No matter what technology we use in church communication: print bulletins, multimedia announcements, websites, social media, a complaint I’ve heard for years and still hear from church communicators is: “nobody reads what we write.” The statement is often spoken in frustration and often more than a bit of anger. Let’s look at what this really means and how to fix it.

What’s really going on

When I hear that my first response is always, “How do you know that’s true? Do people come up to you, throw the bulletin in your face, stomp on their smartphone, or send a nasty email in response to your website and announce ‘I don’t read any of this!’?”

After a few deep breaths, a laugh, and a little more discussion, the true reason for that statement comes out. When church staffs say that “nobody reads what we write” what it actually means is that people are not showing up for events or paying attention to the requests for action or to volunteer. They may or may not have read the schedule or pleas — but regardless, they didn’t show up. If that is the real situation, what is the solution?

It’s not what is often assumed

Today an easy answer is that people didn’t read it because there was too much text.

That isn’t always true. It’s true that people have shorter attention spans today, but shorter attention spans do not mean people don’t read what is important to them or respond to what appears to be of benefit to them, their families, and spiritual lives. People still have an empty place inside only God can fill. Once they become a Christian, they want to grow to discipleship maturity.

Another easy answer is that people are very busy today and don’t have time to read more than a few words.

Again, it is true that people are busy, but ask any cook who was motivated to learn a new cooking technique, a reader whose favorite recent series just came out with a new book, or a fan who can’t wait to grab the sports section when the newspaper arrives if they have time to read these things and you’ll realize it isn’t the amount of text that is the problem.

If the amount of text isn’t the problem cutting back on it won’t solve it

Because they don’t properly diagnose the problem, the solution for many church communicators is to drastically cut the amount of material in the church bulletin and website. In practical terms this often means:

  • No detailed explanations of activities, just general categories are listed, such as: “Adult Bible Classes 9 a.m.”
  • Complete information is not included, just overall statements about ministries are listed, such as: “Small groups are important and we urge you to be part of one, call Pastor Joe for more information.”
  • Special events are simply announced: “Our church is putting on an incredible Easter Concert on Good Friday — be sure to invite your friends.”
  • Using an impressive graphic and few words or replacing announcements with graphics alone.

That great image may have meant something to the person who picked it, but whatever thousand words it meant to the creator is often lost on the person viewing it. All of these solutions fail to solve the problem of getting people to read and to respond. They don’t give enough information to communicate anything. They don’t grab the attention of a visitor, explain what the church jargon title for an event means, or challenge a church member who sees the same thing week after week. The church may think it communicated something, but they simply filled an empty place on the web or on paper. If these common solutions don’t work to get people to respond, what does?

Before you do anything else, be sure your event is worth attending

It may become painful here, but somehow, you’ve got to face reality that some people (dear, wonderful, members forever people) are really boring teachers; some small groups are a trial to attend, some leaders of events who think they are standing up for the truth are narrow-minded and mean. Some favorite church traditions may mean little or nothing to newcomers. Some ministries expect too much and don’t train or thank volunteers. Some ministries who ask for volunteers make it impossible to become meaningfully involved. (Not everyone wants to help set up chairs or make coffee for the next 5 years.)

The list of what is, in reality, a turn-off for many people (no matter who conducts it or how long the church has “always done it that way”) varies from church to church, but if you aren’t honest with yourself about whether your event is worth attending or your ministry a positive one to volunteer for, there is little you can do in print or the web to get people to attend the event or to become committed to a ministry.

Why limited information doesn’t work and what will get a response

Just one example for now, but let’s take the Adult Class announcement above. Instead of “Adult Bible Classes 9 a.m.” You need specific topics listed each week and reasons why people should attend.

Yes, an announcement that does these things takes a lot more time and work to put together and it takes more paper and ink to print it (plus time to put it on the church website as you update it.) A longer announcement, in reality, doesn’t waste time because it tells people what is going on so they can make an informed decision. The shorter announcement actually wastes more time because it doesn’t really give readers any useful content or a reason to respond.

But it also respects the time and mind of your church members and visitors because it doesn’t assume everyone knows what is going on and briefly explains it.

At the same time, be sure to give all the information on the website as well for people who for some reason didn’t get the bulletin. The website is a great place to expand information about the class, look at a bio of the teacher, and have links to content for more information. The depth of information on your website will give credibility to short announcements.

A quick Facebook or Twitter announcement is a great reminder of what is going on, but it is only a reminder and should link to your website for more information. Remember though that visitors and newcomers probably will not be aware of your social media and often will not link to it or follow you consistently until they have been involved for some time. Remember also that social media is an ever-flowing stream and not useful when you forget a date and time and want to look up information — that is what websites are good for.

More is more

Yes, people’s time is valuable, but even more important is the destiny of their eternal souls. If you give people complete and useful information about worthwhile activities in your church, they will pay attention, they will read them, they will show up and lives will be changed.

Don’t cop-out by saying people don’t read what you write when you don’t write anything that is useful, significant, or worthy of their time to read. Don’t work hard to advertise a class given by someone who you would be embarrassed to bring a friend to hear or a ministry that you wouldn’t become involved in for any number of reasons. Be sure you have a worthy offering and then pour your heart into making every ministry announcement worthy of your audience time.

They will read them and they will respond.