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The Communication-Mission Connection

By Sue Sprang

SYNOD – In today’s world, it is imperative that congregations use the web/social media to their advantage. With paper communication giving way to more electronic and technical sources at a sometimes head-spinning pace, and with each new generation of American relying more on the latter than its previous generation, the church – if it wants to grow, establish itself as mission-centered, and engage all generations – has no other choice. 

“There is more than a 90 percent chance that a visitor to your congregation looked for you online first,” said Pastor David Sprang, Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Evangelical Mission for the North/West Lower Michigan Synod. “More than likely they found you via your church’s website. Facebook and other social media are good, but tend to be more internal.”

“Relevant and Engaging”

Chelsey Satterlee, Communications Director for the North/West Lower Michigan Synod, agrees with Sprang. Satterlee is a member of Generation Y (millennial) and, as a communications professional, makes it a point to stay on top of current trends in technological communication.

“Websites and social media are the most common way to get information and so it’s necessary for congregations to have a strong and engaging presence,” she said. “The majority of people in my generation and younger would search for congregations on the internet. For the most part, that would include googling and then visiting the congregation’s website to learn more about them. That means the website needs to be visitor friendly. It has to be easy to find contact information, directions, service times, and ministry information.”

Generations Y and Z take the adage “actions speak louder than words” to heart. If an entity (organization, committee, planning group, etc.) is doing a lot of talking, but there’s no action to back it up, these millennials and Z’s probably aren’t going to stay around. The same can be said if there are actions, but they don’t match the words.  

“A lot of people in my generation are more interested in seeing what the congregation is doing in the community as it gives a better idea of the congregation’s culture, its values, and its social views,” said Satterlee. “In many cases, people want to see that if they come to a specific church they will be part of something that is bigger than worship in the church building.”

“mission statement v.

words & actions”

Loyalty to a specific Christian denomination is not a given in this day and age. Add to that, for many Y and Z folks, loyalty to a specific religion, let alone a denomination, isn’t necessarily in the cards. If the local Evangelical Lutheran Church in America congregation doesn’t speak to them, they will search elsewhere. 

“While finding an ELCA congregation near them is sometimes enough to bring them in, if the congregation isn’t doing anything, they’re not going to want to stay,” said Satterlee. “It’s super important to have relevant and engaging information about your congregation’s programs and ministries on the website.  It’s also a great place to work in pictures so that it’s really easy for visitors to see what the congregation is like.” 

Even though Facebook and other social media can be a plus for the local congregation, Satterlee stressed that an interesting, informative, well-organized, and well-maintained website is a must in today’s world.

“Not all congregations have social media,” she said, “and if the website does a great job of showcasing the congregation’s programs and sense of community, and providing all of the needed information, then they might not need social media – although the latter can be a good way to show off community engagement and get a taste of what the congregation is really like, especially if there are a lot of pictures.”

Keeping the website updated and visitor-friendly is a must. Avoid acronyms or “insider” language. Put yourself in the place of someone who is doing the web search, keeping in mind any searches you yourself have done where the language is confusing or unhelpful.

ELCA is the most obvious example of an acronym. A few other examples would be VBS (Vacation Bible School), WELCA (Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America), LWR (Lutheran World Relief), GWOH (God’s Work. Our Hands.) 

“avoid ‘insider’ language”

The key is to think elementarily while posting on your web, yet making it interesting and informative. Don’t assume that visitors to your site will dig for information that could be helpful or that could make or break their decision as to whether to give your church a try. It may seem very basic to you, but can be important for the visitor.

Satterlee shared her experience with perusing the web sites of our synod’s congregations.

“In reviewing websites last year, I found a lot of congregations aimed their website at current members and not visitors,” she said. “There were cases in which to get information about a program, it said to talk to a specific person, but there was no contact information – assuming people know who that is.”

“Since a congregation’s website is the main public facing place of information, it has to be aimed at people who are unfamiliar with the congregation and in many cases the ELCA,” Satterlee added. “It never hurts to have a section talking about what it means to be an ELCA Lutheran in addition to what the congregation is like.” 

