Like most everyone else, I find myself skimming when I’m reading on the Internet.
So, when a well-written article with an important point grabs me and causes my eyes to actually digest each word, to me, that’s significant. And something special happens… I hear the author’s voice, instead of just logging his or her points.
This happened to me recently with this article on writing for the web. The author offers some fantastic advice on writing for humans. Her points are for marketers, but so much of what she said applies directly to pastors.
Here are the top points from the article that struck me, along with some applications to the local church:
“What we say and how we say it matters. How we make our customers feel through our language choices matter.”
The language on many church communication channels is dry, like a college textbook. There may be good information there, but it sure isn’t compelling, inspiring or personal. Jesus was compelling, inspiring and personal.
“Confusing, jargon-filled and badly considered content may not stop people from using your product if they have no alternative, but shouldn’t we aspire to more than that? We are humans building products for humans.”
What content do you have for new believers, as one example? What does it look and sound like? I’ve seen too many out-dated pamphlets given as the first resources to someone who just put their faith in Jesus. Sure, they’ll take it. Is that the best way to love them?
“Throw away all the complicated MBA [or M.Div.] language you learned at your impressive university or other unnecessary industry standard and technical [or theological] terminology that the average human needs a glossary to understand. Use everyday words that people use when they’re buying milk, having lunch or hanging out after work.”
The notes in brackets are mine. The Church is about God reaching people. Our choice of words can make it harder for them to hear His voice. It’s not about “dumbing down” theology. The greatest teachers make complex things simple.
“The good news is that you don’t even have to be a great writer. You just need to pull your head out of your machine once in a while and remember that you’re creating something for weird, scared, vulnerable, sweet, frustrated, loving, complicated people. How you talk to them matters.”
Before you write anything – or approve something your communications director, or intern, or anybody else wrote for your church – think of the person you imagine will read it. We all know what real sounds like. And we can all get better at being real.
God became man and spoke His truth to the common man and woman and child. He related as a human. He told stories that connected the ordinary to the eternal. The beauty of the Gospel is that God came down to our level to speak simply and directly to our brokenness. Too often, we unravel what He’s done by re-complicating the language around it.
When people visit your website, or glance through your bulletin, do they hear your voice or do they get organization-speak?
One last question: If you are making an effort to speak like a human in your communication, are you using your voice or someone else’s? Authentic has a lot of different sounds. No one church has the corner market on the right language to relate to all people. Don’t mimic another pastor’s voice — it won’t have the outcome you’re after.