Do what is proven to work well: effective communication (@soonguy)

There’s a magazine from my childhood which has hugely influenced my thinking since. And it wasn’t Superman comic!

It was WHICH?, the magazine of the pioneering UK consumer group CA. In what is now a common worldwide concept, they buy and exhaustively test various consumer products, and choose a ‘best buy’, or a range of recommendations based on various criteria.

This magazine taught me that evidence-based choices are vital. If vehicle A or washing machine B is demonstrably better or more reliable than its peers, why would you not buy that one? If laptops from one manufacturer have half the annual failure rate of those from another, why would you not look online for the reliability stats? If insurance company C has an appalling customer service record, then despite enticing prices or giveaways, why not turn round and start walking (as I have done after checking online reviews)?

Spiritual applications

An evidence-based approach is surely even more vital for ministry than for finding a good washing machine. But Christians can be uncertain of how to objectively research options, or even leery of trying. Few churches do demographic research for their community. What are the age demographics and ethnic profile of the area? The community needs and problems? Unemployment levels? Single mothers, one-person households? Without research, we can only use instinct or anecdotal evidence. Research is nothing less than uncovering God’s truth.

Research effective communication

The Internet provides easy ways to test alternate ways of expressing something, and see which option keeps people reading longer, or creates more clickthrus. Check these research studies on web usability.

Here are two significant research conclusions from social networking company Buffer (and they should know):

  1. Storytelling dramatically increases readership of written content
    Our brains are wired to respond to stories, and we remember almost everything through imagery and narrative. When someone says, “Let me tell you a story,” a switch is pulled in our brains. This is so foundational. If Jesus always used story, why don’t we? More articles on storytelling.Buffer research shows how this principle works, even to communicate something quite practical. They positioned the same guidance in two forms – one as a typical list of practical advice, and the other as a narrative story containing quoted conversation:
    The Power of Storytelling: How We Got 300% More People To Read Our Content.
    Guess which version won, hands down?
  2. Wording of headlines, tweets, posts
    Words we use can double (or halve) our readership. So this is not just academic, but thoroughly practical and essential wisdom we must apply. Check this vital page:
    A Scientific Guide to Writing Great Headlines on Twitter, Facebook, and Your Blog.

Years ago, the great communicator David Ogilvy researched how to communicate a message well. His classic book Confessions of an Advertising Man is still worth reading, even for the discovery that a large drop-cap at the beginning of a piece of writing increases readership!

Our brains are wired to read information in certain ways. Pictures, short paragraphs, lots of white space, enticing headlines and subheadings increase readership and comprehension by a huge factor. Test the two examples shown on this page.

It is also vital to understand how people’s minds process, remember, or forget the messages they receive. If you have not read any of Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent books, or the valuable Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath, you have a series of treats in store, which have huge insights into any form of communication.

Assess and measure

Evidence-based assessment of ministry models is equally vital. Ask the hard questions. Perhaps bring in an outside consultant. Einstein said that insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Isaiah 55:11 is often optimistically misapplied to validate all types of ineffective or outdated ministry. Of course, we must avoid short-termism, or worldly views of ‘success’. Not everything is measurable. Some sorts of ministry, not least in the Majority World, take years to come to fruition.

Another key research study How Adults Become Christians shows how most conversions happen. Yet do we build our ministry around these evidence-based truths?

It is quite tragic to observe ineffective ministry being continued, year on year, unchanged.

About soonguy

Tony Whittaker is coordinator for Internet Evangelism Day | Team member, SOON Ministries, Derby UK. Contact him here.