Friday, August 9, 2013

Breaks in the Prayer Chain: Information or Transformation

You are a wealth of information. Just think of all of the things you’ve read, heard, said and thought about in your day today. Each of us is a living, breathing, information machine, whether we have a smart phone or one that is still attached to a wall.  

We are organic social media, putting out thoughts and ideas into the universe each time we are talk, text or tweet.  

We are built for communication. And so are our churches.

Churches are storehouses of unimaginable amounts of information. In addition to the collective wisdom of its members, churches have info on theology, mission, relationships, community events, and people. We have Bibles and blogs, pamphlets and classes, sermons and suppers, phones and signs. We use all of these to share this information. Churches are communicating like crazy. All the time.

But in our information age, we feel like we have to do more. There is a megachurch out there with better screens, a splashier website, more YouTube hits and a dozen bloggers. For those of us in mainline churches, we panic as we try to keep up, churning out as much as possible because we assume we have to do more. So we push more information about ourselves out there. It looks kind of like this:

We are pushing more words and images onto people who are already saturated with words and images. More is not better when it comes to the human communication machine. Better is communication that is targeted, authentic and responsive. When the information flows two ways, transformation can happen.

When the information flows more than one-way people feel valued. They feel cared for. They feel included. They feel loved. They respond.

Consider the prayer chain. Used to be that prayer chains were done by phone. One by one the news would travel thought the community, along with other tidbits—like memories, tears, laughter and perspectives (and, yes, some gossip).  Mary would call Jim and they would not just talk about the death of Sally, they would recall the way she always welcomed people or scowled at crying babies or made the mashed potatoes for the community dinner or whatever. The phone call allowed the prayer chain members to connect and reflect on the information they were passing along.  It allowed people to be heard. It allowed them to make begin conversations that make sense of the new information.

Today, churches still have prayer chains. Concerns are emailed or tweeted to large numbers of people who read them. So quick! So easy! The information has been passed along at no cost! Some recipients may  reply and connect in response, but many will simply absorb it along with all the other information comes to them from their screens.

As churches, we can’t just dump information onto our communities and think it will draw people to our congregations. Communication has to be two ways, regardless of the tools we use. We need to be prepared to help people make sense of the information we put out there. We need to intentional about connecting. The pastor preaches to the group, spraying information over the crowd, but then stands at the back of the sanctuary after the service, reaching out with an open hand, acknowledging each person who chooses to pass through the line, allowing the members to share their own thoughts, concerns and worries. 

Tools like Twitter and Instagram can help us because they are cheap and effective ways of communicating and they can allow for connection. But, the power of good communication isn’t in the tool; it’s in our hearts. It’s in the way we respond to those around us. Good communication allows people to give and receive. To bless and be blessed. It’s our relationships, not the information that leads to transformation.

This is a reflection on the workshops that I conducted at Big Tent 2013. Great people and great discussions on how to communicate effectively.

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