Archives For Communication

The importance of carefully scripting a sermon is something that has been pretty genetically drilled into me since before I can remember. The importance of writing the way you speak – rather than reading an essay – even more so.

I’m not ready to throw that under the bus just yet. There’s something nice about the security of having a script in front of you – both in terms of the discipline it brings – where you can’t just wander about on a whim, and there’s something reassuring about knowing that even if you completely fall apart mid delivery, you’ve just got to get to the end of your stack of paper.

But I like a challenge – and I think it’s axiomatic that the most engaging preachers around can hold an audience without using a script (I’m not so sure about a causal link there – it’s possible they’re just gifted and engaging people), and it’s certainly true that writing a script that isn’t dry and boring – and is active, full of verve, and engaging, is incredibly difficult and probably a combination of gift, art, and learned skill.

So this week I preached at our 11pm Christmas Eve service, and at all three services today. And I thought I’d, for the first time ever, give a talk from something other than a full script.

It was scary…

I’m not claiming to be an expert – but I’m drawing on a couple of experts – perhaps the world’s foremost expert on oratory – Cicero, and a couple of more modern people, as I think this through, and try to decide whether the method is a keeper…

We’ve been using this book, Preaching Without Notes, by Joseph Webb, at church this year. Because though I stirred the pot a few years ago with this post – eye contact does indeed make for more engaging communication. And being engaged is the first step towards being persuaded (all caveats about persuasion being the work of a sovereign God, by the Spirit, aside).

Webb draws on the work of a guy writing in the late 19th century… A guy named Broadus, who wasn’t a big fan of the old read sermon…

“As to delivery itself, reading is of necessity less effective, and in most cases immensely less effective, for all the great purposes of oratory, than speaking. Greater coldness of manner is almost inevitable. If one attempts to be very animated or pathetic, it will look unnatural. The tones of voice are monotonous, or have a forced variety The gestures are almost always unnatural, because it is not natural to gesticulate much in reading; and they scarcely ever raise us higher than to feel that really this man [or woman] reads almost like speaking… As to the delivery itself, it is only in extemporaneous speaking, of one or another variety, that [the sermon] can ever be perfectly natural, and achieve the highest effect. The ideal of speaking, it has been justly said, cannot be reached in any other way. Only thus will the voice, the action, the eye, be just what nature dictates, and attain their full power. And while painstaking culture vainly strives to read or recite precisely like speaking, the extemporaneous speaker may with comparative ease rise to the best delivery of which he [or she] is capable”

Preaching from a script, so that it doesn’t come across like you’re reading, is, I think, potentially more difficult than preaching without notes and being disciplined. But when you fail on the discipline point – or you’re tired – the script is incredibly useful.

Webb makes the distinction that extemporary preaching isn’t “off the cuff” or ad libbed – but the result of a fairly meticulous planning regime.

“What we are emphasizing is that the sermon preached without script or notes is a well-developed, meticulously crafted sermon, open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit, but prepared under the same constraints of procedure, time, and energy that guide every preacher week in and week out.”

Generally I find I’m much more comfortable, and more natural, and thus, arguably more engaging, when I tell a story naturally, rather than from a bit of paper – that’s partly because I’ve not yet mastered writing naturally (my writing is much more likely to sound like a news story – thanks to my journalism degree, than a conversation – the upside is that news stories don’t sound like essays…).

Cicero on preaching without notes

One of the reasons I really like the idea of preaching without notes is because I really like Cicero. You might have noticed. He said some great stuff in De Oratore which reaffirms the need for preachers to write. Constantly. In order to master language and develop their voice – and to improve their oratory. But also reaffirms the need for preachers to engage, and sound natural.

“This is why, in those exercises of your own, though there is a value in plenty of extempore speaking, it is still more serviceable to take time for consideration, and to speak better prepared and more carefully. But the chief thing is what, to tell the truth, we do least (for it needs great pains which most of us shirk), — to write as much as possible. The pen is the best and most eminent author and teacher of eloquence, and rightly so. For if an extempore and casual speech is easily beaten by one prepared and thought-out, this latter in turn will assuredly be surpassed by what has been written with care and diligence.”

In these two talks I started with a full script, and cut it back to what I thought was the minimum I needed to deliver a careful, and diligent, and prepared, piece of persuasive speech.

I reckon Cicero nails the sermon writing process in this quote. Even if some of the language is a little archaic. But give the guy a break – this was written in Latin, about 2070 years ago.

“The truth is that all the commonplaces, whether furnished by art or by individual talent and wisdom, at any rate such as appertain to the subject of our writing, appear and rush forward as we are searching out and surveying the matter with all our natural acuteness; and all the thoughts and expressions, which are the most brilliant in their several kinds, must needs flow up in succession to the point of our pen ; then too the actual marshalling and arrangement of words is made perfect in the course of writing, in a rhythm and measure proper to oratory as distinct from poetry.”

It’s part art, part skill, part gift – and mostly hard work. Thinking. Expressing. Scripting.

The written word was, unless you lived in Corinth and wanted Paul to be a flashier preacher, a longer lasting contribution to debate, and the shifting of ideas, in Rome – so sounding like you were delivering a tight piece of written persuasion was pretty important in Cicero’s day – but he suggests the goal of the relationship between spoken and written conversation is that people not notice the difference when you’re speaking…

“… he too who approaches oratory by way of long practice in writing, brings this advantage to his task, that even if he is extemporizing, whatever he may say bears a likeness to the written word; and moreover if ever, during a speech, he has introduced a written note, the rest of his discourse, when he turns away from the writing, will proceed in unchanging style.”

I love this little picture Cicero uses – I’d love for my sermons to feel like this. Rather than like an inverted proverbial duck’s feet churning around above the water, while I drown.

“Just as when a boat is moving at high speed, if the crew rest upon their oars, the craft herself still keeps her way and her run, though the driving force of the oars has ceased, so in an unbroken discourse, when written notes are exhausted, the rest of the speech still maintains a like progress, under the impulse given by the similarity and energy of the written word.”

Some actual reflections on preaching without notes

Anyway. Here are some of my actual reflections on the four sermons I preached, without a script, this week.

All preaching is hard – this is harder.
I’m not scared about standing in front of people and talking. But preaching – especially trying to say something that doesn’t just feel obvious, or vacuous – is hard work. I used to be able to knock out a script for a sermon in about 2 hours. But every time I go back to re-preach one of the 20 sermons in my archives, I’m bemused at its lack of quality – so sorry to the people who had to sit through those the first time around… The process of refining a sermon down to memorable chunks, and figuring out how you’re going to remember to logically link the chunks, is really hard work.

Familiarity with your material breeds contempt…
This isn’t just a reflection on preaching without notes – but I think the process I went through in the last two weeks, with two old sermons, gutted, and renovated, left me pretty bored with my content – I spent hours writing, rewriting, editing stuff down to dot point size, making powerpoint slides, and thinking about how this was all going to work. And because I’d gone over it so many times by the time I got up to share it, it just felt bleeding obvious. And boring. Even though I was talking about a dragon at Christmas, and the great news that we are called to be part of the work of the gospel. I certainly felt this more than I ever have when the last few days before a talk have just involved tweaking a written script.

If you bomb it – you really bomb it
I haven’t had a lot of sleep in the last two days – because of our adventurous turtle – so I was ridiculously without energy at our first morning service this morning. And I sucked. I fell apart. I lost the plot. I plodded. I made stupid mistakes. I said some things too early for them to contribute to the logic of my talk, and some things too late. I got the order of a couple of points in a list wrong – and then repeated myself the second time. It stank. Between services I was wondering if I could miraculously restore my full script, and preach from it the second time around. Part of the problem was that I was really tired, but I’m not sure what else contributed. It was the worst I’ve ever preached. Horrible. I felt so deflated.

You can’t do this when you’re really, really, ridiculously tired
This point is related. There is no doubt that talk wouldn’t have been so horrible if I had it all written out. The logic would have worked. And I wouldn’t have been thinking on my feet. My Christmas Eve service, at 11pm, was similarly muted. It was late at night – I think it would’ve been significantly better a little earlier. And my second and third talks today – one after a strong coffee, and with the benefit of hindsight, and the other after a long afternoon nap – really helped. By tonight I’d really figured out what bits to keep, and what bits to ditch – and the flow between points.

Some bits are going to get forgotten – so make sure you have a powerpoint slide that covers the really important points
Each time I spoke today I missed some of the really nice phrasing I’d worked up, and some really nice connections across the passage I was looking at (Matt 9:35-10:22). Some of these bits were more important than other – none were really pivotal. We’re talking stuff that added a bit of richness to what I was saying.

The adrenalin rush is bigger
The stress is bigger. The stakes are higher. But it’s also more fun to think on your feet a little. Each of these elements (though the first two seem closely related) add a chunk of adrenalin to the process.

When it works – people seem more engaged
Tonight felt really good. Better than the two morning services – and better than times I’ve preached with full text. People afterwards seemed to have followed what I’d been trying to say, and picked up bits of application that I was most excited about.

The capacity of the memory is huge – especially with tricks, and powerpoint

By the third time around today – at our 6:30pm service – I didn’t even look down at my dot points, I did look up at my powerpoint slides – projected on the back wall – but I knew where I was going. I knew how it fit together – and I remembered the important stuff I’d forgotten and left out in the earlier services (I did leave out some of the stuff that was actually really good – that I wish I’d said.

Powerpoint slides – not filled with comprehensive karaoke styled renditions of your entire sermon – but that are actually useful and memorable – work for your audience and for you. They take a lot of the guess work out of the memorisation process.

In all, it was a pretty interesting experience – and I’m going to give it a few more goes before I decide on its value.

The memory stuff is key – that’s one of the take home ideas in Webb – and it’s also one of Cicero’s pillars of successful oratory. Here’s some Cicero, to finish…

Cicero on remembering stuff (and on powerpoint)

Cicero had some cool tricks for memorising stuff that he goes through in De Oratore – using a mnemonic technique where you take visual cues from your surroundings – assigning certain points in the space you’re in to certain points in your argument, and glancing at them as you go… slides make that a lot easier.

He says the guy who invented mnemonics did so after his memory of where people at a dinner party were sitting helped identify their bodies after a roof collapsed.

“…this circumstance suggested to him the discovery of the truth that the best aid to clearness of memory consists in orderly arrangement. He inferred that persons desiring to train this faculty must select localities and form mental images of the facts they wish to remember and store those images in the localities, with the result that the arrangement of the localities will preserve the order of the facts, and the images of the facts will designate the facts themselves, and we shall employ the localities and images respectively as a wax writing tablet and the letters written on it…”

Memory, when you’re preaching without notes, is important because you need to remember where you’re going – and how a point relates to what comes before, and what follows.

