Sunday, January 27, 2013

Semiotic awareness & the fast food "script"

A few months ago I had an experience at McDonald's that helped me see firsthand the impact of semiotic awareness on our outreach effectiveness.  Semiotic awareness is the ability to recognize the signs and feedback of the recipient and environment around you (in the outreach context, of the person you're talking to and the environment in which it's occurring) so that you can be more effective at what Leonard Sweet calls "nudging" instead of just coming across as "pushy," which oftentimes can close doors to receptivity swiftly.

Here's how that conversation went:
McD: "Welcome to McDonald's.  Order when you're ready."
me: "Ok, give me just a minute"
McD: (5 seconds later) "Order when you're ready."
me: "Ok, I will - I need a moment to decide."  [note: no one else in line behind me]
McD: (10 seconds later) "You can order when you're ready."  [I ignored this one - still no one in line behind me]
me: (about a minute later) "OK, I'd like a Double Quarterpounder with Cheese - just the sandwich, and that will do it."
McD: "Did you want the meal with fries & a drink?"
me: "No, just the sandwich - I have a drink already."
McD: "Would you like fries with that?"
me: "No, just the sandwich.  That will do it - that's all I need."
McD: "Would you like anything else with that?"
me:  (now irritated) "No, that will do it."
Is it just me, or are some people in marketing and retail professions so wrapped up in their "script" that they are tuned out to obvious feedback from the customer and everything else going on around them?  Lest we be too hard on McDonald's, I should also point out that I had a nearly identical exchange at Wendy's just this last week.  I'm not sure I understand the point of saying, "Order when you're ready" if the person taking the order doesn't really mean that, or up-selling if the prospective buyer has already indicated they're not interested.  Yet it happens all the time in evangelism.
I love the way my colleague & fellow D.Min cohort member Rick McKinney re-worded this exchange, showcasing its relevance to a common outreach encounter:

Church Member: Welcome to First Church! Let me know when you're ready for Jesus.
Seeker: I'd like to get to know Him a little better first.
Church Member: Just let me know when you're ready for Jesus.
Seeker: Could you tell me a little more about Him?
Church Member: It's all right there in the Bible (Menu).
Seeker: I think I've been noticing Him showing up in my life from time to time. Do you think that's possible?
Church Member: Probably not. He lives here and pretty much nowhere else. Just let me know when you're ready for Jesus.
Seeker: Can I get just Jesus, or do I have to take the whole church thing?
Church Member: No, I'm sorry there are NO substitutions. Jesus comes with a side of baptism, communion, tithing and Sunday School. Take it or leave it.
Seeker: I guess I'll leave it for now. Thanks anyway.
How much different might this exchange have gone if the Church Member had been sensitive to how the Lord was working in this Seeker's life and picked up on the invitation for meaningful dialogue regarding how (s)he sensed maybe Jesus had start showing up in his life lately?  It seems to me that we in the Church are also too comfortable with our scripts and struggle with deviating from the comfortable & familiar, even when the needs of the person we're talking to warrant it and the cues should be obvious.  I grieve when unchurched folks get the message that Jesus isn't concerned with their problems (or is too consumed with other things to reach them at their point of need), all because it's conveyed by well-meaning but scripted communicators.
May we learn from these script-driven exchanges and embrace the semiotic awareness that is needed to nudge those who need Jesus just a bit closer to faith instead of turning them away.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Scaring Off First-Time Visitors?

Great article from Thom Rainer which highlights several vital "first impressions" areas that can unintentionally scare off first-time visitors:
5 Things the Unchurched See When They Come to Your Church
By Thom Rainer • Outreach Magazine 09/06/2012
Ironically, these are not typically the areas most pastors and ministry leaders think to check; after all, we tend to be understandably focused on the first impressions of the worship service, the announcements, the message & the visuals, & how people will receive these vital ministry connections.

Having visited some 400+ churches myself as well as spending alot of time helping unchurched people make church connections, I would heartily affirm Rainer's findings.  These 5 things aren't the main reason we do church ministry and they're certainly not the most important aspects, but nevertheless they do have a lasting influence on those who visit.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

About This Blog

This blog is about the semiotics of church communication…in other words, the way that we (the Church) communicate our message publicly and how well we do so.

I’m interested in how well we “read” our culture & society’s trends, what methods we use to communicate the message of Jesus to our culture, how we use signs & symbols to engage our culture, and how relevant & useful our metaphors & narratives are.

This blog will explore our successes and failures at communication. When I see outstanding examples of relevant & meaningful communication that inspires, I want to share that. When I encounter misleading & confusing church communication that confounds, I want to explain how to do it better. And when I find hilarious (& sometimes embarrassing) “here’s your sign” moments in our church communication, I want to get a good laugh from it but also learn from it. If you’ve been around the Church as long as I have, you know that we likely have enough fodder to keep me posting ’til Jesus returns.

About Me

For over a decade, my emphasis has been helping churches improve their outreach & communications. I am passionate about helping pastors & church lay leaders learn effective technology-mediated communication & teaching strategies so that they can successfully influence their church, community, & culture.

Currently I serve as the “Learning Management Systems Coordinator” (online learning technology specialist) for Tabor College and teach in the Christian Ministries undergraduate degree program. I enjoy helping faculty develop and manage their online courses to improve learning outcomes and am excited to teach practical courses like “Technology for Ministry” and “Enhancing PowerPoint with Multimedia & Interactivity” along with transformationally-minded discipleship courses like “Discipleship & Ethics” and “The Sermon on the Mount.”

My background & educational interests are varied. My undergraduate studies were in Christian Ministries at Southwest Baptist University, and I focused primarily on preaching & pastoral ministries with minors in Church Growth & Missions (evangelism), Discipleship (spiritual formation), & Spanish – notice a very definite missional theme?

Following SBU, I spent a year studying Practical Theology (Advanced Missions & Ministry) at Emmaus Road Ministry School under outstanding world Christian leaders like Jim Garlow, Jack Taylor, Doug White, T.D. and Dudley Hall, Jack Deere, Peter Lord, Steve Sj√∂gren & James Robison – leaders & influencers in “third wave” circles who were not content with the status quo of churchianity but wanted to reshape the Church to embrace its future ministry.

In 2003, I went back to school to work on my Masters so I could teach. I started out that journey studying “integrated marketing communications” at Kansas State University and then transitioned to Emporia State University’s program in Instructional Design & Technology, where I completed my Masters.

Over the years I have been a graphic designer, a communications & marketing consultant, and an instructional technology specialist, while my ministry roles have included youth ministry, pastoring, co-pastoring, church planting, & missions. For most of the last 20 years I have worked comfortably in both secular and ministry arenas, usually holding a secular job in graphic design/marketing, communications, or educational/instructional technology to pay the bills while serving churches in some type of renewal or re-focusing role OR serving churches full-time (usually in a renewal role) while doing design/marketing/communications on the side to support the church. These dual venues have kept me in touch with what’s happening with today’s generation, aware of cultural trends & issues, and well-versed in communication theory, educational pedagogy, and trends with instructional technology & multimedia.

I am now wrapping up my 2nd year in a Doctor of Ministry program at George Fox Evangelical Seminary studying Semiotics & Future Studies (formerly titled “Leadership in the Emerging Culture”), where my lead mentor is world-renowned author & futurist/semiotician Leonard Sweet. This program is all about preparing the Church for future ministry by learning what it takes to effectively engage the culture in order to reach today’s generation.

I am excited to see all of the varied strands of my ministry experience & dual passions converge in this D.Min program, and this blog is one of many natural outcomes of it, with many more to come.