Penetration. Our diocese is sponsoring three Saturday workshops tomorrow in three widely separated communities. The idea is to take the best in continuing education out from the cathedral precincts and into the places where people live. The workshops have been on the books for months. They are featured on our diocesan website, announced, without fanfare, in our weekly bulletin e-mailed to all clergy and many lay leaders, and announced again at clergy meetings.
When called a few days ago to see how registrations were coming along, the secretaries in two of the local sites denied knowing anything about a workshop, had no preparations in the works and never heard of registrations. My own random checking with a few lay leaders in three congregations revealed the same thing. Never heard of these workshops.
What’s going on?
The problem is penetration. How do we penetrate the blizzard of information that confronts everyone every day? We are inundated with information about worthy events being sponsored by every organization we ever supported. E-mails and mailings from every organization, including the church, are mostly boiler plate, so we skim them quickly, if at all, to see if anything leaps out as being personally important to us. Particular information on websites is often difficult to find and undifferentiated from everything else on the site. Diocesan leaders assume that if clergy have been told about something, it will somehow translate into effective communication with parishioners. Diocesan leaders assume that if someone has been asked to do something and they say yes, no more communication is necessary, the thing will be done.
The contemporary communication environment needs something else. If something is important, it needs to be communicated in an important way. If a certain audience needs to be reached, they need to be reached directly and not through second and third party agencies. If we are asking for another person, not our employee or direct report, to do something, we need to engage in a relationship with them that will move things along.
I have sympathy for the parish secretary, or other person, who agrees months ahead to set aside time and space for some diocesan event and then never hears another word about it. In the meantime services come and go, bulletins have to be produced, funerals and weddings arranged for, dozens of church committee meetings accommodated, community use of space facilitated, the furnace fixed, irate parishioners tended to, and so it goes. That’s the here and now of local ministry. Whatever it was the diocese wanted is easily forgotten and for good reason.
I have sympathy for clergy. What seemed like such a great idea while gathered together in diocesan meetings, quickly fades into insignificance on return to the demands of the local congregation. What one enthusiastically promised to do slips lower and lower toward the bottom of the to do pile on the desk. What one got talked into does not have to sink, it just gets put on the bottom.
I have sympathy for lay leaders in congregations. They have families, jobs, other organizations and causes important to them, a social life and more. Christ may be at the center of their lives, but church isn’t. Just because we tell them that a wonderful workshop will be held nearby on February 26 does not translate into commitment, or even awareness. Looking at my own mail, e-mail and piles on my desk, retired though I am, I find agendas and minutes for boards I am on, appeals for support from a dozen organizations that are important to me, invitations to community events filling up several nights each week, and long reports to be reviewed in connection with community projects.
Right now I’m working with one of our local hospitals on a day long seminar to be held next fall. We intend it to be for local spiritual care givers, medical staff and maybe mental health counselors. Our planning committee is very excited about it. We cannot imagine that it will not be a success. But, if we are the only ones who know about it, there will be six of us attending. Simply announcing it will not be enough. We must make sure that the people we want to come are contacted directly, not indirectly. They have to be made aware of it, which will take several iterations. They have to be given the information needed to make a decision, which will take several iterations. They must be asked to make a decision, which will take several iterations. That all takes work, and we are all volunteers. The one staff person leading us has a full time job doing something else. It’s not easy, but it must be done.