“Consequently only people with a powerful memory know what they are going to say and for how long they are going to speak and in what style, what points they have already answered and what still remains…”

He thinks memory is a gift you’re born with – but that hard work can help the gifted, and the ungifted…

And consequently for my own part I confess that the chief source of this endowment, as of all the things I have spoken of before, is nature ; but the efficacy of the whole of this science, or perhaps I should say pseudo-science, of rhetoric, is not that it wholly originates and engenders something no part of which is already present in our minds, but that it fosters and strengthens things that have already sprung to birth within us ; though nevertheless hardly anybody exists who has so keen a memory that he can retain the order of all the words or sentences without having arranged and noted his facts, nor yet is anybody so dull-witted that habitual practice in this will not give him some assistance. “

Powerpoint – used alongside the memory, rather than instead of it, is a really useful way to put all your visual cues in one physical space – a screen. With a picture. Or a couple of words. Or a couple of verses.

Here are some anachronistic principles from Cicero, bolded in this quote, for putting together a powerpoint…

“It has been sagaciously discerned by Simonides or else discovered by some other person, that the most complete pictures are formed in our minds of the things that have been conveyed to them and imprinted on them by the senses, but that the keenest of all our senses is the sense of sight, and that consequently perceptions received by the ears or by reflexion can be most easily retained in the mind if they are also conveyed to our minds by the mediation of the eyes, with the result that things not seen and not lying in the field of visual discernment are earmarked by a sort of out-line and image and shape so that we keep hold of as it were by an act of sight things that we can scarcely embrace by an act of thought.

But these forms and bodies, like all the things that come under our view require an abode, inasmuch as a material object without a locality is inconceivable.

Consequently (in order that I may not be prolix and tedious on a subject that is well known and familiar) one must employ a large number of localities which must be clear and defined and at moderate intervals apart, and image that are effective and sharply outlined and distinctive, with the capacity of encountering and speedily penetrating the mind ; the ability to use these will be supplied by practice, which engenders habit, and by marking off similar words with an inversion and alteration of their cases or a transference from species to genus, and by representing a whole concept by the image of a single word, on the system and method of a consummate painter distinguishing the positions of objects by modifying their shapes.

But a memory for words, which for us is less essential, is given distinctness by a greater variety of images ; for there are many words which serve as joints connecting the limbs of the sentence, and these cannot be formed by any use of simile — of these we have to model images for constant employment ; but a memory for things is the special property of the orator — this we can imprint on our minds by a skilful arrangement of the several masks that represent them, so that we may grasp ideas by means of images and their order by means of localities.

1. Use images that play off your senses – visuals are powerful.
2. Use images to represent the key words or ideas.
3. Good planning prevents you from boring your audience.
4. Space them well – so that you can move smoothly between ideas.
5. Picking good visual clues develops with practice.
6. If you’re going to use a word, or words, on your slides, less is more.
7. Connect those images and words in a sequence that makes your talk make sense, and keeps you disciplined and structured.

What are your thoughts – as a listener or preacher? Are notes the bees knees? Are power points useful or distracting? Where’s the trade-off between accuracy and being engaging?

This is a great piece from Mumbrella.

Remember Dumb Ways To Die? If not, take a moment to familiarise yourself with it.

John Mescall, who made the ad, loaded up this piece with a bunch of really handy, and easily transferable, bits of advice for communicating with the YouTube generation.

A couple of samples.

Not many advertisers allow themselves to be that honest about things, but Metro did and that’s a great starting point. In a world dominated by spin, honesty in itself can be disarming and refreshing. I think the title helps. I’m a big believer in titles, and as advertising moves from paid interruptions to a storytelling model, it’s something we all should pay much more attention to. Titles sell books, and they sell movies. Your campaign needs a good title.

Dumb Ways to Die is a good title because it’s succinct, evocative and very suggestive of reward-for-effort. Who wouldn’t click on ‘dumb ways to die’? If we titled this piece ‘Be safe around trains’ would it have worked as well? Not a chance.

And the clincher – it’s about telling a story, and doing it with authenticity.

Ultimately, it’s an ad that doesn’t feel anything like an ad. It’s happy and silly and joyful and clever and more than a little odd; the intangible things that are so hard to rationalise, but so very important.

And finally, but very importantly, we made sure the campaign was easy to share and discuss. That meant turning the whole thing into animated gifs for tumblr. Making the song downloadable via iTunes, soundcloud and our website. Not disabling comments on youtube. That kind of thing.

If everybody leaves there will be less pictures of cats, and food I don’t care about.

Leaving more room for my photos of coffee…

… and my daughter…

 

…and my wife.

But mostly of coffee…

But seriously. I like Instagram.

Its social networking meets fauxtography nature is perfect for producing the picture content for my coffee blog. Its hashtagability means it’s perfect for pulling together real time user-generated picture content at an event.

Liking Instagram means I want Instagram to survive. Especially now they have great web profiles. Instagram surviving means they have to make money.

How did people think they were going to do that if not through the content that we produce using their app, and store on their databases, with all sorts of great metadata and user generated responses to brands and places. That’s where the value in their service is, so it makes sense that that’s where they’ll try to become profitable.

Instagram says things aren’t as bad as the interwebs made out anyway, and The Verge has a great piece showing what they can and can’t do, legally speaking.

This Funny or Die response is probably my favourite.

Church Communication is something I’m pretty keen on. So a book on Church Communication, with contributors from churches all around the world, is something I’m also pretty keen on.

Enter Outspoken: Conversations on Church Communication a nice little primer on church communications in the digital age.

outspoken

What I liked about this book is how digestible the chunks are. Each chapter is an idea. A page or two – basically a blog post. From a different person. Each chapter ends with contact details for that person. It’s very conversational. It’s a nice format – and this is, increasingly, the way this sort of “how to” book is going to work, I think.

I loved that each contributor is passionate about seeing the church communicate its message well, and in a way that removes barriers for people while finding new opportunities. There’s much to like here. And not much to dislike. You should get a copy.

Some chapters resonated more with me than others, each is the product of a time, place, and culture, a little bit removed from the here and now. But it’s possible to mind that gap and get something from just about everybody who contributed.

Here are some of my favourite tips, tidbits, and communication tricks from the book.

“The early church didn’t have the modern technologies we have today. There were no billboards or direct mail campaigns to announce Jesus was coming. The disciples didn’t tweet or blog the Sermon on the Mount or other messages Jesus gave during his ministry. The one thing the early church did have, however, was captivating stories worth telling.” – Introduction, Tim Schraeder

This para is a nice summary of what my Masters project is going to cover next year.

“Church historians have noted that with every major cultural revolution that has taken place in modern times, there’s been an accompanying movement of God’s Spirit as the church has found new ways to reach more people. Our message has never changed but the way we communicate it has found new forms and new mediums throughout the generations.”

Those who caught my “multimedia is word ministry” post a while back will understand why I appreciated this

“Every time you communicate anything in any medium as a church, it is preaching. I’m not suggesting you start tweeting, “God reads knee-mail,” from your church’s account. What I am suggesting is that no matter what you’re saying, it is a sermon being preached.” – Media is Preaching, Jeremy Sexton

This collection of four tips for communication from a chapter by Curtis Simmons called A Failure to Communicate is timeless (the first three are the same sort of tips Cicero might give):

1. What The first step is to fully understand what you are being asked to communicate. Find out the story that is driving the communication. For example, don’t simply announce that Vacation Bible School is next month and assume everyone understands the benefits. Instead, explain the positive impact that it will have on the lives of the children and volunteers. Include testimonials from those involved in prior years.

2. Who Next, consider the audience. Tailor your message to the specific audience that truly needs to hear it. If your church is conducting a class specifically for new parents, then customize the message so it speaks directly to their needs.

3. How When developing your message keep it simple. Don’t use the cryptic language only some Christians may understand. Explain in simple, every day terms how one can come to know and trust in Jesus rather than inviting them to be “washed in the sanctifying blood of the Lamb.” Your message should also be crystal clear. Reduce the effort to get involved with an event or ministry to no more than three or four easy to under- stand steps and direct them to the first step.

4. Where Now that you know the story you need to determine which channels should be used to best reach your intended audience. In some instances an email to a small group is sufficient. In other instances, you may need to spread the word on your website, Twitter, Facebook and in the worship announcements.

There are a couple of really important points in there – I think – the first is to make all your communication about people – both in who communicates it, the content of the communication (stories), and the benefits you spruik (the “what’s in it for your audience” factor), and the second is the emphasis on multichannel communication. There’s a solid theory that suggests a message needs to be heard somewhere between 6-10 times (which means it probably needs to be said more than that) to be communicated effectively.

Simmons has a helpful warning emphasising the corollary of that – everybody else is trying to communicate to the same people multiple times.

“Keep in mind that the members of your congregation are bombarded with hundreds of messages each day. Don’t add to the noise by communicating every idea, event or program to everyone.”

This means being careful and creative with how we get messages to the ears or eyes of our hearers.

Another really helpful point, which I think leads back to ethos being more important than well put together pathos or logos (another part of my project), comes in a chapter by Phil Bowdle called Authenticity > Excellence. He says:

“There’s a word that has generated lots of momentum in the church world in recent years. It’s a word that gets thrown around frequently in conferences, workshops, staff teams and blogs. We’ve become obsessed with it. The word? Excellence.

Excellence has become a mantra behind much of the work we do. We’ve attempted to prove wrong the world’s assumption that if it’s Christian, it’s sub-par. Excellence is a value that has often been overlooked in the church, and it’s as important as ever to keep it at the core of everything we do.

In an effort to demand excellence in all that we do, a more important principle has been overlooked. That principle is authenticity.

I’ll be the first to put my hand up to say that I’ve bought into the excellence idea – because I don’t think being excellent in how we do things stands apart from being real and excellent in who we are – I actually think excellence and authenticity are incredibly related – so long as excellence is aspirational, and room is given for the humanity of the communicator and their audience.

Bowdle makes an interesting point, depending on how you measure excellence, that authentic communication produces better outcomes.

“Interestingly, we generated a much higher response out of the secondary communication strategies we implemented. Things like webcam videos, simple blog posts and in-service testimonies seemed to be more effective than the polished video and print pieces. The difference? The more the authenticity of the person, message or story shined, the more effective the result.”

I would’ve thought that rather than authenticity being better than excellence, authenticity=excellence.

I’d say, given that I have a bent towards judging communication by its character, and its fruits (and hey, so does Cicero), that authentic communication is the most excellent kind – especially if it’s driven by love (ala Paul in 1 Cor 12:31-13:1 – which seems to be one of his fundamental principles for church communication).

If you’ve come across marketing doyen Seth Godin, you’ll recognise the notion of “tribes” – if not, the idea is that the most successful to build something to the point of being successful is to build a tribe. His definition of a tribe: “A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea,” essentially describes a church. Whether the leader is Jesus or the senior pastor (or both), is a question of one’s ecclesiology. Anyway. Jon Dale applies this model to church communication to suggest we should be working harder at equipping the members of our tribe to talk to other people – which is, I think, the essential secret to doing social media well as a church. He says:

“There are four types of tribal communication:
1. Leader to tribe member.
2. Tribe member to leader.
3. Tribe member to tribe member.
4. Tribe member to outsider.

We spend most of our energy in the church (and business) world on #1. Think about it. We get up on stage on Sunday and do #1. We send out eblasts and do #1. We write books and do #1. Then we upgrade to the latest craze and do a podcast (more of #1). And for kicks we send out a survey and think we’re doing #2 well. But the reality is that #3 and #4 are what change the world.”

