How to Communicate so People Will Care

by Jonathan Trotter on August 6, 2015

Newsletters. Prayer updates. Itinerations. Reports. Furloughs. Presentations.

Are you stressed out yet?

For most of us, living and serving abroad means communicating back to senders. A lot. But this isn’t what we went to school for, and besides that, communicating in person or in print is scary. It’s exposing. It’s like learning a new culture and language; sometimes when we mess up it’s funny, sometimes not so much.

We’re all too familiar with the dangers:

Communicate too much and we’ll annoy people or people will say we’re not protecting the privacy of the nationals.

Don’t communicate enough and we’ll get dropped; people or churches will stop supporting us, because “out of sight, out of mind.”

Talk about the right stuff in the right way. One missionary recently told me that you have to appear miserable enough that people will still support you while not appearing so miserable they want you to come home.

To be sure, communicating with senders (via newsletter or a live missions report) is a unique form of communication, blending a bit of travelogue with a side of sales pitch, and then adding a large spoonful of sermon. It’s like a Christmas Letter got married to a Church Bulletin and had an Amway.

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Extreme Sports, Convents, and Space Missions
As crazy as it seems, some people actually love talking. We call these people 13-year-old girls. I’m just kidding. Yikes. Anyways, for some of you, communication is like an extreme sport, full of excitement and danger and the very real risk of serious bodily harm. And you think it’s fun.

For others, communicating (in print or person) makes you feel like you’re wearing the appropriate attire for a European beach when you’d much rather be wearing the appropriate attire for a convent. Communicating, for you, seems dangerous, and dangerous, for you, is never fun.

Writing or speaking can feel like launching a space probe into the cosmos hoping it just might land on a tiny comet and provide even a smidgen of feedback. And when you get one positive e-mail or comment back, you’re all like, “Whooohooo! Mission Accomplished!”

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Celebrating at the European Space Agency after the successful landing of the Philae lander on a comet after a journey of 4 billion miles. Or me, when I find out someone actually read my newsletter.

 

So, You Want People to Care? Try This…
Speak from the heart.
Or be funny.
Or both.
But never neither.

That’s it. Communicate like this, and you’ll change the world. Or at least your newsletter.

 

Why This Matters – The Bride of Christ
It’s our great privilege to speak back into the lives of those who send us. They sacrifice too, and not just money: many of our senders have given up relationships and friendships, children and grandchildren. Simply put, they are worth our time.

Additionally, communicating from the field is an amazing opportunity to minister to the Bride of Christ. We can help them see God’s passion for His glory as the Kingdom spreads globally. We can enlarge their vision of God and His mission, reminding them that national politics is a small bit of what’s going on in the world. We can remind them that the Church is alive and well and the Spirit of God is moving in the hearts of people. Of course, none of that happens if we’re snooty.

Even a church missions presentation can be ministry, if done with care and thought. A report could be part of what Walter Brueggemann calls “prophetic imagination,” helping folks see an alternative reality, where the Kingdom is advancing and there’s more to life than the daily grind.

Please be careful not to love the Church only where you serve. Love the Church where you came from too. She is no less Christ’s Bride.

 

Why This Matters – They’re Volunteers
The folks reading your newsletters or listening to your missions talks are volunteers; they don’t have to pay attention to you or your words. They have chosen to listen to you (except maybe the 6-year-old boy in the third row who’s been threatened with “No McDonald’s” unless he sits still and pays attention).

They are giving you one of the greatest gifts ever: time. Value their gift, and give something back. Make them glad they came. Be wise and “make learning a joy.” (Proverbs 15:2)

Remember, you’re speaking to volunteers. They don’t have to pay attention to you, but if you speak from your heart or you’re funny or both, they will.

 

It’s Not Just Data – Speak from the Heart
Very few people get excited about data. We’re all tired of data. So, stand in front of a church and give them facts and percentages, sure, for maybe five seconds. And then give them your heart. They can get facts from Google, but they can only get your heart if you give it to them.

Want an easy way to do this? Tell them the Why and the Who, not just the What and the Where. People will care a whole lot more about what you’re doing when they see the heart behind it. Show them that heart.

Why are you going?
Why do you live there?
Why are you doing what you’re doing?
Who’s behind the newsletter?
Who’s the project for?
Who is God transforming?

What are your newsletters and presentations full of? Are they full of What you’re doing and Where you’re doing it? That stuff’s important, but it’s pretty sterile. If the majority of your communication is full of details and factoids, please stop. You’re boring people, and missions should be anything but boring.

Take a step back and ask yourself how to incorporate more of the Why and the Who. Put some heart in it.

You’re talking about people, right? So don’t reduce them to a stat or a large group photo of 50 people no one in your audience knows. There’s enough dehumanizing going on in the world already. Go ahead, show the group photo, but then tell a story about one person in the group who was impacted.

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Cecil the lion, shot and killed in Zimbabwe, July 2015

Why did Cecil the lion get so much attention? It’s because he wasn’t just a stat — another lion poached. He had a name and a family. He had a story. If we can give a lion in Africa a name and a story, can’t we do the same for people? God does.

So speak from the heart. About people, not tasks. About hearts, not projects.

Ask for God’s help. Ask Him to help you see people as He sees them, because once you connect with the heart of God on the matter, it’s all over. You’ll never be the same, and neither will your audience.

 

How to Be Funny
Sometimes, our theology erases our joy. Does yours? I realize that humor and joy are not synonyms, but really, do we actually believe the folks who look completely miserable while they grunt through gritted teeth, “I know I’m not happy, but at least I have the joy of the Lord”? Is there a laughter and peace that comes from God that is actually – really and truly – fun? We take ourselves way too seriously.