This all leads to including your congregation’s mission statement in a very visible place on your congregation’s website. Before you post it, though, this might be a good time for your congregation to review its mission and see if, indeed, the mission matches who you are. 

“One note about the mission statement is to make sure it’s in plain English or is fully explained,” said Satterlee. “I’ve encountered some that sound very nice but in the end I was left asking what does that really mean? How does it relate to the congregation?”

“Your mission statement should reflect your congregation’s core values that guide and direct the congregation,” said Sprang. “It might be good to re-evaluate and rework your mission statement to reflect what the congregation’s true core values and mission are.”

 “easy to find and easy to navigate”

Once you are certain that your congregation’s true values and beliefs are established, tell about your ministries and programs. They should be in sync. Honesty and transparency are highly valued by Generations Y and Z.

Meanwhile, make your website interesting, easy to find, and easy to navigate. Use graphics and photos. 

Make the site informational, but not overdone. Wordiness can be an immediate turn off for many people, especially the younger generations. If the person or persons who does most of the posting for your site tends to be wordy, have them run their information, article, etc. across a few other people before posting. These two or three folks could help pull repetition and other nonessentials from the piece. 

If needed, someone who can edit your postings for grammar, spelling, proper abbreviations, etc., can also be a plus. You can have good information, but if the presentation is sloppy – as unintentional as it may be – it can be a turn-off.

Include all pertinent information. This includes the church’s phone number, address, times of worship, etc. There should also be e-mail addresses – one for the church office and one for the pastor. 

With pastoral ministry being a public office, a pastor is to be accessible to the community and to anyone in need of their listening ear, their advice, their words of encouragement or solace, and other scenarios. By virtue of their calling, they make their accessibility to members and non-members a priority. 

A “contact form” (such as Outlook) isn’t always reliable. It also moves the pastor one step away from the people, even though that’s not the intention. 

“In reviewing websites, I found a mix of contact forms and email addresses,” said Satterlee, “but oftentimes the contact form didn’t work — so it just felt pointless.

“Also, it makes it harder to contact the pastor directly as there’s no indication of who will receive the email. It doesn’t matter all of the time, but there are instances in which someone would want to contact a pastor and not the church office. I usually recommend having an e-mail address for both the pastor and the office available.” 

“I’ve seen some websites that have a ‘what is a Lutheran section’ and then link to the ELCA and the synod websites,” she said. “It’s nice to have those links so that if someone is unfamiliar they can quickly and easily find more information. 

“It might not be necessary to have links to all of the other ELCA/Synod programs, but if a congregation has a strong relationship with one of them, then it would be good. For example, if a congregation sends a lot of kids to Living Water Ministries summer camps then it might be good to have their website linked.” 

Satterlee also suggests that if you have a calendar on your site, make sure it’s updated and available. 

“I’ve encountered some calendars that could only be seen if you were a member of the church,” she said, “which is not a great way to engage visitors.”

An “in house” calendar signifies “no intruders wanted.”

Satterlee has tips to share in regard to other modes of getting out the word.

“I would say most everything [applied to websites] can be applied to Facebook and social media,” she said. “I’ve found social media can be a bit more casual and aimed at people in the congregation, as social media in general is more about engaging with a community. But it still needs to be professional and have the basic visitor information (contact, services times, link to the website), but it can be more informal.

“Since social media is more community focused, it’s a good place to share pictures from congregation events/programs, have more informal reminders about events, and see what the congregation is really like. I’ve definitely seen some congregation websites that say one thing and when I look at social media, it’s totally the opposite. So I guess there’s also a caution in that to make sure the website and social media match and are an accurate representation of the congregation. 

“Also,” Satterlee added, “You might want to consider moving to sources such as Twitter or Instagram. In general, younger generations don’t use Facebook so means of communication like these can be helpful for congregations looking to engage a younger demographic.” 




What I Learned About Hospitality From Disney!

By Pastor Matt Titus

 

So, as many of y’all know, my family and I went to Disney World last month. It was a great vacation and we toured all four of Disney’s parks. We had a blast. Ashleigh and Miriam had the best few days of their lives (apart from spending every day with us that is) as they were able to meet their favorite characters like Elsa, Anna, Sofia, Baymax, and of course Mickey Mouse.

