Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Communication Epiphany

On this day after all hype over changes to Facebook I just want to share a recent insight, even an Aha Moment, about the way we communicate. First, a bit of background.

My congregation has produced a newsletter for the last 29 years or so. Every month upcoming events, prayer requests, church board minutes and a column written by the pastor would be carefully compiled, formatted, printed and mailed by the church secretary. During a secretary-free period a couple of years ago I took on the task and even after we found a new secretary I kept on gathering and formatting all the information for both the mail version and the newly developed website version. It was one of those "it's just easier to do it myself" situations.

Last summer I went on sabbatical. The board moderator took over my admin duties, one of which was producing the newsletter. Well, that just didn't happen. For three months no newsletter was printed or put on the website. When I returned it really surprised me to realize that no one seemed to miss it at all! We decided to just let it go.

For the past year we've been letting people know what's going on through announcements at the end of worship, email blasts, notices on the website, Facebook and even text messages. Phone calls were added to the mix when the news was really time sensitive.

At some point I began to notice that I missed seeing some folks at events that they had always attended in the past. I couldn't imagine what would keep them away. I began to realize that the missing folks were people who don't use the internet. I realized that not everyone is on Facebook or Google+ or Twitter. And just to be really clear, most of these folks are NOT elderly retired people who just never learned to use the internet, although there are a few of those. Some are people who have made a choice not to spend any portion of their home life attached to the machine. Some only use the internet for work. Some just simply cannot afford it.

That's when the epiphany came. I realized that just because it is new and up to date and the best/most efficient method of doing whatever doesn't mean it's the only way we should do that thing. There is/should be a place in between not changing because "That's the way we've always done it" and throwing out "the way we've always done it" just because it IS the old way. I had to realize that new isn't necessarily better and doesn't have to completely replace the old.

Certainly I'm not the first person to realize this. When the conversion of Gentiles began and circumcision was no longer required for baptism and membership in this new cult of Christianity Paul continued to remind the members of the new churches that the foundation of our faith is firmly rooted in the Abrahamic tradition. Just because the dietary restrictions weren't required of the new folks didn't mean that people who were accustomed to keeping the Law needed to give it up. He mentioned repeatedly that the old ways could and should exist alongside the new and directed both Jewish Christians and Greek Christians to accept the ways of the other even if they didn't follow those ways themselves. Christians today acknowledge that the Greek Testament builds upon the Hebrew and is equally important to informing our knowledge of God.

Our first newsletter in over a year will be going out this week. We'll keep doing all the very coolest and most up to date electronic and digital communication but we'll also make paper copies available to the folks who live alongside those of us obsessed with all things digital.