Working directly with missionaries over the past 15 years, I have noticed a regular pattern – most missionaries have an anemic understanding of communication. I have ministered to dozens upon dozens of frustrated missionaries with a similar story: they come home after being on the mission field for a few years, and when they show up on Sunday morning to their sending church, people inquire about where they have been. I have even had missionaries report people asking if they had backslidden. The missionary is usually hurt and extremely agitated. Is the sending church innocent? No! But they are not entirely at fault. The missionary is also wholly responsible for not adequately communicating. Sure, they sent an update letter once every six months that got printed and placed on the church’s welcome table. But apparently, that was not sufficient. Missionary communication needs a broad, all-inclusive approach. We have already established the “what” of communication in “Step 1 – Understanding & Articulating Your Vision,” now we transition to the “how.”
I have a saying, “total communication about every detail of our life and ministry is not the goal, effective communication about the important points is.” What do I mean by that? Well, we have all read those missionary updates that are so thorough it is like reading something off of the IRS website. It is tedious and boring. That is not effective communication! It is effective if your goal is never to have people open your e-mails or envelopes. But, our goal IS to have people open, read and share our newsletters. Therefore, we need to be extremely selective in what stories and events we share and the manner in which we share them. Your updates should never be boring! You are sharing about what God is doing in your life and ministry, and that is exciting. We will discuss more about newsletters and updates in a future post.
What is effective communication, besides selecting stories and writing/sharing about them well? Ten years ago it was necessary to print and mail every update letter. However, today it is almost wholly a waste of time, not to mentions expensive. Notice, that I did not say a total waste of time, there are a few instances where a mailed newsletter is necessary. For example, you might have a great aunt who does not own a computer, well, send her a monthly newsletter. Also, a once a year mailing could be helpful, for example, a Christmas letter or a letter communicating the vision for a new season of ministry. Outside of a few exceptions, there are a plethora of free and more effective avenues of communication. Here is a brief overview, we will discuss these more in-depth in future posts:
Blogging – the rise of blogging is a hipster phenomenon. It has become massively popular. However, it has to be done exceptionally well. Noone will visit your blog unless there is a rotating door of relevant and up-to-date information, stories, pictures, and videos. Most individuals create a blog just because they believe that they need one and then once it is designed they do nothing with it for months or years to come. Also, traffic does not magically happen to stumble across your blog. You will also need to have a vision and a plan of action to drive visitors to check out your blog. For example, maybe in one of your print newsletters or e-mails, you encourage your readers with a sentence like, “if you would like to read more or to see a video, please visit my blog…”
Vlogging – At this point, you might say, “gesundheit.” A vlog merely is a blog with videos. Please don’t tune out if you are not technically savvy. This task has become and is becoming easier and easier. Everywhere in the world I go I see people with smartphones. All of which are equipped and ready to record a simple thirty-second video. Also, every modern computer comes equipped with amateur friendly video editing software that anyone can learn to use in a matter of minutes after watching a few YouTube tutorials. I still remember when one of our missionaries in Europe recorded a short three-minute video of her day. She showed us her flat (apartment), the corner store she purchases produce from, and the coffee shop she runs in the city center (it was the ministry outreach of our church plant there). This video was AMAZING! It connected the people in the states to her life. For a few minutes, it removed the ocean that separated us and took us into her life. A side benefit is, she got tones of views and her financial support shot up. Don’t be intimidated by the technology side. Learn how to do it and find help.
E-mail is probably one of the easiest and free methods of communication that just about everyone in our modern time uses. However, you must not become dependent upon this mode of communication solely as 75% of e-mail newsletters will never be opened.
Social Media – Like it or not, social media is not going anywhere anytime soon. It has been ingrained in most cultures around the world. Therefore, social media should become the chief avenue of communication for every missionary. Instead of kicking against the goads of the social media trends why not prayerfully use it to further of the Gospel? With a simple post, you can reach hundreds of people, and you can do it right from your phone anywhere in the world. As a missionary, you need to include social media as part of your communication. However, always remember what you post can also be read by the people you are ministering to so be sensitive. Here are a few tips to help you get started:
Try to post one update a day. It doesn’t have to be profound, but it should be personal. What is the Lord doing in your life and ministry today?
Use pictures and videos as much as you can.
Also, share any monthly updates from your blog.
If you are sensitive about privacy, make your posts only viewable to your friends. Also, be selective about who your friends are.
Social Media is a fantastic tool that is useful for the Gospel, and you need to consider how you employ them in your ministry.
A note to those serving in closed countries. Use the above recommendations carefully. What you post online can be seen by governments and people you are seeking to minister too. If you are serving in a closed or restricted country you will need to develop an alternative plan for communication.
Train4Missions.com is one ministry Pastor Mike Thiemann runs to help equip and train missionaries for long-term overseas service. Pastor Mike and his wife Erin serve State-side as full-time missionaries through Saving Grace World Missions and raise their own missionary support. If you would like to partner with Pastor Mike and Erin to help them further the ministry of Missions Training, please click the “ways to give” image below.