use different stations to cover all demographics.
Media Type #4 – Video
The most common use of video media is the use of special teaching series on history, marriage counseling, Bible geography, etc. Great for small churches that do not have many teachers. One person can be trained as the resource person to play video, hand out lesson notes, lead discussion groups after. This frees up the minister to teach a second class.
- As churches equip themselves with video cameras and computers, it is becoming easier to record lessons and sermons on video and provide these for members.
- Many use this as an outreach tool giving a DVD of a lesson or service to friends, family, etc.
- Ultimate is to have a mail-out of a DVD/CD instead of a paperflyer, to the community. Bulk cost between 30-60 ȼ.
Public access and cable TV provides an opportunity to broadcast religious programming to the community on TV. A good example of this is SEARCH.
Many evangelical (church.tv groups) use base church and broadcast to satellite congregations. With fairly inexpensive equipment, 5-10K, you can record your program and put it on public access TV for free.
In Canada, Keys to the Kingdom is on a network (VISION) which charges for airtime. The advantage is that you get a regular time slot and national exposure whereas public access is local only.
Basic equipment includes:
- Sound mixer
- Computer with special software
- 3 lights with stand
When I was preaching in Verdun, Canada, we filmed our worship service and preaching and also stream it live on our website for shut-ins, etc.
TV for advertising is expensive but can be effective (15-30 sec.) to establish "presence" in your community.
4. Reporting / Fundraising
Many of you are or will be supported by churches where you are not preaching (Missionaries/interns, etc.) Video is becoming an effective way of reporting on your work and raising the funds necessary to carry on with your mission work.
Keep videos short and to the point. Make sure that they are about the work, what is being accomplished, what the needs are, success, challenges. Not too much about your family, picnics, what you did on your vacation (people want to see the work). They need to see what is peculiar about your work and what and why you need help.
5. In-house Ministry
Video is great to record and preserve events in the church. Picnics, Youth trips/events, VBS, projects. Each year a retrospective of various events can be put together and shown to the church during a year-end celebration. Creates historical record. Helps bind members together. Gives "creative" members an opportunity to use skills.
Media Type #5 – Internet
Every congregation needs a computer and its own website! The internet is the way that people communicate today!
Emails / Instant Messages / Text messages / Blogs / Twitter / Facebook. These are not "fads", they are replacing the home phone and network television as the main means of communications!
Fifty years ago a church needed a sign on the front lawn, a telephone number, and a listing in the phonebook in order to be visible and in business. An ad in the Yellow Pages was a plus.
Today, people look for you on the internet first and if you are not there, they move on. Having a presence on the Internet is not just a listing like in the phonebook – it's a statement!!
- It says that this church understands you.
- It says that this church speaks your language.
- It says that this church is competent because it has mastered and uses today's technology.
- It says that this church cares enough about you to be where you are, to come to you and communicate with you on your terms.
- It says that if you come to this church, you will find people like yourself.
- It says that this church and its message are still relevant in this world.
Here are some uses of computer / internet media:
All that audio, video, text material can be stored on your website and accessed by those visiting.
Your website is your "storefront" on the internet where you can have people "visit" your congregation virtually. Some congregations provide a virtual tour of their church building on their site. You can provide info on the church, ministers, ministries, etc. New arrivals/visitors search for new church home on the web!
Your website can have "live" chat discussions and Bible studies with members or others.; Bible discussions online, Q&A sessions, meetings, Twitter feed with instant updates on sick/event, Facebook where members interact.
You can program your website so that it will draw people who type in certain words so that they will be brought to your site. We have a Bible correspondence course option on the 2nd language side of our website (Spanish or Chinese).
One great advantage I have seen in the use of the internet is that it has enabled me to encourage many skilled men and women into service who traditionally were not suited for "public" ministry (song leading, preaching, Lord's table, etc.)
So many people with technical skills in this area are being integrated into ministry in a dynamic way.
This was an overview of the use of media in church work – hope you have seen its important role and gained some useful info you can use in your ministry.