Effective Communication: Telling The Story
September 13, 2021
by Greg Henson, President, and Shanda Stricherz, Chief Creative Officer
Last week, we began a new series of articles focused on the topic of communication by looking at the four goals we have for communication within Kairos. Over the next few weeks, we are going to look more deeply at a few of the practices that help us pursue those goals.
The first goal we listed was “Tell The Story.” We described that goal as an opportunity to ensure our focus is always where it should be – on telling The Story of God and God’s work of reconciliation as we make disciples. To do this well, as an organization, we need to narrow the focus of what, when, and how we communicate. In our experience, we have found at least two practices help us lean into the goal of telling The Story: 1) God-Focused Stories and 2) Unified Messaging.
Have you ever received a fundraising letter that says something like this?
“Give us money for this exciting thing we are doing (e.g., feeding hungry people, providing shoes, educating the next generation of church leaders, etc.). Isn’t what we did for James a great story? Your gift makes it possible for these things to happen. Without your money, we cannot do this exciting thing. A gift of $100, will put food on the table for people like James.”
Or a marketing piece like this?
“Let me tell you about James! He is a church planter (or missionary/pastor/computer programmer/leader) who is doing amazing things. His church has doubled in size, and people are being baptized every Sunday. You should participate in our programs so that you can do amazing things like James!”
Obviously, helping people receive food, clothing, education, protection, services, etc. is very important. As is leading well, baptizing new believers, and thriving in one’s vocation. We are not trying to belittle the importance of such things or the idea that fundraising or marketing is inherently bad. We are, however, trying to call attention to where the focus is often being placed in such communication – on us, on what we do, and on an idea that money is our provider.
As organizations, we tend talk about the “great things” we are doing for God. Telling The Story requires us to talk about what God is doing – to put the focus on God. Great things may be happening but only because God is doing such things as followers of Jesus follow him on mission. We know this may seem like semantics but our language matters. All communication needs to find its place behind the proclamation of the gospel – the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
In practice, this means our communication shares biblical truth, invites people into a deeper relationship with Jesus, and calls attention to where we see the Kingdom breaking forth. For example, instead of crafting fundraising messaging around the goal of growing gifts by asking people for “their” money, as if they own anything apart from God, it can be reoriented toward growing givers by inviting them to a closer walk with Jesus. That means fundraising messaging becomes more about discipleship than sales. More about inviting people to participate in God’s work by being faithful stewards of God’s resources. Another example could be writing marketing messages about what God is doing in and through a community of people and inviting others to join God in that work. The list could go on but the point is that our words matter because they define the focus of our communication. Yes, we are participating in God’s story in ways that are unique to Kairos, and we are welcome to describe how we are participating. But our focus needs to always be on God and what God is doing in the world.
As you can imagine, placing our focus on God means we need to think differently about what, when, and how we communicate. As a global organization, this kind of systemic and integrated thinking can become quite cumbersome in terms of day-to-day practices. With nearly 4,000 people around the world following Jesus on mission as they journey with Kairos, it seems obvious to say that a lot is going on. This reality begs the question, “How do we communicate well while staying focused on sharing God’s story?”
One answer to that question is unified messaging and it is the practice of narrowing the focus of what, when, and how we communicate. Rather than creating “special” reports or stories or messages for particular groups of people (e.g., one report for the board, a different one for faculty, still another for givers, and more for students or partners), the “what” is a single stream of communication that is open and accessible to everyone in the community. In simple terms, the “what” we are communicating is the same. It is one message and one story with the purpose of inviting people into a closer walk with Jesus.
When we communicate, then, becomes more about rhythm than reaction. If communication is, first and foremost, about inviting people into a closer walk with Jesus by telling The Story of God, then the rhythm of communication becomes somewhat of a spiritual discipline. It begins to form and shape the ways in which we interact with each other. In Kairos, our rhythm includes weekly blog posts, weekly mentor meetings, bi-weekly Kairos Notes, bi-weekly counseling services team meetings, monthly Kairos Updates, monthly operational meetings, bi-monthly Kairos Sessions, and open board meetings five times per year. That rhythm guides everything we do. By funneling all communication through this rhythm, we narrow the focus of when we communicate and ensure that what we communicate is consistently telling “one message and one story with the purpose of inviting people into a closer walk with Jesus.”
Finally, how we communicate is governed by the concept of “create-once-publish-everywhere.” That concept invites us to communicate through several mediums (email, face-to-face meetings, videos, social media, mail, etc.) without crafting a new message for each one. In doing so, the work of communication can be streamlined, thereby giving more time and attention to the actual message we are sharing.
When we embrace the idea that organizational communication is not about us but rather about the amazing things God is doing, we have the opportunity to invite people into a closer walk with Jesus so that they, like we, can participate in those amazing things. By narrowing the focus of what, when, and how we communicate, we can spend less time on the mechanics of communication thereby freeing time to focus on the message we are sharing.
As it turns out, having this kind of clarity and purpose when it comes to communication also helps us be more transparent. Let’s start looking at that next week!