Communicate Wisely

As you communicate in various ways, there are important things you can do to help people intellectually buy in to what you are saying. Here are three teaching tips that will enhance the values you are trying to instill:

Sell the Problem—Don’t just communicate your values; let people know the reasons behind them and why those reasons are important. In their book, Transformation Church, Ed Stetzer and Thom Rainer say, “Churches do not change until the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of changing.” If there is no pain, there is no urgency and no burden felt by the members. You have to help people see and feel the need. Point them toward a preferable future, and show them the predictable consequences of staying the same.

Right before I came to Richwoods, the people in leadership were having serious conversations about whether they would be able to keep the church open or not. The core members were beginning to realize that if they didn’t do something different, the church was going to die. When I came, I reminded them of this and talked about where the church was naturally headed if things stayed the same. I asked the question, “Where are our kids and grandkids?” I shared statistics and told stories. I wasn’t trying to browbeat them; I was trying to define reality and remind them of why we needed to change.

This is what is often referred to as sowing seeds of discontent—intentionally doing things to highlight a problem and allowing people to feel the pain before jumping to solutions. It’s been said that people don’t change until they hurt enough that they have to, learn enough that they are able to, or see enough that they want to. We have to sell the problem, not just the values.

Connect with the Past—When I talked with longtime members at my church, I quickly began to hear some common stories about their passion for missions and how the church was giving over 30% of its budget to this ministry. They had done several short-term mission trips and even commissioned members of the church to full-time foreign missionary service. This was part of the church’s heritage, and it was where they found their identity as a congregation.

Rather than ignoring or downplaying this passion, I tried to highlight and celebrate it. I commended the people on their commitment to missions and their compassion for lost people. Then I challenged them. I told them our church was outstanding at foreign missions, but we weren't doing anything to reach our own community. Our Jerusalem was being neglected at the expense of the “uttermost parts of the world.” I took something positive and tried to expand it, enhance it, and redefine it.

Sometimes leaders can fall into the temptation of shaming their people, running them down, and diminishing yesterday. I think it’s better to encourage and give honor where honor is due. By celebrating the positives of the past, it is easier to direct people’s attention to the future and challenge them to build on whatever good they’ve already done.

Teach While You Teach—When you teach values, you need to find ways to teach them indirectly. For example, if one of the values you need to instill is outreach and evangelism, you can always do a sermon series, and that will touch many people. That’s a direct way of handling the subject and is appropriate. However, some people might avoid church because they don’t want to be challenged in this area.  Some will be out of town and miss most of the series. Others will be present, but will tune you out because they’ve heard it before and aren’t interested. Furthermore, once you’ve done the series, you likely won’t be doing another on this subject for a year or more. And what about the new people who started to attend church after the series? Now you’ve fired your bullet, but it’s going to be a while before you can reload.

On the other hand, let’s say you are doing a series on trusting God, and you give an illustration on sharing your faith. The sermon is about trust, but you’re weaving one of your core values into it. People don’t expect it. Their guard is down. You’ve just tied one of your key values to a practical element of the faith. The next month you do a series on prayer and you designate one point of one message to praying for lost friends and family. In both cases, you are intentionally teaching the church the value of outreach, but you’re doing so indirectly.

The consistent routine of finding ways to weave core values into the life of the church is invaluable. You are making it practical. You are reinforcing what you’ve already taught. And you are sending a consistent message across a number of different topics, which communicates to the people that this is a key value for the church and a relevant part of their lives.

--from Chapter 12 of Dirt Matters: The Foundation for a Healthy, Vibrant, and Effective Congregation

Next week, I will offer the third of the nine principles you can use to implant your church’s values into its culture.