Another idea that resonated with me came from Danielle Hartland in Fresh and Light, which basically called for your organisational infrastructure and pathways should be seen, and experienced – rather than heard. And when you’re talking about these important things you should talk about them as they relate to Jesus and in a human way.

“No one is motivated when they feel like a tiny cog in a big machine. Instead of telling people how they fit in your church’s grand plan, tell them how/why things will help them connect to and grow in Jesus.”

This leads nicely back to the importance of the story – and Matt Knisely’s Your Church, the Storyteller, is, I think, the most important chapter for communicating with the post-modern, and post-post-modern world.

“One of the most powerful tools any church has to reach people is a first-person story of a changed life.”

And the best part is, no matter what size church you have, telling stories doesn’t require expensive equipment or complicated multimedia. You really need just one thing: People whose lives are being changed by the gospel message. Ask them for their stories. Ask in emails. Ask them to write their stories down. Ask them in person. Then, tell those stories. Video them if you want. Print them (with permission).

There are a few good practical chapters in the mix, none more important than the chapters on church websites. These make the point that the church website is, if not just for outsiders, the primary tool outsiders are using to investigate you. I’ve argued that the result of this is that your website should be geared to the outsider.

These contributors agree – Jeremy Scheller writes Your Website Needs to Be a Billboard, and suggests the following principles (I’ve summarised them):

1. Keep it simple.
2. Say something about you.
3. Get to the point.
4. Point people to take action.

Paul Steinbrueck in Your Website: your first, and only, impression, says 80% of people who are looking for a church start on the web. And they start with google. So search engine optimisation is really important, as is what people see if they arrive.

He gives seven tips with these points in mind. (Again, I’ve summarised them, buy the book).

1. Optimize your website for search engines.
2. Give your website a nice design.
3. Prominently feature a “New Visitor” section.
4. Include a welcome message.
5. Include pictures or video services.
6. Answer all the questions you would want answered before you visit a church.
7. Publish stories.

The last, and perhaps most important point comes from Scott McClellan – who, in a chapter called Never Trust a Skinny Chef urges people involved in communication to put themselves in the shoes, seat, or ears, of their audience – to make sure it’s hitting the target.

“Read your writing. Watch your films. Listen to your sermons. Browse your website. Navigate the church building using your signage. Subscribe to your email newsletter.”

This is a really useful book, and one I’m sure I’ll be coming back to, both in its initial form – and by continuing the conversation, where necessary, with its contributors. Most of whom are on Twitter.

I’m expanding my presence on Twitter. Which involves getting more followers. This happened by accident. Deliberate accident.

Lots of expert Twitter types have a policy of following back the people who follow them. And I’ve spent the last couple of days tracking down, and following (like a good stalker), people who do church communications stuff. So when I followed 100 new people, I scored about 25 new followers.

One of the questions I’m trying to figure out when it comes to social media in general, and Twitter in particular, is how you be present on these platforms in a way that points people to Jesus. How do you use these platforms with humility shaped by the cross? This is true for St. Eutychus too, and for Facebook (though I have some thoughts on ways to use Facebook in a gospel-promoting way (linked, for ironic self-promotional purposes)).

twitter crown of thorns

 

Reading through a few thousand Twitter biographies has been an interesting exercise.

Incidentally, one of the reasons I’m doing this is that I’m drinking some of the social media kool-aid (also this Kottke piece) that says Facebook is a weird mish-mash of relationships largely made up by incidental people in your life – former colleagues, school friends, and random acquaintances – which is true, with all the caveats about how I love you very much if you are one of those people… while Twitter is fresh and exciting, and you can follow people you share interests with. So I follow the coffee industry, and its various parts, and personalities, and people keen to see the good news of Jesus presented to as many people as possible, in the best ways possible.

I’ve followed lots of people in the last few days, and there are some pretty useful people saying some pretty useful things out there.

But there are some people who I’ll never follow, because their 160 letter bio – which is what Twitter gives you – is too cringeworthy. I have limits.

I should make a slight qualification at this point – I’m particularly interested in what people choose to feature as “individuals” rather than as “professionals” – professional accounts need to be professional. They’ll have a different set of standards – and a different set of communication priorities. And that’s fine. I’m really interested in what individuals, especially Christian individuals, choose to feature in their bio. Because most of the people I’m following are running what essentially amount to mixed accounts – which deal with their professional interests from a personal perspective, or are in vocational ministry – so professionally Christian – some of these quibbles I’m making in this post will apply more or less directly on a case by case basis.

160 letters isn’t a lot. I’d prefer to err on the side of not using all the characters (you can see my profile here). But here is what my blurb said before I started thinking about this:

Christian. Husband. Father. Blogger. Coffee Blogger. Theological Student. PR Mercenary. Coffee snob. http://thebeanstalker.com  | http://st-eutychus.com

Here’s what I’ve changed it to.

A broken human. Bought by God. Following king Jesus. Trying to love people.
Relentlessly curious | Fixated by words | Pursuing coffee perfection

There’s a long and rambling post I’m writing and editing, and writing and editing, about the perils of being a Christian on social media – with its built in tendencies towards default narcism. I’ll post it, somewhat ironically, when I can finally get it to a point where it doesn’t seem to all be about me.

The biography is an interesting, and fixed, part of who you are on Twitter – even if, as Kottke suggests, you are your last six tweets, the bio provides an interpretive framework for how your tweets are read and understood. It’s a big part of your personal brand – in that it shapes how people who don’t know you outside of Twitter perceive you.

So the Twitter bio presents the best, and worst, of this part of social media. This isn’t a post about the content of your feed – but the bio both frames how people perceive you, and provides some indication of what you’re going to post. You can make everything you post about Jesus, and ruin it with a bio that’s all about how great thou art – not how great he is.

Biographies and about pages are the distilled essence of your presence on social media, more than each individual tweet, or post. They’re designed for self-promotion. They’re the billboard that wins you new followers. Your sales pitch. If there’s ever a time to talk about yourself, in a flattering way, it’s the Twitter bio… and maybe this is a cultural thing – maybe my good, old-fashioned, Australian, tall poppy syndrome kicks in here – but if you have to blow your own trumpet, and beat your own drum, it’s not really a tune I’m all that interested in listening to, or a rhythm that gets me tapping my feet along…

It’s hard to be simultaneously “self-promoting,” in line with the expectations of the medium, and self-effacing, in line with the cross-shaped approach to self that Christians are called to adopt.

How do we take up our cross and follow Jesus in this space? How do we imitate Paul, who resolved to know nothing but Christ, getting rid of the eloquence that would focus attention on himself when his Corinthian audience, who couldn’t separate style from substance, forced him to… as he imitates Jesus?

This is one area where I think Mark Driscoll, channeling Luther, does a stellar job. Here’s his bio:

“A nobody trying to tell everybody about Somebody”

What I’ve found is that there are certain common elements to Twitter bios that I’d argue are essentially redundant. And a few elements, when individualised and freshened, that I find really appealing, and I’ll be trying to fit into my bio. I’ll do those first.

5 Elements of a Christian Twitter profile that I like

  1. It starts with Jesus. If Jesus isn’t defining who you are, and one of the things you want people to know about you – then why do I want to read about you?
  2. It humanises. It doesn’t just end with Jesus. That’d be boring – and the sort of pietism that, if reflected in your tweets, is a real turn off (I’m looking at you Piper). I like the idea that Twitter isn’t just about being in a Christian-to-Christian love-in. I like Twitter profiles that show me something of a person’s humanity (I’ll get to some short cut ways of doing this that annoy me below) – and acknowledges human limitations.
  3. It’s humble. This is related to the first two, and it’s a genre subverter. And I love people who pull this off in a bio, it often requires a bit of well thought out self-deprecation. It’s part of the reason I like Driscoll’s bio so much (even if the content of his social media presence can occasionally run counter to that).
  4. It uses humour appropriately. Generally this follows being humble, but it can also be a matter of what you choose to focus on, other than yourself.
  5. It gives some idea what sort of content you’ll be tweeting. This goes two ways – it’s a great tool for you, the tweeter, to give you some sort of editorial policy, but it also means if I follow you on the basis of a common interest you highlight in your bio, I’m not going to be inundated by pictures of your cat.

5 Elements of a Twitter Profile that scare me off

Those are the good. Here are the things that irk me…

  1. It’s all about you. Even if you’re sufficiently self-effacing, if you’re a Christian, and you’re not using this 160 characters to give some account of the hope that you have (even using the label “Christian” is better than nothing), then you’re wasting letters.
  2. It’s all about your idea of your qualities. Calling yourself a “leader” or a “genius,” or a “creative,” or anything better demonstrated than claimed – this stuff always reads, to me, a bit like the lame person who tries to give themselves a nickname to fit in somewhere. Nicknames come when you demonstrate that you fit in, or as part of the process. Leaders lead. They can’t just say “I’m a leader”… Creative people demonstrate creativity.
  3. You waste letters on disclaimers. There’s nothing more boring than reading “ideas my own” or “retweets are not endorsements” in your bio. Boring.
  4. You put faux-interesting expressions of humanity in your bio. It’s not ground breaking to tell people you love coffee, or your family (which is why I cut those bits). Nor, I would argue, is being “into coffee” all that interesting – especially because being “into coffee” is so relative. Do you drink instant four times an hour? (I’m guilty of this one – though I’d argue having a coffee blog means referring to coffee in my profile is indicative of the content I’m going to tweet). It’s another shortcut to interestingness to tell me that you like sports, and you support a particular team – I can’t believe how many people put that in their bio (I’m a Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles fan by the way… and a Man Utd fan). If that’s the tribe you want to claim some sort of allegiance to, then that’s fine.
  5. It’s full of doublespeak/weasel words. I read a bio about optimising such and such through creating synergies and blah blah blah. That’s exactly what I thought. Why would you waste 160 characters on words that either mean nothing, or could be explained in less letters in a way that isn’t just designed to make you look smarter than the other guys.

So. Are these the worst? Or am I missing something? And perhaps more importantly – how do you navigate the minefield that is the narcissism inherent in the system, and the humility inherent in recognising that you’re a broken human following the crucified king? Even posting something like this is fraught with the possibility of being a little self-indulgent, so what’s been helpful?

Back in ancient Rome there wasn’t “PR” or “Marketing” or “social media” but there was a “public square” and there was “communication” and there most certainly was “persuasion” and “propaganda” – and it largely depended on rhetoric, and oratory, and the type of oratory most highly prized was eloquence.

Cicero was a bit of an expert on eloquence, and oratory. Not only did he publish a bunch of material on how to speak, and be eloquent, other famous people like Julius Caesar, dedicated their own published works on oratory to him. This makes him an ancient expert, somewhat anachronistically, on public relations, and communication. All you have to do is replace “Oratory” with “communication” and “eloquence” with “being good at communicating”…

cicero statue

Image Credit: Cicero Statue, The First Premise, Cicero

As I read through Cicero’s handbooks and other stuff for a bit of research, and for fun, I’m struck over and over again by how timeless his principles and advice are. His single-minded pursuit of oratory excellence, and thus, excellence in communication led him to study communication, and persuasion, from its earliest days as a science – to his present day, an approach we can probably learn from, even if we want to pretend everything of value has been invented in the last couple of generations (and even if we don’t – it’s worth seeing how timeless truth is).

