When I was in seminary, I lived in an apartment with four other guys. Yes it was a two bedroom apartment with five grown men living there. Yes I slept on top of a triple bunk. And yes, we weren’t super good at communicating everything.
One of my roommates was a nurse by the name of Alan. Alan was a nurse and a talented musician. In fact he is also the lead singer in a U2 tribute band that he met on Craigslist (true story!) He also has an MA in Theology in case anyone is looking to hire a theologically proficient medical professional Bono impersonator. During seminary, Alan, like many young nurses, would work crazy hours at the hospital. Occasionally that would mean getting home from work at 4 or 5 in the morning.
One morning, I woke up at 6:30am and meandered my way to the bathroom while wearing nothing but my boxers. As I sleepily passed through the living room, I suddenly realized that Alan had returned home an hour or so earlier and his fiance had come over to study for an exam later that day. At that point it was too late to hide the fact that I was in my underwear and all I could do was wish everyone a pleasant morning, good luck on their test, and silently pray that my underwear was clean (it was… adequate) before heading in to the shower.
Alan and Jessica had clearly planned on meeting up to study together. Even engaged people don’t just show up at 5:30am to see if anyone is available to study. In fact, I would even guess that Alan had to persuade Jessica to come over that early because she would probably prefer meeting up at a more decent time.
But in all of their communication efforts, no one thought to loop in the rest of the people living in the apartment. There were four other guys living there. Not everyone might have had underwear as clean or as intact as I did!
The Need For Omni-Channel Communications In Churches
Let my public indecency be a valuable lesson to all you churches out there. Churches need to remember that communications, regardless of the channel need to be seemless and tie into everything the church does. Each department within the church needs to be aware and ready to integrate with what the others are doing. And each channel needs to be broadcasting the same message but in its own way. This omni-channel marketing is growing more and more popular in marketing and ecommerce for a big reason. People interact with brands, organizations, and their friends on more than one channel. They may sit with their friends and have a coffee together. They will follow up with texts, messages, or phone calls. Some even send video messages. No close group of people has their relationship exist on only one channel. There’s no such thing as just a pen pal anymore. Everyone communicates through multiple channels.
Omni-Channel church communications isn’t a new thing. It isn’t something learned from corporate marketing digital gurus (one of my least favorite terms in an industry famous for self-delusional “branding”). Paul traveled around the Roman Empire sharing the Gospel to men and women who had already heard rumors about a man named Jesus. The Jewish diaspora were living in the Gentile world but still meeting in synagogues and local meeting places. That was the connection that Paul first used to share about the hope of the resurrection. From public speaking in the synagogues, Paul then took that hope to the Gentiles, bringing them into a church that was now welcoming everyone. If he had stuck to the synagogues, the rest of us wouldn’t know about Jesus today. And then he followed up those in person messages with letters written down and passed around from church to church. For those of you out there who believe that church exists only in person, it is a good reminder that the majority of the New Testament (and a big chunk of the Old Testament) was foundational to the church of that time and a central point to churches today.
Your church’s social media posts probably aren’t divinely inspired but the fact is that the church is not a building it is the people of God. And the people of God live and exist online just as much as they do in the pews on Sunday morning. This doesn’t mean that you should just share your Sunday morning sermons on social media (though that is fine). Paul’s in person messages were a very different style from his written messages. But they communicated the same message, the message that Jesus was the one everyone was looking for.
The Local Diaspora
Your church is a diaspora, just like the early church. Your local church is spread out among the community, state, and even nation. The week that I am writing this is our area’s winter break at school. That means that many families in our church are traveling. So Wednesday classes are off this week. But that doesn’t mean that the church should slow down in the slightest. In fact when done well, the church can be just as engaged as ever. The same mission and vision can and should be communicated. The church members should continue to grow and live out the Gospel. This is the benefit of omni-channel marketing.
While many churches are stuck lamenting the fact that the average person attends the physical church less than ever, healthy and thriving churches are existing beyond their walls. They are still gathered together, it just looks different.
Not only is this necessary for the health of the church but it is necessary for the redemption of our community. Our culture and community exist in these digital spaces. They are gathered there. Facebook and other social media channels seem so intolerable because the Church hasn’t been engaged there. Pastors avoid the internet. Right now, thousands of pastors across America are fasting from social media for Lent. I actually think this is a mistake. That is like fasting from talking to your congregation. It is like fasting from your family. If you need to fast from social media then I would recommend considering whether you are using social media for your own consumption and entertainment or whether you are using it to further the mission and vision of your church. Whether you are using it to demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit in your community.
Omni-channel communications takes intentional prayerful planning but so does the rest of the church. And so does studying with your girlfriend. Without it we are all going to be caught with our pants down 😉