But, as we traveled around Disney’s parks, I came away with a great sense of comfort. No matter what was going on, there was a Disney cast member (employee) there to help guide us, comfort us, or inform us about something. Disney knows hospitality and you know what – we as the church can learn a lot from them.

First things first – everyone is welcome. Now, I know our sign says – All are welcome, no exceptions. But, let’s be honest. We as the church have a hard time welcoming everyone into the community of faith at times. As Lutherans, we have a tendency to congregate with others who look, speak, and act like us. I think we are much better than other churches I have seen or been a part of, but the truth remains. Sometimes we’re pretty bad at being truly welcoming. At least in the ‘little things.’ Like welcoming new people at the door. Being present for folks throughout the service (helping with the hymnal, and the flow of service). Being considerate of others’ time and personal space (either clambering in too close or over extending conversations well past ‘normal’ time).

Disney – they know how to welcome someone. Everyone greets you. Everyone smiles. No matter where you’re from, who you’re with, or why you’ve come – Disney is there to accommodate you. Of course, we still have to do things ‘the Disney way’ in many aspects. But, from the moment you get off the airplane to the moment you leave. You’re taken care of. It’s an awesome feeling.

Secondly – they know their story. Disney knows why you come to their parks. To have a magical experience. Re-kindling your inner child or inspiring that young child in your family to be filled with love and the thought that ‘anything is truly possible.’ Not only do those who work at Disney know why you’ve come – they know the Disney story. They know their history. They know what they are currently doing. They know how to celebrate their heritage. They are inspired by their future.

Now, as a community of faith, we know some of the major parts of our story. We know Jesus. We know the birth. We know the death and resurrection. We may even know a few of the smaller stories that we grew up with (or at least the ‘Sunday School’ versions of those stories). But, we don’t cherish those stories at times like my sister cherishes not only the movies she watches – but also the little bits of history that tie into their present.

For example – do you know why all cast members direct folks where to go by ‘pointing’ with two fingers? You might have been told that it’s because it is considered ‘rude’ to point with one finger in many cultures. Sure, that’s part of the reason. The other is that Walt Disney was a notorious chain smoker and when he pointed towards something it was always with a cigarette between his fingers – hence the two-finger point.

We as the church have those ‘funny’ stories as well. For example, why do we have candles? Sure, a part of the reason is that candles help us to remember the light of Christ that burns within the church and within ourselves. But, a huge reason is that during the inception of the church and the establishing of cathedrals – they didn’t have the luxury of electricity. Candles were a necessity. If they didn’t have candles, how would the priest and those leading worship be able to read the words?

But, we also don’t know the stories of our faith as well as we should. Those stories that reside in our holy scriptures (stories like Ruth, Amos, Elijah and Elisha [mostly that they aren’t the same person], and more) or the stories that help form our particular community of faith in Mason.

Finally – they are passionate. Seriously – talk to anyone who has ever worked at Disney or even been to the parks for an extended period of time. You’d be hard pressed to find someone who didn’t care about what they were doing. My sister sits at a desk and talks on a phone for 8 hours a day. She loves it. Why? Because she gets to tell people about Disney. My mother has friends that work there that have to dress up in silly outfits and stand on their feet all day helping park attendees with purchases, picking up trash, or making sure people are following the rules on their numerous rides. They love it. They get to interact and experience people from all over the world. They get to be at Disney World (or one of the other three parks) every day.

There are times when we as a greater church and even as All Saints Lutheran Church can lack passion. We just ‘go through the motions’ when it comes to church. We can lose sight of why we do what we do. We can lose that burning spiritual fire that compels us to want to come to worship or the other activities that the church offers. The place where we get to hear about God’s love for us and the world. We get to hear and experience Christ’s presence among us and in us. We get to be led through the waters of our baptism so that all might know God’s love. We get to hear, experience, and share the greatest story for the world – for each of us.

