Thursday, January 7, 2010

Communication Strategy

I’m on a task force known as “Living Into the Future Together (LIFT): Renewing The Ecology of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America”. (Quite a title, eh?) This task force was created last spring -- yes, before we made headlines at the Churchwide Assembly in August -- by the ELCA Church Council. The use of the word "ecology" focuses on the notion that our denomination functions as an eco-system. We are led by two questions:

  1. What is God calling this church to be and to do in the future?
  2. What changes are in order to accomplish these tasks more faithfully?

Needless to say, we have our work cut out for us. The task force is an amazing group of people. I am excited to see what will unfold in the next 18 months.

A major focus in the early stages of our work has been to develop a communication strategy; in essence, letting people know what is being discussed in our meetings. Words like “transparency” and “openness” have prevailed in our conversations. This is a very good thing. The task force not a top-secret committee that will lock themselves in a room and emerge in 2011 with all of the answers for how to "fix" the ELCA. The task force values open dialogue with the whole church about our eco-system.

The challenge is – how do we do that?

It is my assertion that the information gap hasn’t been this wide since the days when Guttenberg rolled out the printing press. We're told that newspapers and the nightly news are dying, and yet many people rely on the daily paper and network broadcasts as their only sources of information information. Others look to blogs, social media and Jon Stewart for their news. The millions of people on Twitter and Facebook digest and regurgitate new information by the minute. This is in stark contrast to the millions of people who don’t even know what “a Twitter” is, let alone have any interest in finding out.

Today, in the midst of a conference call, I began to wonder if the way in which we go about communication is as important as the content we are sharing. If we are able to create a structure that engages people across all print and digital mediums, might that be so uniquely profound that we don’t need a “communication strategy” (other than a competent secretary at our meetings)? Perhaps HOW we communicate is just as crucial as WHAT we communicate.

If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody is able to hear it, does it make a sound?

If a task force studies the eco-system of a denomination, and nobody knows about it, does it really matter what they produce?

Ultimately, we’re not just talking about a communication strategy, we’re talking about an engagement strategy. How do we engage members of our church in the same conversations the task force is having? How do we honor the opinions of the faithful in an age where everyone is speaking a different language? And, what do we do with this feedback once we receive it?

Within a few weeks, the task force will unveil a web presence, which will help answer some of the questions above. In the meantime, feel free to share your suggestions for how the LIFT / Ecology task force can engage the entire ELCA in this important work.

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