He acknowledges that this pursuit is pretty difficult, because while there are some objective qualities of good oratory, and an objective essence of good communication – that all communication can be judged on, the actual act of communication is almost purely subjective.

“How then shall we strike out a general rule or model, when there are several manners, and each of them has a certain perfection of its own? But this difficulty has not deterred me from the undertaking; nor have I altered my opinion that in all things there is a something which comprehends the highest excellence of the kind, and which, though not generally discernible, is sufficiently conspicuous to him, who is skilled in the subject.”

Here are 10 things I think modern communicators can learn from Cicero, with some quotes (and if you hit the “read more” link after the list, there’s a bunch of quotes from his Cicero’s Brutus or History of Famous Orators, and The Orator).

It’s a pretty long post including the quotes – sorry if it all makes it into the RSS feed.

  1. Words are powerful. Especially when they’re well used.
    Words persuade people.

    This is the Eloquence that bends and sways the passions!—this the Eloquence that alarms or sooths them at her pleasure! This is the Eloquence that sometimes tears up all before it like a whirlwind; and, at other times, steals imperceptibly upon the senses, and probes to the bottom of the heart!

  2. Know what you’re trying to do when you communicate (move your audience to action or change their thinking).
    Good communication means thinking about who your audience is, and how you want to change them (or stop them changing).

    As, therefore, the two principal qualities required in an Orator, are to be neat and clear in stating the nature of his subject, and warm and forcible in moving the passions; and as he who fires and inflames his audience, will always effect more than he who can barely inform and amuse them” 
  3. Know your audience, and their expectations. Contextualise. Don’t bore people.
    Given these two points, the communicator should choose words that speak to their audience, so communication requires observation, education, thinking, and participating in life.

    “He, therefore, is the man of genuine Eloquence, who can adapt his language to what is most suitable to each. By doing this, he will be sure to say every thing as it ought to be said. He will neither speak drily upon copious subjects, nor without dignity and spirit upon things of importance; but his language will always be proportioned, and equal to his subject.”

  4. Be clear
    Use words and phrases people will understand, phrased as concisely as possible, but pay heed to convention and context, don’t be so clear you’re boring.

    …the simple and easy Speaker is remarkably dexterous and keen, and aiming at nothing but our information, makes every thing he discourses upon, rather clear and open than great and striking, and polishes it with the utmost neatness and accuracy.”

  5. Pay attention to the structure of your argument.
    Think about pace, rhythm, rhyme, and verve, but most importantly – how to structure your argument around your purpose.

    “For every cause can have but one natural introduction and conclusion; and all the other parts of it, like the members of an animal body, will best retain their proper strength and beauty, when they are regularly disposed and connected.”

  6. Be engaging.
    This means cleverly, or inventively, using new and exciting combinations of words designed to stir people, and using humour sometimes (carefully and originally).

    “This kind of Oratory will likewise be frequently enlivened by those turns of wit and pleasantry, which in Speaking have a much greater effect than is imagined. There are two sorts of them; the one consisting in smart sayings and quick repartees, and the other in what is called humour. Our Orator will make use of both;—of the latter in his narratives, to make them lively and entertaining;—and of the other, either in giving or retorting a stroke of ridicule.”

  7. Use familiar structures, concepts and tools, but change the words to paint new, clear, pictures.
    Sticking with what people know, and using it to change what they think, is a good strategy.

    “But in the use of metaphors, he will, perhaps, take greater liberties; because these are frequently introduced in conversation, not only by Gentlemen, but even by rustics, and peasants: for we often hear them say that the vine shoots out it’s buds, that the fields are thirsty, the corn lively, and the grain rich and flourishing. Such expressions, indeed, are rather bold: but the resemblance between the metaphor and the object is either remarkably obvious; or else, when the latter has no proper name to express it, the metaphor is so far from appearing to be laboured, that we seem to use it merely to explain our meaning.”

  8. Character, and personal substance, is important, bad character corrupts communication
    It’s not just the medium that is the message. You are the message too. Partly because in oratory you were the medium – in modern communication who you are is as important, if not more important, than what you say.

    “But (as I have before observed) I have been so much transported, not by the force of my genius, but by the real fervor of my heart, that I was unable to restrain myself: —and, indeed, no language will inflame the mind of the hearer, unless the Speaker himself first catches the ardor, and glows with the importance of his subject.”

  9. Communicating well is hard, successful communication achieves its purpose.
    While there are plenty of communication principles, it should be judged on its fruits – how well does what you’re communicating achieve its purpose?

    “The general merit of an Orator must and will be decided by the effects which his eloquence produces. For (in my opinion at least) there are three things which an Orator should be able to effect; viz. to inform his hearers, to please them, and to move their passions.”

  10. Practice, imitation, reading, and writing makes better, and if at first you don’t succeed, keep pursuing excellence.
    Communicating well is hard work. But it’s better to try to communicate well, and fail, than to simply communicate poorly.

    “It is but reasonable, however, that all those who covet what is excellent, and which cannot be acquired without the greatest application, should exert their utmost. But if any one is deficient in capacity, and destitute of that admirable force of genius which Nature bestows upon her favourites, or has been denied the advantages of a liberal education, let him make the progress he is able. For while we are driving to overtake the foremost, it is no disgrace to be found among the second class, or even the third…” 

If you want to read further, I’ve included the list again, with more supporting quotes from Cicero, below…

Continue Reading…

In my post on church websites the other day I mentioned that principles of page layout, and information architecture, from newspapers were still a good yardstick for web design. And there’s good data for this – because it’s possible to track how people read, or experience, websites using eye tracking.

The basic rule of thumb is that people pay the most attention to the top left of your page, and stay hooked as long as your content is good, and so long as they’re finding what they expect to find, where they expect to find it.

Eye tracking is a pretty cool, and reliable, measure of how people experience your website – and a good way to figure out if it’s doing what it should do, and if people are noticing what you want them to notice. Here’s a nice journal article from a Web Usability Journal that explains it. Here’s an article that provides a slightly more balanced view on its value than you’ll find from people spruiking its merits.

Eye tracking and Text

This is like a Bureau of Meteorology weather map – red and yellow represent places where people’s eyes lingered longest.


Image Credit: Yahoo Eye Tracking article

“Yahoo! eye-tracking studies reveal a general pattern to the way people browse webpages:
People scan the main sections of a page to determine what it’s about and whether they want to stay longer.
They make decisions about the page in as little as three seconds.
If they decide to stay, they pay the most attention to the content in the top part of the screen.
When people do decide to read a page, their eyes sweep horizontally from left to right, often focusing on a roughly triangular area in the upper-left corner of a webpage, or the upper-left corner of the webpage’s main block of content. But this pattern varies depending on a page’s layout and purpose. For example, a person’s eyes will move differently over a photo-heavy slideshow, a text-heavy blog, or a page with a two- or three-column layout.”

Jakob Nielsen is a web usability guru. His company put together a book on eyetracking, and found, like the Yahoo thing above suggests, that users tend to focus on the top half of a page to figure out if they’re going to stick with you – if you’re putting the important stuff at the bottom, you’re missing out.

This is true for pretty text heavy pages too – but why you’d have a text heavy page that isn’t a blog these days is beyond me…

 

They say readers tend to follow an F shaped pattern, something like this:

f_reading_pattern_eyetracking

They also found that people love information in bulleted lists.

Interestingly, on the scroll/above the fold front – people will scroll if you grab them with the stuff you feature “above the fold”

“The most basic rule of thumb is that for every site the user should be able to understand what your site is about by the information presented to them above the fold. If they have to scroll to even discover what the site is, its success is unlikely.”

Here’s another study on scrolling and “the fold.”

Eye Tracking and pictures

One of the interesting things Nielsen’s research found is that images can make or break a page – depending on how relevant they appear to the site’s content – so how much they relate to what people are looking for… Their research says:

  • Some types of pictures are completely ignored. This is typically the case for big feel-good images that are purely decorative.
  • Other types of pictures are treated as important content and scrutinized. Photos of products and real people (as opposed to stock photos of models) often fall into this category.

Here’s the application of the eye-tracking stuff to the first point…

users ignore stock photos of “generic people”:

facesignored

Nielsen suggests images work best when they carry information and aren’t generic (these guys say the same thing).

This is why I like the concept of an image slider featuring pictures that include descriptive captions/text within the image and clearly contribute something for your audience.

Another cool thing, this time from a Smashing Magazine list of usability facts, is the finding that people like pictures of people’s faces.

And, perhaps even cooler – we are guided by where people are looking…

eye tracking

There’s a study that demonstrates this

Eye Tracking and videos

I mentioned that we’re going to be putting a bit of effort into videos as part of the story based nature of our content, it’s worth having a read of this Nielsen post about how boring talking head videos are.

In this case, the blue bits that are overlapping the red stuff indicate the places people aren’t watching… the guy’s face draws the eye for a while, but the viewer’s attention wanders pretty quick smart. This is from a 24 second clip of a four minute video.

Heatmap from an eyetracking study

While some people are paying attention to what the face is doing, a lot of people are trying to figure out how to get away from that head as quickly as possible, checking out the other links and the video controls. There’s a nice little video of how the eye tracking software worked in this instance (or rather, where the viewers were looking) at the Nielsen article.

Nielsen has these useful tips for video:

“… the main guideline for producing website video is to keep it short. Typically, Web videos should be less than a minute long.

A related guideline is to avoid using video if the content doesn’t take advantage of the medium’s dynamic nature. This doesn’t mean incessant use of pans, zooms, and fades to add artificial movement. It does mean that it’s better to use video for things that move or otherwise work better on film than they would as a combination of photos and text.

Finally, recognize that Web users are easily distracted, and keep distracting elements out of the frame of your shots. If there’s a road sign in the video, for example, users will try to read it and will thus miss some of the main content.”

I featured a gallery of church websites in my last website post, some seem to be designed, either intuitively, or deliberately, with this sort of approach to content in mind. Here’s another church website, from Metro Church on the Gold Coast that seems to hit the eye tracking boxes, by not having too much content, and also uses video in a really nice way.
Metro Church

 

We’re rethinking our website at church. It’s exciting. We’re looking at changing everything from the Content Management System (CMS), to the content itself – how we distribute it, where we pull content from, and the type of content we’re aiming to produce.

Did I mention it’s exciting.

I’ve spent the last few days thinking about what a church website should do – and looking at a bunch of other churches, and then we had a great meeting this afternoon. And I’m excited.

As is the case in any communication, or marketing, the first step is thinking about who you are communicating to, and in this case – who our website is for. We’ve decided that it’s largely for the newcomer. And when it’s not for the newcomer directly, it’s for helping people who are already part of our church family connect their friends with Jesus, and Creek Road.