So, after a week at Disney World, I hope that I can be a better pastor, a better steward of Christianity, a better person by living out my faith in a ‘Disney-like’ way. Living out my faith where I am welcoming to everyone – more so than I know myself to already be, to dive more into the stories that we share – both as a people of faith and as a community here in Mason. Finally, I hope that I can be passionate about my faith in such a way that others cannot help, but feed off that passion. That they too might feel the same sense of awe and wonderment from hearing the birth story of our Lord, of being compelled to serve those in need, to knowing that we are whole because Christ has risen, in experiencing profound peace because God has already forgiven and saved us through our faith.

In this, I hope and pray that each of you are inspired to live this wonderful life of faith as well.

This is All Saints – This is the Lutheran Church – This is faith. We can listen, experience, go, share, and serve. Amen!




A Pastoral Letter

By Pastor Kurt Havel

 

If things don’t change I don’t see many congregations around in thirty years. Now that I have your attention, let me elaborate. I have an observation to share with you, which forms the basis for my opening remark. It is this: we are an older people trying to do church the old way.

We are the very typical protestant “graying congregation” in America today. Look around at worship and who do you not see? You don’t see teenagers. You don’t see many young or middle age families. You don’t see anyone different from those of us who are there. It is sort of like the elephant in the room, we know it’s an issue but we aren’t talking about it.

We (through our Call Committee) put in our congregational profile for the synod that we want a pastor who is skilled in youth and family ministry. Why? There aren’t active youth or young families with whom to do ministry. The new pastor will not have a magic wand to wave over our community and bring in those who are not here now. We need to ask why they are not here now, before a new pastor comes to work with us.

Here are some questions related to our dilemma:

  • Is our worship relevant to a younger culture? Do we need to offer a more contemporary style along with our traditional style? Why is worship participation such a low priority for way too many families?
  • Is our preaching and teaching not relevant to the issues confronting young families?
  • Do we offer relevant programming for those wished-for families? Have we asked them what would be helpful from their church, or have we assumed too much?
  • Are we as open and welcoming as we think we are? Are there invisible obstacles?
  • What does it mean to be living the ELCA Lutheran life in this community—do we have something unique to offer from our rich heritage?
  • Why don’t we have any high school youth registered for the 2015 National Youth Gathering in Detroit?
  • Why are our bells resting quietly in a closet?
  • Why is our financial support lagging behind our needs? Aren’t we grateful and excited about what God is doing in our midst?

There are some very good things happening: 30 kids in Kids Club; 25 to 30 older adults in midweek Bible study; an increasing worship attendance; an active quilting group; a food distribution program; a viable Stephen Ministry program; a woman’s small group.

Before we can commit to change we need to discern what needs to change. Or, we can decide to just ride it out and see what happens. I don’t think we will like what happens if we decide to maintain the status quo.

On October 5, 2014, the long and storied history of Grace Lutheran Church in Saginaw held its final worship service. Declining membership, internal strife and not enough dollars to sustain the ministry came home to roost. At the same time in Saginaw, St. John Lutheran church (which also faced the question of closing its doors) took the dramatic step of freeing up funds from its endowment (yes, change will likely cost money) so that it could call a full time pastor and have a new vision for what it means for them to be “in the city for good.”   One woman there told me a couple of years ago, “I don’t care what we do just so long as we exist long enough for me to buried from here.” Is that a mission statement that will change the world?

Think about those who sit around us for Saturday/Sunday worship—only a handful of us will even be alive in another thirty years. Who will be the next congregation? Who are the courageous risk takers today who will step up like those charter members did 30 years ago?

My suggestion is that the Council form a Mission Strategy Task Force to begin a discussion about our future. Such a task force must include some of the folks who are not currently on our radar, but who consider themselves members. The task force could begin with the questions I have posed or any others that percolate to the top, AND be committed to surveying and listening to members and non-members alike. This could be hard, fun and holy work. Are we up for it? Are we willing to talk about new ideas without judging them too quickly? Could God be nudging you to step up for this work?

Think how much more appealing our congregation would be for a prospective servant leader if there was a sense of excitement about concrete plans we have for God’s work through our hands for our community.

Do you have the heart for this important work? Everything has to be on the table for an open and honest discussion.

On the journey with you – Pastor Havel