July 16, 2012

Communication as Helium

Communication is ministry. General Convention said so.

In a resolution passed by both the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops, General Convention put into the record that communications is an essential ministry.

Resolution A024 says that communications “enables and empowers evangelism, congregational development, the building of community, and mission at the Churchwide, diocesan, and congregational levels.” It continues, saying there should be a trained communications person in each diocese and ongoing training in communications for all congregations. There should be a sensitivity to multilingual and multicultural contexts. And, so says the resolution, communications should be adequately funded to meet the needs of mission and ministry as defined by the diocese.

There. No more worries about communications being cut off at the knees. Right? 

Sadly, just because General Convention says it’s so doesn’t mean that every diocese and congregation will change their opinions about communication and about what constitutes adequate funding and support. In tight budgets, communication is easy to cut. Posting information on a website and preparing newsletters (electronic or print) doesn’t keep the lights on. Or does it?

What importance do we really give to communications? How vital is it that we tell the Good News, that we share the story of the Gospel as it is lived in this time, in this day? 

The resolution passed by General Convention gives some needed support for those of us who dedicate our time and talents to the church through communication. But in order for it to transform from mere lip service to intentional practice, we need others to step forward, to not only name communications as a priority but also to make tough decisions through that lens. 

For those not handy with a pen, uncomfortable with html or immobilized by the thought of Twitter, there are still ways to acknowledge and support communications as ministry. 

First, be an advocate. On the vestry, in the pews, and in the parking lot, talk about communications as ministry. The newsletter – a ministry. The Facebook page – ministry. QR codes, tweets, newcomer brochures – all part of ministry. Don’t lump communications into administration – to do so creates the perception that it is top-down and heavy, bureaucracy ripe for pruning, when in fact communication creates lift. It is helium blown into the activities of the church, helping them rise beyond the parochial and into the wider community.

Secondly, be encouraging and optimistic during the transitions of communication. We are in the midst of a massive revolution. We will spend decades trying to figure out how digital communications is re-wiring how we think, feel, respond, and engage. No one knows the answers. As a vestry member or church leader, be patient with communications. Understand that there will be missteps and flops. No one is getting all of this right. No one. But through trial and error, commitment, and dogged pursuit, we’ll find some new paths, new and creative ways to communicate and connect. 

Finally, be not afraid. As long as we are communicating, as long as we are sharing our stories and talking about Jesus, we will find our way. Worry about the future comes with battening down the hatches, pulling inward, and shutting down. Hope and optimism opens us up to amazing possibilities, new ways of being. 

The explanation that accompanies the resolution reminds us of the critical importance of communications. 

“This is no time to be narrowing the Church’s focus in communications,” says the resolution. “To the contrary, it is a time to be expanding it. In an age when parchment cost a premium, thank God no one told Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John to put down their pens.”