We can cut loose a bunch of traditional (and slightly boring) church website information. You won’t find pitches for money, or mentions of our “diaconate,” or the inner workings of our Committee of Management, Session, or Presbytery.

We’ve invested in The City, which is a combined intranet/social network/church database solution/communication tool for people who are part of our church family, and while the website will still be useful for our members – we’re really keen for it to be a useful tool where we can be confident that someone who hasn’t come through the doors of our church, or any church, will get a good feel for who we are, what we believe, and what a Sunday might feel like.

We consider it part of our “Connect” ministry (Creek Road uses a Connect, Grow, Serve ministry pathway which helps us figure out what we do and don’t do, and provides a bit of clarity for people in terms of where we expect people to head when they plug-in, or connect, with our church). This means we ditch a lot of the in house stuff (or move it to The City), we’re going to avoid buzzwords and jargon wherever possible (so always), and we’re not going to talk about giving, or have notices, announcements, or other boring stuff (we will have two blogs that will occasionally cover some of this stuff, more on that later…).

We’re also keen for our kids and youth programs to have their own sites, or sub-sites, which serve much the same purpose for kids, youth, and their parents.

Finally, we’re pretty keen to use the human resources we have to produce resources for churches that don’t have the same number of people working together to produce all sorts of things – from Bible Study books, to kids material, to videos, to song selection for congregational singing – we want to be making our stuff easily accessible for other churches…

Add these things up and we’re starting to make for a pretty complicated landing page, which is potentially so jumbled it’ll make your eyes bleed.

And we don’t want that. Visual clutter and bad information architecture is the enemy of the newcomer.

Having our audience in mind means we’ve got a bit of clarity in terms of what we’ll be including.

I’ve been trying to narrow down a list of the minimum number of elements I think our site should have on the homepage, and I’m pretty committed to the usability theory I read once that suggested if a page is buried more than three clicks into your page design then it’s unlikely people are going to bother.

Here are my thoughts, there’s a gallery of other websites I’ve been looking at in producing this at the bottom of this post.

Though the Internet is an ever-evolving visual feast, I also like thinking of web pages, effective web pages, as Newspaper front pages – the Newspaper has evolved based on how people read things, and what draws the eye – it seems silly to waste all that time and investment just because we can.

So I think the basic structure of a home page should be something like:

  • Masthead – Logo, Name, Address
  • Banner Menu – Key pages, the stuff that helps people decide if they want to buy your paper or not.
  • Lead/Featured Story – Headline, Big photo.
  • Smaller stories – still important, but at this point you’ve hopefully grabbed the attention of your readers.

We also want something that can be dumbed down for mobile browsing relatively easily. So the less content on the front page the better.

When it comes to the internal pages, we’re wanting a split between video and images and text – and we want the page to be driven by people’s stories, not us blowing our own trumpet.

I mentioned in the opening paragraph that one of the things we’re thinking through is where we’re pulling information and content from, where we’re creating it, and where we’re sending it… here’s a quick snapshot of what that’s about before we get to what I’m thinking page design wise (this isn’t revolutionary stuff).

Content Sources

Video – We’re going to be posting videos to YouTube and Vimeo, which we’ll then embed on our site. Posting them elsewhere means our hosting overheads are lower, but it also puts the videos in a format and context people are more familiar with, and allows our visitors, and members, the freedom to share, or interact with the content on other social networks in a way they’re used to.

Images – Much the same way, we’re thinking about how we use Instagram, and older more boring sites like Flickr, the added benefit of hosting images, well tagged (ie with good metadata etc), off site, is that these platforms usually rank better with search engines than your site (this is something a Digital Consulting team told me once – Google may have changed their approach since then). There are other sound reasons for hosting things on other platforms – multiplying your presence across the web on platforms people already use is a good thing.

Blogs – we’re committing time and energy to a blog content strategy, and we’ll be producing and scheduling the material well in advance. There’s nothing worse than a corporate, or church, website with a stagnant blog, but we’ve got some ready made content with weekly podcast/sermon bits and pieces, book reviews, video material, and other things that we’re already creating, to keep a steady stream of up to date content hitting the interwebs. The plan is to have two blogs – one for our visitors, to get a good sense of what happens at church in byte sized chunks (see what I did there…), and one for people we’re hoping to benefit with our resources, which will outline some philosophy of ministry type stuff for the extra-curious church shopper.

The idea is that the content we’re producing is both:

  • modular enough and valuable enough to be shared by itself – by our members to their social networks to invite their friends along to church or give them a good understanding of the church they’re part of;
  • and integrated enough (using links between posts, thematic and series type links, etc) that when you land at one post you’ll be pulled through to others and get a feel for what we’re on about.

Distribution Channels

While the website is, itself, a distribution channel, we want to push content out from it to other places, so that people can share and interact with our posts in those environments – that’s particularly related to how Facebook works.

These channels, at this point, include Facebook, Twitter, the City, and email. The first three are relatively straightforward posting of links with appropriate commentary to those channels. The email stuff includes offering email subscriptions to the blogs, and the functionality for people to send anything they want from our page to their friends, via email, and specially made email invitations for each sermon series.

The Design

Above the Fold

This is the part of the page that people see without scrolling – in newspaper terms the fold was literal, and this was the stuff people saw when they glanced at a pile of newspapers at the newsagent.

This isn’t set in stone – not simply because code is much more flexible than the old school chisel, or even, to keep the metaphor running – the press room – but because this is a work in progress, and we’ll keep working on the website so that it delivers the results we’re looking for – people coming through our doors saying it was helpful. Foot traffic – rather than web traffic.

The other good newspaper principle to apply is the old “inverted news pyramid” – putting the important gear first, and answering the: “Who?” “What?” “Where?” “When?” ”Why?” “How?” questions for people as quickly as possible, and as early as possible.

Because the website is a connect tool – or a marketing tool – we also want to answer the big marketing question – the “what’s in it for me” or “where do I fit” question.

Masthead

This will have our logo, which, for us, incorporates our name, and I’d suggest it’ll have our address and service times as some sort of subheading – this is the information people will be searching for on their smartphone, in their car, as they’re running late for the first time they come to church, so it’s nice to frontend it.

Banner Menu 
Each of the pages this banner links to needs to carry the story about our church through stories told by people who are part of our church. People like reading about, and thanks to the power of the YouTubes, watching, stories about real, relatable, people. We want our website to feel real and relatable, and to really relate to what goes on on a Sunday (or during the week at our other programs).

1. What we believe – A page about the good news of Jesus, and a little introductory blurb to Creek Road’s application of the gospel – we’re committed to the Bible, we teach it clearly, we want to connect, some basic info about the pathway, and our kids and youth programs etc. This will probably feature our reach the city, reach the world, video.

2. New here? – An invitation to join us at church, and to meet us in the Connect Lounge after the service, a contact form if they have questions or want us to look out for them, and some information about how the website might be useful for them as they investigate Jesus and us. This will probably include a bit of a video tour of a Sunday at Creek Road, with quick sound bites from across the demographics of our church family.

3. Where and When – A page dedicated to service times, and our location (which will also be below the fold on the front page).

4. Kids – a link to our Kids Ministry Page.

5. Youth – a link to our Youth Ministry Page.

6. Podcast/Vodcast – a link to the page which will collect our sermons and the linked Bible study books that go with them in both video and audio format.

7. Contact Us – contact details – including a phone number, links to our presence elsewhere, an enquiry form.

Featured Story

Every hip church on the internet has a slider that features four or five stories. There are good reasons for this. It lets you put a few pictures into one space, and promote a few different things. Pictures are pretty powerful communicators. I’m really keen for this spot to be taken up by pictures of people doing things – things that are obviously related to life at church. A lot of churches put their current teaching series in this slot. I’m not sold on that being obviously important to the new person who may not be a Christian yet – though we know it’s important for them (and hopefully all our sermons are, in some way, related to the good news about Jesus). I’m not sure a gripping ten week teaching series is necessarily what is going to get the majority of non-church, or de-churched, Australians through our doors on a Sunday. And because we’re seeing this as a part of our attempts to connect with people, that is going to be a big factor in what gets featured.

Personally, I can’t understand why you’d use what’s essentially something like a mix between a billboard promoting your church, and the eye-grabbing image on the front page of a newspaper, to do anything other than try to make both the gospel of Jesus and your church appealing to non-Christians.

So many of the churches I looked at (some are below) treated their front page like a noticeboard for members, even a well designed noticeboard, and there’d have to be a pretty convincing ecclesiological rationale for doing that before I’d even start to consider that being the purpose of a public site.

Smaller Stories

In this section, I’m thinking three columns, but that may change, and probably two rows (check out Mars Hill and Hillsong (though it’s further down the bottom of their page), for what I’m picturing…

In the first row I’m thinking:

1. A 100 word (or less) summary/description of Creek Road’s understanding of the gospel, approach to church, and our understanding of how we relate to Brisbane. This needs to be search engine keyword heavy, because it’s one of the only parts of the front page that features text – and each keyword, or key phrase, should be linked to the page that it relates to – so when we summarise the gospel, that part of the description should be linked to the “what we believe” page, etc.

2. An embedded Google Map, with our church, and a photo of the building so people know what it looks like.

3. A link to invite people to church, with an e-card featuring some info on our current sermon series and links to our presence on social media places.

In the second row I’m thinking:

1. The most recent post from our “consumer” blog.

2. The most recent post from our “resources” blog.

3. A spare spot for things like current releases from our video team, or promotions for carols, our Community Connect school holiday program, our iPhone app if we develop one, etc.

I’m pretty excited about this whole process. It’s a lot of fun bringing my communications hat and my ministry hat together into some sort of twin peaked legionnaire’s cap…

Some of these ideas have been pinched from seeing what I think works on these pages, pages which were selected on the basis that either I thought they have something going for them, or the people who go there/work there have something going for them.

So. Over to you – what are the things you look for in a church page, or think should be included? What do you think visitors are looking for?

Have I missed any essentials?

Can you prove to me that your church web page should be some sort of Community Message Board?

Perhaps most importantly – what can we cut that is just cluttering up the place without damaging the function of the site?

I made an infographic thing yesterday. It took longer than I anticipated, so I feel like I should post it here as well as on thebeanstalker.com.

There’s a bigger version here.

Like it or not, a recent article in the Briefing has fired up an old argument on personal evangelism that Gen Ys like me, think of in some way analogous to the worship wars… it happened in the past, and we’re slightly too post-modern to think there’s only one right answer to the question.

In a nutshell, John Dickson’s excellent book Promoting the Gospel (and other work) suggested that “evangelists” are a special category of person, much like preachers and teachers – and while all Christians are called to be part of the body of Christ, which is called to participate, together, in the Great Commission, and perhaps, the “Mission of God,” we’re not all called to play the specific role of heralds of King Jesus, proclaiming, via words, directly, and persuasively, the case for Jesus. Now, he says we should take whatever opportunities we have to give the reason for the hope that we have – but he wants the emphasis to be more on what we can achieve together, and what we can achieve in the way that we live our lives, and love the people around us, pointing people to Jesus. You can read my review of the book here.

