A church’s job is at the same time both very simple and incredibly difficult. Though timeless truths stay the same, in every age churches are called to determine how best to lead their flocks to an encounter with those truths.

The means used to reach a congregation in the past don’t necessarily work well in the present, so it’s the perennial duty of a church to understand what will get their message to members the most efficiently.

A (very) brief history of church communication

For hundreds of years, when churches sat literally in the heart of a community, the church bell served as the primary means of drawing a community together. As time went on and communities (and literacy) grew, the church bell gave way to something able to hold a little more information: the bulletin.

Though the bulletin remained a staple, the dawn of the telephone, radio, and visual media gave churches even more options to reach members, as did the inventions of more personal, electronic media. Incidentally, verbal announcements at church have been around since the beginning, and have always been insufferable.

What allows a church to reach its members most effectively has changed in the past several decades. But the message we ought to be sending? The goal of why we even communicate in the first place? That never changes.

The dilemma

A problem many churches face today is thinking that the “old ways” can still work just as well as they did 10, 20, or (God help us) 50 years ago. But that’s just not true. These days, people change physical addresses more often than they change email addresses. The mobile phone is steadily replacing the landline — even among older populations — instead of merely being a supplement to it.  What’s more, the average American adult spends nearly three hours a day on their mobile device, and tends to pick text messaging and email over any other function during that time.

In spite of these statistics — that email and text messaging have clearly become the best way to reach people — too many churches continue to be deep in the throes of “maintenance mode,” unwilling to consider new avenues. Granted, the common concerns are valid: A lack of staff, lack of time, perceived lack of interest. But if the name of the game is evangelization — reaching people as effectively as possible to bring them to encounter — those concerns don’t justify a lack of action.

The new standard

St. Paul’s intention in exhorting the Romans to “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” (12:2) is relevant here too, if only in a tangential way. The best way for a church to solve the problem of “maintenance mode” thinking is to constantly reassess and renew how well it’s reaching its members.

The bottom line: If a church can’t quickly reach a majority of members in between Sundays, in an age where 9 out of 10 people are constantly within arm’s reach of a device, there’s a problem.  Not only should churches have a firm digital presence (a solid website, for starters), but a church also needs to have a finger on the pulse of its congregation.

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