My wife and I have 5 young children at home, and sometimes, when I need to say something, it’s so loud in the house that I find myself yelling and repeating myself more and more loudly until finally I yell so loud that the kids stop and pay attention. But the problem (aside from me needing to work on not raising my voice!) is that I’ve trained them to ignore most of what I say because they know that anytime I really need their attention…I’ll just keep repeating myself more and more loudly until the message finally gets through.
My wife on the other hand, is much wiser. When she needs the kids’ attention, instead of yelling louder over the noise, she speaks more softly. And all of a sudden the kids start to calm down, sensing there’s something important being said and that if they don’t tune in quick, they’ll miss it. She’s trained them differently. The kids know she’s not going to yell louder or repeat herself over and over, and so if they don’t pay attention quickly, they’re going to miss something important to them.
Too many churches, when they feel like their people aren’t listening, are just yelling their message louder and louder or repeating themselves over and over again in more and more places, hoping people eventually start to listen. This is why so many churches feel like they are spinning their wheels as they flit from one social platform or communications channel to another, hoping that one eventually works. That’s a game you will never win. And if you’re playing that game, it’s time to stop and address the real underlying issue.
I’ll give you another example. Think of the evolution of announcements on Sunday. We used to just put announcements in the bulletin, but people stopped reading the bulletin. So we started announcing the whole bulletin at the end of Mass on Sunday, but then people started leaving early so they don’t have to listen to you read the entire bulletin. So then we moved the announcements earlier to the homily where people are forced to sit there and listen to you! But of course they still manage to tune you out.
You can’t make them listen. And that’s a battle you don’t want to win anyway. Instead, you should be drawing people in, not begging them to listen. If you find yourself having to beg people to listen, you should stop and ask these two questions:
- Have you trained them that your communications are always worth their time? When 98% of your announcements are for other people, I learn to tune out 100% of them. When 98% of the information in your bulletin or emails to me is for somebody else, I learn to ignore 100% of it. Because it’s typically not worth my time to have to go through all of it just to find that little bit that I might like. Instead, segment your communications (Flocknote makes this really easy for you) so that the right information goes to just the right people, so it’s always worth their time.
- Are you saying something they really care about? Is it something they don’t want to miss? This seems really obvious, yet this is what most often still needs to be fixed first. Getting this right is what deserves most of your time and effort. If you don’t get this right, you can say it louder, you can use every kind of technology and communications platform out there, you can repeat yourself until you’re blue in the face — and people not only still won’t care, but they’ll be really annoyed by you, too. What you’re saying has to also be something which that particular audience you’re communicating with cares about — something that inspires them, helps them, challenges them, engages them, gets them excited, something they look forward to hearing in the first place.
The beautiful part is that you — your church, your ministry — are doing amazing things. We just forget to talk about them and remind people just how meaningful and important and exciting your work is.
Get that right first, then you’ll be drawing them in, rather than begging your members to listen.