Some people didn’t like that idea. They had an argument. Now, Tony Payne, at the Briefing, has (not intentionally), restarted the argument with his piece on Personal Evangelism.

Like a few others, I can’t really tell the difference between what he say the individual’s role is, and what John Dickson says the individual’s role is, which seems to boil down to using the skills God gives you as gifts for God’s kingdom and for those outside it.

It seems most people accept these two truths, but reach different conclusions:

1. We’re each called to serve God with the different gifts he has given us, as we worship him and take part in his mission (or worship him by taking part in his mission).

2. Some people are better at evangelism, and even human relationships, than others.

It’s this last bit of the logical chain that seems to divide people.

3. If people are better at evangelism than others, we should assume that they are gifted in that area and see part of our role, in the body, as freeing, supporting, and equipping those people to serve with those gifts. So that we’re on mission together.

Other people seem to say this is an area where gifting doesn’t come into play – because we all have to evangelise. But we’re all evangelising in that point 3.

I wonder if it’s easier to make a judgment, like Dickson’s, that not all people are evangelists if you are one, and if part of your job is helping clean up the mess that well-intentioned people make – perhaps, for example, those who stand on street corners and yell at people about sin and judgment (this isn’t really a post about the relative merits of street preaching).

Anyway.

I think Paul was an evangelist. That “evangelist” was a role that distinguished him from other figures in the early church. That he wasn’t the only “evangelist” – and that he wanted people to imitate him, in their lives as they were able, even if they weren’t especially gifted as evangelists – because promoting the gospel is about more than words – by sacrificially offering their gifts to the work of the Gospel. And we’re one body. Working for one mission. Together.

“Personal evangelism” is a bizarre outcome of western individualism being applied to the work of the church. We might live in an age of individualism – but part of the message of the gospel might have to be a counter-cultural indictment of that idea.

But each of us is called to take part in mission and evangelism, with the people we know. I’m going to suggest, in the next 3,000 words, that when it comes to evangelism as persuasion, all Christians are called to evangelise by ethos – being Christ like, and to be prepared to do logos (logic and knowledge about God and the Gospel), and I wonder if “pathos” and a strong mix of logos and ethos is what marks an “evangelist.”

So. Here are some thoughts I have, after thinking about how Paul frames his evangelism and approach to communication, that I think are somewhat relevant to the debate. This will be part of my Masters project next year, so shh… don’t tell anybody…

Oratory, Cicero, Paul, and Evangelism

Aristotle literally wrote the book On Rhetoric. He said there were three elements of successful persuasion:

1. Ethos: Persuasion is achieved by the speaker’s personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible.

2. Pathos: Persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions.

3. Logos: Persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question.

After Aristotle, these elements were bounced around in different shaped triangles depending on which element you thought was more important. There were literal schools of thought, like the Attic School, who thought flashy eloquence, which played with the emotion, were easier and more convincing than dry, boring speeches that were full of logic. And there were other more classical types, like Cicero, who wanted to try to balance out the triangle into something more equilateral.

I’m fairly convinced that Paul, who was a Roman citizen from Tarsus, was educated in rhetoric in Tarsus, which had famous rhetorical schools (see Strabo, the historian, on Tarsus). Cicero was the governor of Tarsus just after he wrote De Oratore – this is a guess, but I reckon there would have been a bit of Cicero on the curriculum of rhetorical training in Tarsus.

Cicero didn’t like the flashy, insubstantial, approach to Rhetoric championed by the Attic school of rhetoric, and he criticised it extensively.

Paul, in his letters to the Corinthians, is engaging with the rhetorical grandchildren of the Attic movement – the Second Sophistic – and he deploys pretty much the same argument against them that Cicero did, championing the triumph of substance, both in content – or logos – and character – or ethos, over style – the ability to speek eloquently (pathos).

Paul speaks against the Corinthian desire to have the flashiest communicators lead their churches -

Here’s an interesting comparison between something Cicero says about approaching a speech with trembling, and what Paul says about his approach in Corinth…

Cicero:

For the better the orator, the more profoundly is he frightened of the difficulty of speaking, and of the doubtful fate of a speech, and of the anticipations of an audience… While as for him who is un-ashamed — as I see is the case with most speakers, — I hold him deserving not merely of reprimand, but of punishment as well. Assuredly, just as I generally perceive it to happen to yourselves, so I very often prove it in my own experience, that I turn pale at the outset of a speech, and quake in every limb and in all my soul

And Paul:

And so it was with me, brothers and sisters. When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power,so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

Paul is subverting the rhetorical expectations of his audience – but I’d say he’s doing it by harking back to an older rhetorical convention. He condemns the Corinthian addiction to eloquent oratory, and its encroachment on the church. But this isn’t to say that Paul wasn’t capable of presenting well when the need arose – Acts portrays him as a pretty accomplished orator, as comfortable preaching to a group of religious philosophers in Athens, quoting their ancient poets back at them during his Areopagus address (Acts 17:28), in court rooms (Acts 24), and before councils (Acts 23:1-9), governors (Acts 24, 25:1-12), and kings (Acts 25:13-26:32) – all places that orators would commonly perform their tasks as entertainers, philosophers, or advocates.

Imitation isn’t just about flattery

Here’s another cool thing before I get to the point (hint – I think a special role of evangelist might potentially be related to the the orator – whose job it is to persuade).

Here’s what Cicero says about choosing who you copy.

“For nothing is easier than to imitate a man*s style of dress, pose or gait. Moreover, if there is a fault, it is not much trouble to appropriate that and to copy it ostentatiously… he did not know how to choose the model whom he would most willingly resemble, and it was positively the faults in his chosen pattern that he elected to copy. But he who is to proceed aright must first be watchful in making his choice, and afterwards extremely careful in striving to attain the most excellent qualities of the model he has approved… “

This is pretty much what the Corinthians were doing in Corinth and in the Second Sophistic movement – 100 years after Cicero wrote this. So he didn’t convince everybody. Here’s how Paul addresses this practice…

31 So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 32 Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, 33 just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

11 Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

This comes a bit after Paul says he is prepared to become all things to all men to win some, in 1 Cor 9, which Dickson really nicely sums up in his book:

“Following the example of Paul and Jesus does not necessarily mean that we do what they did. It means that we live by the same flexible ethos, seeking the good of many so that they may be saved.”

I would suggest that one area where Paul may mean we can do what he did – if our gifts and skill sets allow – is imitating him by being a faithful persuader, or evangelist, for the cause of the gospel. I think Dickson is right to warn that we won’t all have Paul’s training, abilities, or specific calling – so won’t all feel comfortable doing what he does, but, within limits, we can imitate him by using what we have to serve the kingdom of God (cf Romans 12).

The foundational importance of Ethos

Here’s what I’m thinking. It’s not rocket science. But it has the benefit of this oratory stuff backing it up. We’re all called to persuade people of the truth of the gospel, with whatever we have at our disposal – but the most powerfully underrated element of persuasion is not words and knowledge (logos), or fine sounding words that appeal to the emotions (eloquence and pathos), but personal character and living out what you believe (ethos).

I’d say we’re all called to live like Jesus, as an act of evangelism (though also because that’s the goal of the Spirit’s work in us – see Romans 8:29) – but we’re not all called to persuade with pathos (or even logos – beyond knowing the essentials – Christ, and him crucified).

Here’s what Cicero says about the importance of believing your own press (or the press that you’re producing).

“I give you my word that I never tried, by means of a speech, to arouse either indignation or compassion, either ill-will or hatred, in the minds of a tribunal, without being really stirred myself, as I worked upon their minds, by the very feelings to which I was seeking to prompt them.”

But showing your character (and having character to show) is an essential part of Cicero’s approach to persuasion. Though he was prepared to fudge character where necessary.

“Now feelings are won over by a man’s merit, achievements or reputable life, qualifications easier to embellish, if only they are real, than to fabricate where non-existent… Moreover so much is done by good taste and style in speaking, that the speech seems to depict the speaker’s character. For by means of particular types of thought and diction, and the employment besides of a delivery that is unruffled and eloquent of good-nature, the speakers are made to appear upright, well-bred and virtuous men.”

But virtue is important, because bad people can use oratory to bad ends.

“For if we put the full resources of speech at the disposal of those who lack these virtues, we will certainly not make orators of them, but will put weapons into the hands of madmen”

Here’s how Paul shows that he really lives, and believes, his message, when he again defends his lack of eloquence in 2 Corinthians 10-13.

He defends his ministry as a triumph of ethos over the eloquence of the “super apostles” – even though he can out apostle the super apostles. He makes it clear that imitating Christ means being prepared to imitate Christ for others, here are a couple of what I think are the important bits that make this case… in Paul’s reluctant string of boasting in 2 Cor 11:

23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles,danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers;27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness.

And 2 Cor 12:

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing.

What Ethos based gospel persuasion looks like

Paul lives his message. I’d argue this is what he calls all Christians to imitate – demonstrating the strength of the gospel in our weakness. Imitating the crucified Jesus.

But he also knows and speaks his message appropriately to his circumstances. I’m not sure this skill is transferrable to all people everywhere, this certainly isn’t the case from experience. This is where I think the evangelist role might kick in – people who are skilled in speaking and persuading people regardless of their background.

For the Corinthians, whose ethos was broken by their pursuit of status-boosting eloquence, he resolved to know nothing but Christ, and present him plainly.

At the Areopagus (Acts 17), he quoted poets, turned his audience against each other by pointing out the philosophical differences between Stoics and Epicureans, and appeared to stick to the conventions of presenting a new God to the Areopagus for their consideration.

When he was in front of a Jewish council, he turned Pharisee and Sadducee against each other because he knew his audience, and knew how to communicate with them.

When he’s talking to Agrippa in Acts 26, he appears to obey the legal rhetorical conventions while also trying to convert the king (Festus, who’s hanging out, listening – says Paul has “great learning”):

24 At this point Festus interrupted Paul’s defense. “You are out of your mind, Paul!” he shouted. “Your great learning is driving you insane.”

25 “I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. 26 The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner.27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you do.”

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?”

29 Paul replied, “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”

Paul uses legal and religious trials, philosophical speeches, and political engagement to present the gospel of Jesus to his audience.

This is evangelism par excellence. I don’t think Christians fail to be Christians when they don’t speak about Jesus at their school council meetings. But I think an evangelist is failing to use their gifts if they can, but don’t.

It’s interesting that this was also the way the early church saw apologetics – both Tertullian and Justin Martyr wrote to the Roman Empire, basically asking for a fairer go for Christians, and each of them (partly to make the case that Christianity wasn’t dangerous), spelled out the gospel for their readers.

There’s an interesting objection to this view of what’s going on for Paul – the idea that he’s a specially gifted orator, based on Paul’s own words in 2 Corinthians 11:6:

Even if I am unskilled in speaking, I am not so in knowledge; indeed, in every way we have made this plain to you in all things.”

There are a few cool, and convincing responses to this.

First – the “even if” isn’t really a concession, he’s simply dealing with the criticism that has been made about him – that he writes like a rhetorician, but speaks weakly.

Second  – when he says “unskilled in speaking,” the Greek underlying this is transliterally, “idiot” – and it conventionally referred to people who were trained in rhetoric but weren’t professional orators.

