Guest Post by Joanna la Fleur
A decade ago, I was doing marketing and public relations in the tech industry, when the company’s graphic designer pulled me over to his desk. He had a photo of our main product up on the screen. For the purposes of this story, it doesn’t matter what the product did, but just imagine a large, black metal box, with computer components inside.
He was trying different effects and colours on the photo, asking me which I preferred. He said, “Joanna, what can I do to make this look sexy?”. And the only thing I could think in my head at the time was, “There’s nothing you can do to make this look sexy. It’s just a big black box.”
In that moment, in that tech company cubicle, I felt God speak to me. He was nudging me towards what I had known for a long time; that I didn’t care about the big black box. I was being called to use the exact same skills in communications and marketing that I used to sell big black boxes to serve the Church instead.
Fast forward to 2020, and I have been working with local churches, Christian non-profits, and amazing organizations like Compassion for most of my career.
I do this because of my deep conviction that the Church carries the best news in the world, so we should be the best communicators in the world… and yet often we lag behind in technology, style, and cultural nuance to reach people with the Good News of Jesus.
One of the places I try to serve the church is through my podcast, Word Made Digital, that gives timely and practical insight into our culture, technology, and creative ways to communicate.
It has been a total privilege to partner with Compassion Canada over the past year on the podcast platform because it connects podcast listeners to an organization that is striving to communicate with excellence about how the Good News is changing the lives of children around the world.
The sobering reality of poverty, displacement, disease, and inequality is very real. Yet, Compassion is able to demonstrate how we can communicate the beautiful, radical change that occurs in the life of a child and their family when they are met with the love of Christ for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. We see it in every photo, video, and story that Compassion Canada shares. We can outlove poverty. This really IS the best news in the world!
Here are a few practical tips for how you and your church can become better communicators and advocates for children:
1. Share stories
Humans are storytellers! Telling the stories of specific children with specific needs or triumphs over adversity are far more memorable than facts and data. Particularly in 2020, stories are a currency that can be used to gain trust with your audience.
These stories don’t need to be elaborate, but short paragraphs in the monthly emails, church bulletins, or announcements about where people’s giving goes in your community.
2. Be consistent
We marketers (and many pastors) know that we need to share a message over and over, in a variety of ways before it “clicks” for someone to take an action from that message. As a rule of thumb, by the time you are getting sick of talking about an initiative that is really important to your mission and values, the congregation is only just beginning to understand it.
Beyond short attention spans and competing priorities for the congregation, we know that the church attendance trends say that people who attend church regularly are attending less. So if you only communicate the message one or two weeks in one method of communication, you’ll miss talking to many people who might want to rally around, for example, child sponsorship or other Compassion projects. Say it, say it everywhere, and then say it a few more times.
3. Use visuals
Like stories, people remember visuals because they connect with the emotional centers of our brain. Compassion has amazing photos, videos, graphics, and more that can be used to enhance your message of hope and love for the least of these.
As often as possible, have imagery of the children you’re talking about integrated with your communication plan. This is not to manipulate or objectify, but rather to help people understand that there are real people and families affected by our action or inaction. This is good news for Priya. This is hope for Ali. Esther is able to go to this school. Charles drinks from this clean well.
4. Get personal
If it doesn’t matter to you personally, it won’t matter to many people in your congregation. Connect with people by telling them why this matters to you, and how you have been personally moved to love these children. If you have the courage to be vulnerable and share about sponsoring a child from your real perspective, people will respond.
A good rule of thumb in all communication is, if you have to choose, go for connection over content. People will find the details of all the content later if they need to, but they won’t go searching for it at all if you haven’t made effort to connect. Look people in the eye, don’t read from notes, and connect over how this affects you and is important to you and your family.
Becoming a better communicator of good news takes practice, but it can be learned!
For more tips and tools to communicate more effectively in the Digital Age, visit Joanna’s website or check out the Word Made Digital podcast.