The Messenger :: Cutting Through the Static

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Happy April! Our continued hope and prayer is that each issue of The Messenger finds you in a place of abiding and thriving in God’s Kingdom. We also know the reality of life on the field can be challenging, to say the least. That is why we strive to provide refreshment for your soul.

We want to build on our last issue and focus even more on communicating with churches about your mission. It can be a slough sometimes, trying to figure out how much time to spend on newsletters, blogs, and letters to other churches back home. Our prayer is that this months' article will truly help you “cut through the static” and find some clear ways to step forward so you can make communication more effective and efficient. So kick back, grab a cup of coffee (or tea), and be blessed by the words of our president Dan Bouchelle as we continue the discussion on communicating your mission with churches.

Better Together: Addressing Disciple Maker Resiliency and Attrition

5 Tips for Communicating with Churches About Your Mission

Few things are as challenging as a missionary's effort to communicate effectively with his or her sending and supporting churches. The obstacles are formidable. The effort often seems pointless. 

Does this sound familiar?

First, Who . Is anyone listening? Do you just communicate with the missions committee or missions committee chair or missions minister? Do you dare shoot for communication with the whole leadership or even the whole congregation? If you go for the larger audiences, how do you get access to them? What channels will reach them? Does anyone read newsletters, e-reports, or blogs? It rarely seems like anyone is paying attention. No one seems to be familiar with previous reports when you visit home assignments. Is it even worth the trouble? It seems like you get blamed for not reporting regularly but no one reads what you send. 

Second, What.  Even if you figure out who to address, what do you tell them? Do you share your strategy? Do you keep them up to date on benchmarks in your ministry development? Do they care about these details or even have the background to understand them? Or, do you keep it simple and focus on a few anecdotes? Do you tell about your struggles and failures? Isn’t that risky? Do you talk about what is happening in your family so they will feel a sense of connection to you? Do you focus on quantifiable metrics? If so, what do you measure? Is it the same things your church cares about? How do you decide what to tell, how much to tell, and how often to tell it?  

Third, How.  Your story is too complex and contextual to tell accurately in bite sizes Americans will take in. How do you really tell your story even when you are back in your passport country? You’ve probably seen people’s eyes glaze over after you’ve been talking two minutes. That certainly doesn't inspire confidence to do more. 

These are big questions that outstrip the range of a simple newsletter, kind of like your dilemma of communicating with your churches. But, let me suggest five tips to help you:  

  • Tip #1: Preparing the soil is more important than buying an expensive plant. As I read once, “A $10 hole with a $1 plant is better than a $1 hole with a $10 plant.” No plant can grow in barren soil. Almost any plant can thrive in rich soil. No matter how good your communication, no matter how well thought out, how well written, or how well packaged, it doesn’t matter if no one hears or reads it. To switch metaphors, you can sing an aria worthy of The Met, but if your microphone isn’t plugged in, few will hear it. You have to cultivate channels and relationships with key people in your churches who will serve as microphone cords, amplifiers, and speakers. If you don't build a support team in your church to pray for you, remain connected with you, look for your communications, and who will make sure they are shared with your church, you won’t likely be noticed. There is just too much competition for air time in your church to get a hearing. Systems of support and communication are more important than what is communicated (as important as that is). One champion won’t get it done. You need to build a broad support system within your church. You need a community who's bought into your mission field, your vision and strategy, and with you. While this should be done before you leave in order to get the best results, it can still be developed from the field and while on home assignment. Put more energy into creating channels for communication than creating information pieces that no one notices

  • Tip #2: Start with a story and then move to metrics and strategy. God built human brains to think in terms of story. Most of Scripture is narrative. Even the most numbers-driven businesspeople think in terms of story. One transformation story can connect with people's values. It reminds them why you are there and why they support you. But, only one story doesn’t satisfy the ROI (return on investment) concerns of major partners. Once you zoom in and show the difference your work has made in one life, you can zoom out and tell people how many such stories you know of in God’s work through your ministry, and how many potential stories there are within reach if your ministry continues.Write a couple of sentences to clarify your vision, strategy, and demonstrate its potential. This approach engages the heart and the mind. It reminds people of the why and justifies their ongoing participation. This reminds me of the scene in Gone with the Windwhere the camera shows a makeshift hospital in a train yard up-close. We see the cost of war in a handful of wounded lives. Then the camera pans upwards and we see the masses wounded and dying by the thousands. The pain of the one grabs the heart and creates deep respect for the medics. But the need of the many shows the scope of the need on the mass scale and reveals how few workers there are to address the need. A good missions report repeats this cycle

  • Tip #3: Tell some bad news or no one will believe the good news. This is not a license to whine or complain, but it is an appeal to keep it real. Smart people know that nothing in this world is all success all the time.You don’t have to lay out every failure or tell tales on bad actors, but you do need to acknowledge challenges, occasional missteps, and what you have learned from themA little of this goes a long ways, but be careful of reports that are too good to be true. It just won’t be trusted by thoughtful and mature people. Does God do some amazing things that exceed our expectations? Absolutely. Share that. Do all people who follow Jesus have to take up a cross and face opposition and heartbreak as part of the journey? Absolutely. That is also part of the story. Not only is this more true and credible, it is more compelling and will generate better support from your churches. This is likely better communicated in-person on home assignments, but it can be referenced quickly in regular reports as well. 

  • Tip #4: Hold the camera, don’t be on camera. If you want your church to stay invested in your mission, you need to help them feel a call to the people they are reaching through you. Healthy, enduring missions is not driven by the commitment of a church to a missionary, but to the mission itself. Tell stories that help your church see their impact on your mission. Make sure your communication tells God stories about the people being changed by their partnership in the ministry you are doing. Be the cinematographer, not the movie star. Your role will be most deeply appreciated if you are seen as the instrument through which your church is following God’s call to change the world in the name of Jesus. Your church needs to know what they are doing in the world with God through you. You don’t have to downplay your role. But, you are not the story. You are the reporter. I know it is tempting to tell lots of family stories (and some people will enjoy that if they know and love you), but too much of that will lead to communicating you are the mission instead of the missionary. And, that's not healthy.  

  • Tip #5: Beware of undermining your credibility on social media. I know you can stop in Paris for a few days on your way back from Africa for next to nothing. I know you can travel to a nearby cool location for a few days of well deserved R&R occasionally. I know that you see people with secular jobs posting cool pictures from cool places and you would like to do the same. But you are not helping yourself if you do. You don’t have to hide or deny any of this. But putting your cool (and rare) moments on social media leaves the wrong impression with people who don’t understand and it can severely undermine your credibility. Save those pictures for family and close friends. It is amazing how much damage missionaries do to themselves with unwitting but unwise posts on social media that can feed the unhealthy suspicions of naive people in their churches. Guard your image. Don’t present a false one, but don’t give the enemy ammunition to destroy it eitherYour credibility is all you have to offer. If you lose it, you are done

When it comes to communication, context is almost everything. If you would like some help in contextualizing these tips for your situation or more help in other areas, please free to contact us at MRN. We are here to help you .