Third, and perhaps more important, Paul is placing a high price on knowledge, and plain speaking –  Cicero did too. He suggested you couldn’t be a good orator without either.

On plain speaking:

“…let us select as our models those who enjoy unimpaired health, (which is peculiar to the Attic orators,) rather than those whose abundance is vicious, of whom Asia has produced numbers. And in doing this (if at least we can manage even this, for it is a mighty undertaking) let us imitate, if we can, Lysias, and especially his simplicity of style: for in many places he rises to grandeur. But because he wrote speeches for many private causes, and those too for others, and on very trifling subjects, he appears to be somewhat simple, because he has designedly filed himself down to the standard of the inconsiderable causes which he was pleading.”

On knowledge:

“Yet I maintain that such eloquence as Crassus and Antonius attained could never have been realized without a knowledge of every matter.”

Ethos-based persuasion and evangelism

Interestingly, Dickson picks up on this when it comes to how he defines an evangelist.

First, a bit of a word study to show that evangelism and oratory basically went hand in hand (as, did apologetics).

In the ancient world the noun “gospel” (euangelion) and its verb “telling the gospel” (euangelizomai) were media terms. They always referred to the announcement of happy or important events. News of military victories, national achievements, weddings, births and, in one ancient text, the bargain price of anchovies at the marketplace were all called “gospels”. The modern media term “newsflash” probably comes closest in meaning to the ancient word gospel…

The most well-known “gospels” proclaimed in the ancient world were those announcing the emperors’ achievements. The caesars’ ascensions, conquests and political deeds were all the subject of the gospels of the empire. “Gospel” was very much an imperial term in the period of the New Testament.

His definition of “evangelist” follows this definition of the good news…

“The word literally means gospeller, that is, one who announces the gospel. The term seems to have been coined by the first Christians (it appears nowhere else in Greek literature before the New Testament) as a shorthand way of referring to those in the church who took on the task of proclaiming the life, death and resurrection of God’s Messiah (the gospel) to those for whom this message was still news”

And he doesn’t rule out the option of having gospel conversations with the people you’re in relationships with (so I can’t see how it’s possible he rules out personal evangelism).

In reality, most of our opportunities to speak about Christianity will occur in passing, in the to-and-fro of daily conversation. It should not surprise us, then, that the two clearest passages in the Bible calling on all believers to speak up for the Lord urge them simply to “answer” for the faith—to respond to people’s comments, questions or criticisms with a gentle and gracious reply (Colossians 4:5—6 and 1 Peter 3:15). Most Christians are not “evangelists” (in the technical, New Testament sense of the word) and should not be made to feel the pressure to be something they are not. The Scriptures certainly urge us all to be open about our faith whenever opportunity allows, but doing “the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5) is something God’s Word asks only of some of us.

But here’s the fourth characteristic he identifies for an evangelist (after desire to proclaim Jesus, ability to relate well to people, and Christian maturity).

“An evangelist will be clear with the gospel. I do not just mean clear about what the gospel is-hopefully, that will be all of us. I am talking about clarity in outlining the gospel. This point arises directly from the word “evangelist” itself. A “gospeller” must be particularly able to explain the message plainly. I am not talking about having a gift of the gab or even being an extrovert-clarity does not always go with these. I am talking specifically about an ability to take the truths of the gospel and make them plain to others (key here will be an ability to talk about Christ without jargon, in the everyday language of those who don’t believe).”

I think there’s a good case to be made that there is a specific role within the body of Christ for people who are skilled as modern day orators and keen to use those skills sacrificially, as a gift for others and in an act of worship to God. And I don’t see why you wouldn’t call that role “evangelist.”

I wonder if the pay off, for those championing every member evangelism, is that orators were built for imitation – both Paul and Cicero say it’s important to pick who you imitate. And imitation, of good models, will boost the quality of gospel engagement with the world across the board. Our corporate ability to know and tell the gospel – our logos and pathos – will improve if we recognise, equip, and imitate the right people, and work at knowing complex truths and speaking them plainly.

But the pressure is off, a little bit, at least for evangelism, for those who are worried about not having the right skills for doing the logos and pathos stuff well. Because without a Christ shaped ethos – and a good corporate ethos within the Church – our words are powerless. Our rhetorical triangle is flat, or a point with no foundation.

If we focus on doing the much harder work on getting our character, or ethos, to imitate Paul, but more importantly – to imitate Jesus, that’s going to communicate the gospel clearer than any words we speak – and the words we speak will be much more powerful if we, and others in the body of Christ, are consistent with the way we live, both individually and corporately.

This is weird.

Via 22 Words.

This highlights some of the weird problems with this debate. You’ve got Russell Brand essentially, at one point, equating love with wanting to kiss someone on the mouth (for cheap laughs), and generally suggesting that tolerance and love trumps understanding what sin is – and you’ve got the Westboro Baptist guys who are trying to be loving by proclaiming sin in an incredibly unloving and insensitive way. Why they go to Leviticus, and not to the New Testament, Jesus, and the created order, is beyond me. Especially if they eat prawns.

Christianity’s branding problem out of Russell Brand’s mouth:

“I just feel, from what I’ve read of Jesus, and what I’ve had explained to me, is that his main message was tolerance, and love, and beauty, and acceptance.”

I thought his main message was:

“Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”

So sadly, the Westboro Baptist guys are closer to the mark – Jesus’ main message was that he is Lord, and that access to God is through him…

If I’m going to keep posting media release templates, or suggestions, and if my “how to write a Media Release” guide is going to be of any use, it strikes me that I probably need to lay down what my understanding of a media release is… otherwise people will keep looking at me funny.

From the very helpfully descriptive name, you might get the idea that a media release is some information that you’re giving to the media. You might also assume that it’s given to the media for a purpose – and usually this purpose is to secure some sort of media coverage for something, though it might, in the reverse, be used to water down an issue so that you don’t receive coverage – if you can make something seem more boring and less newsworthy than it is.

That’s a pretty limited, though functional, definition of what a media release is.

Here’s my definition.

A media release is a thoughtfully crafted, public, summary of your key messages, and your brand platform, usually in response to a set of newsworthy circumstances.

Media Releases are best, in my opinion, when they’re proactive, not reactive. When you’re on the front foot, looking to contribute to a conversation, not when you’re being chased to say something in response to some circumstances that might be related to you.

It’s not actually for the media, though they are its first readers – it’s for the public. It sums up what you think of an issue, so that the media, if they want to write a story about it, can include your perspective.

It should be tight. It should be not too long (I generally aim for about 500 words). It should be relevant and timely. It should contain news. It should contain facts that back up opinions. It should include your opinions – as quotes from someone credible. It should start with the important stuff and work down – in the good old inverted news pyramid (so that the bottom stuff doesn’t need to be read).

Public relations is about people, and for people. The public. You’re relating to them. There’s no real magic to it. People want to know how your story applies to the average Joe or Joanne. A good media release tells a story that people want to read. So it should also be relatable, and wherever possible include a real person who is affected by your story. People like reading about people.

But if your media release doesn’t present your view on an issue, from your platform, and include what you want to say about the issue – then don’t send it. That’s pretty much the point of this other post about how I think Christians should be doing media stuff.

If you think you can say all you need to say about a complex issue in three sentences, then by all means, send that, but a busy journalist isn’t going to thank you because they have to call you to get more information, or if they have to call you not having the information they need. They’re also not going to necessarily read to the end.

But the journalist isn’t your only audience – so you don’t have to only write three sentences. Your media releases will also inform your spokespeople, if you have a diverse organisation, and provide them with a guide to what your key messages are, they’ll inform your staff, your members, your customers, your congregants, anybody who reads what you say.

If you’re not publishing your own media releases – via your website, and social media, then again, I’d ask what the point is. They’re essentially a publication, from your organisation, on an issue. Publishing them widely also pre-empts the possibility of you being taken out of context, or misrepresented. The media isn’t generally out to misrepresent you – despite what some more paranoid, and less clear, communicators might think.

You can read a bit more about my approach to writing media releases, or about paying me to write them for you, here. If you ask nicely and it seems valuable, I might even write them for free.

This is brilliant. From DumbWaysToDie.com

 

You can download the song as an MP3.

Thanks to @stemcd for tipping me off on Twitter
 

Nothing.

These recent changes to the newsfeed algorithm “EdgeRank” are bad if you’re a business that isn’t committed to engaging people via Facebook, but just wants all your fans to see every inane thing you have to say.

thumbs down

Image Credit: I turned the pic from this page “upside down”

Facebook has controversially made pages less prominent in people’s newsfeeds – but other than page admins, is anybody really bothered by this?

Who likes pages on Facebook to hear from them regularly?

And if you do, the honus is on you to keep engaging with the page. If you run a page – you can still pay to promote your posts. But that’s dangerous – because, as a commenter on that post points out – people will disconnect from your page if you serve up content they don’t care about. Facebook is even going to introduce a “pages only” newsfeed. I’ll probably use it occasionally, but I doubt many other people will…

Content publishers and Football teams (well, their owners) are up in arms. Because apparently Facebook owes them something. There’s a rule about this – if you’re not paying, you’re the product. Not the customer. Facebook doesn’t owe you anything – and its job is to give users relevant content, that they want to see, to keep them engaged addicted.

Look. It’s hard if you’re a small business owner, or a big business owner – and Facebook changes the rules. And it’d be great to get a platform on the web for free. But that’s not how life works.

You’ve got three choices if you want your stuff in people’s feeds – pay for it, post good stuff that gets shared naturally, or game the system. You can pay for ads. You can pay to promote your posts. You can produce things that people will share. Or you can produce a team of people who are committed to sharing your stuff.

If you’re a business wanting to get noticed on Facebook, then be noticeable  Naturally. You might have poured resources into getting fans – but what sort of relationship do you pay to start, but not invest in maintaining? That’s not how friendship works – and it’s not how developing brand loyalty works.

Yes. Facebook is turning down the reach of your page. Because you’re boring. Produce good content. See what happens. If people want to visit your page, they will. And they can add it to their interests. But Facebook is just doing it’s job. So stop whining.

These Changes and your Church Page

But what does all this mean for churches on Facebook?

Nothing.

No really. Nothing.

It’s slightly different if you’ve got a business page, where you have to win people to your brand so that they’ll talk about you, and don’t have a ready made team of people who should be thinking of themselves as ambassadors for the Gospel (2 Cor 5:20), which I’d suggest means living the Gospel out on Facebook. The gospel is built for virality. It’s built to be shared. It’s good news. It’s what social media is made for…

I’ve no doubt getting your congregation to habitually use Facebook to promote the Gospel and your is something that takes a bit of a sustained effort and creativity. But it’ll be worth it. This requires a rethink about who your page is for. It’s not for your church – it’s for your visitors.

If you think your Facebook page is the best way for you to communicate with your members – you’re doing it wrong. Get a Group. 

Facebook pages are for outsiders. Not insiders. People barely ever come back to a page after liking it. That’s reality. They’re liking it because they’ve landed on it – they’ve either been pulled there by something you’ve done, an ad they’ve clicked, or something someone has shared, or better yet – because they’ve landed in town and they’re searching for a church.

