As a a pastor, preaching the gospel is my everyday priority, by any means, in any way. As a communicator, the same is true. A pastor is, after all, a mass and personal communicator at once. A pastor communicates ideas, principles, and, above all other issues, hope and eternal life.
So, why is our Church having trouble growing these days? As communicators — pastors and preachers — maybe we have miscommunicated the advantages of communication itself (i.e. evangelization and preaching the gospel), and corporate image (our Church identity as a religious movement). Let’s look at each of these problems.
1. We didn’t turn our laymen and laywomen into communicators.
We have communicated correctly the content of our message, but we didn’t reach all the goals in communication: Pursue an effect in the receiver of the message that provokes a change within him/her. We have convinced them about the message, but we probably didn’t “convert” them into messengers.
One suggested solution, and never universal, could be preaching to others (church members, visitors, interested people, etc.) not as our final audience or target public, but as an intermediate audience. For example, when communicators prepare information such as a yearbook, newsletter, or dossier, we present it differently to the final audience, as compared to how we prepare a press release destined to mass media. Why? Because we have to convince the journalist to publish our release. But, when we address our message to our final, target public, we try to ensure loyalty, not provoke a chain reaction.
Journalists will consider our news publishable if they consider it useful to the community, or if it is worthy or helpful. Of course, the journalist will also benefit from the received information. And, this is an example of how we, pastors and communicators, should present our message, convincing and converting the new believer into an efficient spokesperson.
2. We didn’t “sell” our corporate brand.
Here in Spain, for example, the dark shadow of the last dictatorial regime still hovers over our churches; fear of being known as a Seventh-day Adventist is quite common. Fear has stuck people in the past, and new generations have grown under that influence. You may find different causes or reasons in your country, but probably very similar symptoms of “camouflage believers.”
One suggested solution could be to renew our corporate image, starting in ourselves, church leaders. The Adventist Church began its duty as a movement, dynamic and alive, like the most pure, viral marketing style. An enormous Truth that everybody must know was moving every believer in the Adventist movement. The sense of urgency and the gravity of the message was the “motor” of the Church. That vital energy must again become one of our main, intangible values. My own experience tells me so.
When I was a teenager I decided to serve in the mission field. I was hoping to make the world a better place, to develop the “practical” gospel. When I had the opportunity to serve with ADRA in Rwanda right after the civil war in 1994 (it wasn’t really over…), I fell into deep thought about what I experienced, saw, and learned there. I realized that this kind of work is necessary, but it’s only patching our world (blessed patches!); the hole is bigger than our “mends.” I asked myself what would accelerate the recovery of that disaster and other calamities like it (Somalia, Ethiopia, Sierra Leona, etc.), and I felt very small, so tiny.
My conclusion was that the answer was right in front of me. The second coming of Jesus will definitely end all disasters. Right then I decided to study theology, become a pastor, and preach the gospel o every nation, tribe, tongue, and people — the last condition to be fulfilled just before the second coming occurs.
While working as a pastor, I realized how physically limited I was. I even fell sick because of overworking. How many Bible studies could a pastor impart in a week — 15 or 20, or 25 at the most? What is that compared to 6 billion people living in this planet? I felt discouraged again.
Then God permitted the circumstances that drew me to start a Ph.D. in communication, and to my latest “discovery”: mass communications and new technologies. My eyes were opened, and I realized how much could be done, “without neglecting the former” (Matt. 23:23).
I started a few blogs on the Internet, which led me to consider how the Bible studies imparted through Internet, satellite, radio, and TV relate to the evangelical commission given by Jesus: “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15 NIV). These commanding verbs, “go” and “preach,” are the two main things that Jesus wants us to do.
What has been our approach so far? Is it necessary to modify our strategy? Should we change our approach to evangelism? It is not just a matter of “capturing” attention, but a matter of true communication: we have to communicate information. That’s what the Lord is asking us to do.
We have to proclaim … communicate the gospel to all the world … speak about … give the message away. Then we may leave the Holy Ghost to convince each heart and conscience (John 16:8-11). God is the One who will add to His Church each day all those that will be saved (Acts 2:47).
Ellen White reminds us, “Wherever you are, let your light shine forth. Hand our papers and pamphlets to those with whom you associate, when you are riding on the cars, visiting, conversing with your neighbors; and improve every opportunity to speak a word in season. The Holy Spirit will make the seed productive in some hearts” (Review and Herald, June 18, 1908, par. 3, emphasis added).
May I suggest we look at this quotation with a few of the words revised: Wherever you are, let your light shine forth. Hand our Web pages and blogs to those with whom you associate, when you are using mass media, visiting, conversing with your neighbors; and improve every opportunity to speak a word in season. The Holy Spirit will make the seed productive in some hearts.
Why shouldn’t we update these strategies to the present, “without neglecting the former”?
Article by Pedro Torres and edited by Sheyla Elwin, published in Practicing Communicating, issue September 2008.