Storytelling – the future of church communication

communicationThe future of communication in the church is all about storytelling, not technology.

That’s what I’m telling the folks who are looking ahead and thinking about the Ministry of Communication at Richmond’s First Baptist Church. They’re laying the groundwork for what kind of person they want to lead the ministry after I retire in September.

When I first joined the FBC staff in 1993, my job title was Media Minister. The focus of my work was using the various media at our disposal: television, printed newsletters & brochures, and public announcements. There was no website, no digital signage, and no online magazine.  If we wanted to get the word out to the community about something, we notified the radio & TV stations and the daily newspaper. There were no online community calendars, no social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Linked In.

SurinameI used to jokingly tell people that I was the “Minister of Machines.” That was not far from the truth. Fortunately, I didn’t have to run a full-blown print shop, as I had done in a previous church. We farmed out the printing, and it cost a small fortune. But I did spend a lot of time keeping the television equipment running. There were dedicated boxes all along the signal path, each one performing some specialized function. There were tape machines and big, heavy, energy-hungry, heat-producing video monitors everywhere.

A television engineer friend used to quip, “Television is so complex, with so many interrelated connections and finicky sub-systems, that when every little piece works perfectly, the whole system just barely works.” When I started in television in the late 60’s, it took an army of technicians to keep all those little pieces working and playing well together. I had a full head of hair back then!

powers_editingI still spend a lot of time wrangling technology and scratching my bald head when something doesn’t work. But these days, there are no tape machines. Everything’s recorded in 1’s and 0’s on hard drives. The cathode ray tubes are gone and sleek, thin LED monitors sit in their place.

The lone computer in the FBC TV control room when I arrived 20 years ago has been replaced many times over with ever-more-sophisticated and powerful processors. Most of those specialized black boxes are gone. There are half dozen more computers. They allow us to create visual and audio effects that only high-end Hollywood studios could do just a few years ago.

These days I’m the “Associate Pastor, Communication.” And I focus more on who, what, when, where, why, and how, than on the hardware used to carry the message.

yay-4455770It’s all about telling stories and connecting with people.

One size does not fit all. Truth be told, it never did.

There are so many communication channels, so much “noise” and competition for our attention, the biggest challenge is discovering and tracking how and where people get their information and what factors exert influence as they make decisions.

We deal in spiritual matters. So results are rarely quantifiable using simple math. You can’t count heads in the sanctuary on Sunday morning and get an accurate measure of spiritual maturity.  You can’t gauge the effectiveness of our efforts to communicate the Gospel by adding up what’s dropped in the offering plate. The measure of success, I’ve been learning, is in the stories of life change… of transformation. Telling and listening to those stories is the “stuff” of the church’s communication ministry.

So here’s to the storytellers of the next generation. And don’t count me out of the game quite yet, either. I’ve still got a few yarns to spin.

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