The content on your Facebook page should be aimed at helping people connect to Jesus, via your church, in the real world. Or for equipping your ambassadors – your congregation – with good stuff to share with their friends so that they can connect to Jesus, via your church, in the real world. The Gospel, and the church, are real world deals – not something to click around online. But providing stuff to click around, so that people can get a sense for how your church works, is pretty vital for the primary visitor to your page – the newcomer.

I’m rethinking the way we do this stuff at Creek Road, and I’m nowhere near settled on a working model, nor does our page do the stuff I’m advocating here – this is my thinking out loud, but my e-friend Steve Fogg, who’s the Comms genius at Crossway in Melbourne, has been posting some good stuff on boosting engagement on his page lately (and this list of tips for church leaders). He also suggests promoting posts as a good way for churches to deal with the EdgeRank changes, but I think there’s a better way.

Stop thinking that your Facebook page is an extension of your community, where community stuff happens – there are better tools for that, a Facebook Group, or something like The City. And start thinking of it as an extension of your mission.

Here’s some tips.

  • Use it to share stories – about being part of your church, but ultimately about being a follower of Jesus.
  • Use pictures as wall posts. They rank better, and people share them and like them more frequently.
  • Post engaging content that challenges people. Preferably with the message of the gospel, not your spelling, or your emphasis on silly things.
  • Make it about people. Help people see themselves in your church on a Sunday.
  • Make it interesting. Make it informative. Give people as much information, as many photos, videos, events, and introductions to what’s going on as they’re prepared to click through while they think about coming to your church.
  • Share good content that people can share with your friends that promotes the gospel.
  • Be real. Make sure the church people read about on Facebook is the church they experience if they rock up on Sunday.

Marcus Tullius Cicero is one of my heroes. He was also pretty influential on Augustine, in my favourite primary source text from my time at college (outside the Bible) - On Christian Teaching, and, I’d argue, on Paul’s approach to preaching and rhetoric in Corinth.

cicero change poster

Image Credit: Cicero, Change, made with ObamiconMe

He was a pretty interesting guy – rising from relatively common stock to be one of the most powerful men in the Roman Republic. He was elected Consul in 64BC. During the campaign his younger brother wrote him a little handbook for electoral success called Commentariolum Petitionis. It’s been translated into a nice little book called How to Win an Election: An Ancient Guide for Modern Politicians. It had some timeless tips for political success that election watchers will recognise have played out in elections since the dawn of democracy.

One of the most accurate maxims in the little treatise is: “This shows that people are moved more by appearances than reality, though I realize this course is difficult to for someone like you who is a follower of the philosopher Plato.”

Here are ten tips Cicero’s younger brother sends to help Cicero clarify his thoughts about the campaign at hand.

1. Build a wide base of vocal ambassadors…

Cicero was a lawyer who won lots of cases, it’s suggested he remind his clients what they owe him, find people who like you, find people who will advocate for you – get them to talk about you. This is first century BC political advertising.

Don’t forget about all the people you have successfully defended in court, clients from a wide variety of social backgrounds. And, of course, remember the special interest groups that back you. Finally, make good use of the young people who admire you and want to learn from you, in addition to all the faithful friends who are daily at your side.”

“Running for office can be divided into two kinds of activity: securing the support of your friends and winning over the general public. You gain the goodwill of friends through kindness, favors, old connections, availability, and natural charm. But in an election you need to think of friendship in broader terms than in everyday life. For a candidate, a friend is anyone who shows you goodwill or seeks out your company. But don’t neglect those who are your friends in the traditional sense through family ties or social connection. These you must continue to carefully cultivate.”

Ambassadors and advocates to blow your trumpet for you are increasingly vital in the web 2.0 world, and in a world that is increasingly cynical about the things people say about themselves.

“You must always think about publicity. I’ve been talking about this throughout my whole letter, but it is vital that you use all of your assets to spread the word about your campaign to the widest possible audience. Your ability as a public speaker is key, as is the support of the business community and those who carry out public contracts.”

“You should work with diligence to secure supporters from a wide variety of backgrounds.”

“Seek out men everywhere who will represent you as if they themselves where running for office.”

“It will help your campaign tremendously to have the enthusiasm and energy of young people on your side to canvass voters, gain supporters, spread news, and make you look good.”

“Voters will judge you on what sort of crowd you draw both in quality and numbers. The three types of followers are those who greet you at home, those who escort you down to the Forum, and those who accompany you wherever you go”

“You need to win these voters to your side so that you can fill your house with supporters every morning, hold them to you by promises of your protection, and send them away more enthusiastic about your cause than when they came so that more and more people hear good things about you.”

2. Communicate well. Always

Cicero had built his reputation as a speaker, and his brother told him to use every speaking opportunity as though his career depended on it – because it did.

“It is your unmatched skill as a speaker that draws the Roman people to you and keeps them on your side.”

“Since you are such an excellent communicator and your reputation has been built on this fact, you should approach every speaking engagement as if your entire future depended on that single event.”

This is especially true in the era of campaigning where every slip of the tongue hits YouTube, or becomes a meme.

Communicating clearly, and relevantly, will help win people over.

“The third class of supporters are those who show goodwill because of a personal attachment they believe they have made with you. Encourage this by adapting your message to fit the particular circumstances of each and showing abundant goodwill to them in return. Show them that the more they work for your election the closer your bond to them will be.”

3. Promise everything to anybody (but don’t worry about keeping them)

We can blame the Ciceros, or perhaps Cotta, for “core promises” and “non-core promises”…

“Remember Cotta, that master of campaigning, who said that he would promise everything to anyone, unless some clear obligation prevented him, but only lived up to those promises that benefited him.

He seldom refused anyone, for he said that often a person he made a promise to would end up not needing him or that he himself would have more time available than he thought he would to help.

After all, if a politician made only promises he was sure he could keep, he wouldn’t have many friends. Events are always happening that you didn’t expect or not happening that you did expect. Broken promises are often lost in a cloud of changing circumstances so that anger against you will be minimal.”

4. Keep your friends close, and try to get your enemies closer

Cicero’s little brother reminds him that most trouble – especially damaging rumours, begin at home. So tells him to be on his guard. Then he gives him some advice for winning over his critics.

“Do not overlook your family and those closely connected with you. Make sure they all are behind you and want you to succeed. This includes your tribe, your neighbors, your clients, your former slaves, and even your servants. For almost every destructive rumor that makes its way to the public begins among family and friends.”

“There are three kinds of people who will stand against you: those you have harmed, those who dislike you for no good reason, and those who are close friends of your opponents.

For those you have harmed by standing up for a friend against them, be gracious and apologetic, reminding them you were only defending someone you had strong ties to and that you would do the same for them if they were your friend. For those who don’t like you without good cause, try to win them over by being kind to them or doing them a favor or by showing concern for them. As for the last group who are friends of your rivals, you can use the same techniques, proving your benevolence even to those who are your enemies.”

“I assure you that there is nobody, except perhaps ardent supporters of your opponents, who cannot be won over to your side with hard work and proper favors. But this will only work if a man sees that you value his support, that you are sincere, that you can do something for him, and that the relationship will extend beyond election day.”

5. Remember what the goal is

“Always remember what city this is, what office it is you seek, and who you are. Every day as you go down to the Forum, you should say to yourself: “I am an outsider. I want to be a consul. This is Rome.”"

This serves as a good reminder of what you’re doing – but also a nice principle for keeping focused, saying no to things, and framing your narrative.

6. Be valuable to people: Give of yourself. To everybody. And listen.

People will vote for you if they think you’re interested in their well being, and if you are giving them something of value. This remains the foundational premise of any positive political advertising.

“Work to maintain the goodwill of these groups by giving them helpful advice and asking them for their counsel in return.”

“Another way to show you are generous is to be available day and night to those who need you. Keep the doors of your house open, of course, but also open your face and expression, for these are the window to the soul.”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment. You must work to give these incentives to the right people. You can win uncommitted voters to your side by doing them even small favors. So much more so all those you have greatly helped, who must be made to understand that if they don’t support you now they will lose all public respect. But do go to them in person and let them know that if they back you in this election you will be in their debt.”

7. Remember names. Remember people. Actually care

Remembering names won’t guarantee that people will like you – but it’s part of showing you care.

“…nothing impresses an average voter more than having a candidate remember him, so work every day to recall names and faces.”

“Look at Antonius—how can the man establish friendships when he can’t even remember anyone’s name? Can there be anything sillier than for a candidate to think a person he doesn’t know will support him?”

“Small-town men and country folk will want to be your friends if you take the trouble to learn their names—but they are not fools. They will only support you if they believe they have something to gain.

But with any class of people, it isn’t enough that you merely call them by name and develop a superficial friendship. You must actually be their friend.”

8. Say nice things about people… except your opponent

Saying nice things about people, in a winsome way, wins them over.

“You have excellent manners and are always courteous, but you can be rather stiff at times. You desperately need to learn the art of flattery—a disgraceful thing in normal life but essential when you are running for office.”

What you say about people when they’re out of earshot counts too… here’s what he says about powerful people who drop in to visit each morning (but might visit other people).

“Mention your gratitude for their visit whenever you see them and tell their friends that you noticed their presence as well, for the friends will repeat your words to them.”

Finally, as regards the Roman masses, be sure to put on a good show. Dignified, yes, but full of the color and spectacle that appeals so much to crowds. It also wouldn’t hurt to remind them of what scoundrels your opponents are and to smear these men at every opportunity with the crimes, sexual scandals, and corruption they have brought on themselves.”

9. Maintain your integrity (or the appearance of integrity)

This comes back to ethos – which is one of the areas I think Paul borrows from Cicero. Character counts (though apparently broken promises are irrelevant to character).

“Our city is a cesspool of humanity, a place of deceit, plots, and vice of every imaginable kind. Anywhere you turn you will see arrogance, stubbornness, malevolence, pride, and hatred. Amid such a swirl of evil, it takes a remarkable man with sound judgment and great skill to avoid stumbling, gossip, and betrayal. How many men could maintain their integrity while adapting themselves to various ways of behaving, speaking, and feeling? In such a chaotic world, you must stick to the path you have chosen.”

10. Give people hope..

This comes down to framing a narrative not about you, not about the people who are voting for you, but about the future – yours, and theirs, together.

“The most important part of your campaign is to bring hope to people and a feeling of goodwill toward you.”

“There are three things that will guarantee votes in an election: favors, hope, and personal attachment…As for those who you have inspired with hope—a zealous and devoted group—you must make them to believe that you will always be there to help them. Let them know that you are grateful for their loyalty and that you are keenly aware of and appreciate what each of them is doing for you.”

I assure you that there is nobody, except perhaps ardent supporters of your opponents, who cannot be won over to your side with hard work and proper favors. But this will only work if a man sees that you value his support, that you are sincere, that you can do something for him, and that the relationship will extend beyond election day.

There you have it. 10 tips from almost 2,100 years ago that were just as relevant for the 2012 US Presidential race as they were back then.