God is still in control.
God is still good.

So when was the last time you laughed? Like, really belly laughed?

Life is filled with heartache and pain. I am not immune to that, and I’ve spent a good bit of my time at A Life Overseas writing about outlawed grief, and bleeding grief, and feeling worthless.

It’s just that people are really funny creatures.

We should pray more for the joy of the Lord in our teams and churches and families. There is a time to mourn, for sure, but there is also a time to laugh and dance. Make sure you stay balanced. And remember, there’s nothing holier about sadness, just like there’s nothing juvenile or immature or sinful about enjoying life so much that you LOL.

Remember, Jesus got in trouble for having too much fun. Be like Him.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you want to be funny in your communications, learn to laugh, and laugh long and laugh hard. Wrap up your kids in tickle fights and joke about the crazy stuff.  Look at other drivers on the road and make up stories about their lives; create a running commentary. Practice various accents. In our family, one person’s good at Russian, two are great at British, another imitates Jim Carrey’s Grinch scarily well, and the last one’s four.htc5

But please, if you don’t think you’re funny, don’t worry. This is not supposed to make you even sadder and even more not funny. If funny’s not your thing, it’s not the end of the world, just make sure you communicate from your heart. No humor required.

 

CONCLUSION
Speak from the heart.
Or be funny.
Or both.
But never neither.

Try it out. See if it changes anything.
And then add me to your newsletter list.

 *photo credit

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About Jonathan Trotter

Jonathan is a missionary in Southeast Asia, where he provides pastoral counseling at a local counseling center. He also serves as one of the pastors at an international church. Before moving to the field with his wife of sixteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41
  • Cynthia Jacobsen

    So Jonathan, Ryan does fake British accents (very badly) at drive thru windows just to embarrass me. Does that count as humor? 🙂

  • I just sat down to write our weekly blog post, and this week it seems I’m even putting myself to sleep. Just in the nick of time, I remembered that this article title popped up on my blog feed yesterday! Now you’ve saved me – as well as our readers!! – from another week of What and Where. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • You’re welcome, Katie. So glad the timing worked out like that, for you and your readers. ; )

  • Ellie

    Love it Jonathan. So good.

    Love this:

    Even a church missions presentation can be ministry, if done with
    care and thought. A report could be part of what Walter Brueggemann
    calls “prophetic imagination,” helping folks see an alternative reality,
    where the Kingdom is advancing and there’s more to life than the daily
    grind.

    Please be careful not to love the Church only where you serve. Love the Church where you came from too. She is no less Christ’s Bride.
    and this:

    They are giving you one of the greatest gifts ever: time. Value their
    gift, and give something back. Make them glad they came. Be wise and
    “make learning a joy.” (Proverbs 15:2)

    Thankyou for an encouraging perspective.

  • I just wrote, with a slightly different take, about this same topic. Communicating with those back home… from the approach of social media. Very interesting and important topic to discuss!

    • Hey, would you mind putting a link to your article here in a comment? I’d love to check it out. Thanks!

      • and I must add that this is my favorite quote from this whole post “To be sure, communicating with senders (via newsletter or a live
        missions report) is a unique form of communication, blending a bit of
        travelogue with a side of sales pitch, and then adding a large spoonful
        of sermon. It’s like a Christmas Letter got married to a Church Bulletin and had an Amway.” #serious lol

  • Shanthi Gamble

    Thank you for sharing. I made a link on my tabs to your article so that when I write our newsletter this month, hopefully it’ll be more interesting!

  • Jeff J. Johnston

    Preparing for a move to SE Asia and considering this very topic. How often to write and in what format.
    Very well written and speaks to me. Praying for your circle of influence to continue to expand.

    • Hey, Jeff! It’s so good that you’re processing those questions now, even before arriving on the field. Keep in mind, too, that once you’re in SE Asia, your senders can provide valuable feedback on what communication method/style is working for them and what’s not. Sometimes, all you have to do is ask. And thanks for the prayers!

  • Tara Porter-Livesay

    This is awesome. I had my kids write thank-you notes today … they said, “people are gonna stop supporting us because they will think “how rude, she made her kids do it”. — nice try, right?

    • Yes, very nice try indeed! Thanks for sharing. : )

    • Stephanie

      Haha kids – very nice try!

  • Anna Wegner

    I lean towards the not communicating enough. 🙂 Thanks for the tips!

    • You’re welcome, Anna! Here’s to finding that balance! : )

  • Stephanie

    I love this! You managed to accomplish both tasks in the post. I was laughing (almost out loud – I’m in a coffee shop) and it was definitely from the heart.

    Despite the upcoming 29th birthday, I’m afraid I may be a 13 year old girl. I stopped myself from writing my August/September update this week because my peeps just got the June/July in mid-July, then a special request one, and then our organizational one last week – so about one a week recently. I’ll give them this week off and wait until later in August :^)

    Reflecting on your points, I think my newsletters are lacking humor but my Instagram and FB posts show that aspect (https://instagram.com/artabroad/). Right now, there’s an ongoing saga about “free with purchase” surprises at Makro. I can’t read Thai and have no clue what is triggering it but 3 weeks in a row (never buying the exact same things), I’ve “won” a free package of maxi pads! Haha it cracks me up but came in handy when one of the teenage girls came up to me and said she would need pads the next day. I said “hey, I have some in the truck right now!”

    I definitely am committed to speaking from the heart. I have the advantage that I had a huge support group of people intimately connected with my transition from one overseas position (international school teacher) to another (worker at an orphanage for Burmese refugees) – and really, the transformation God was doing in my heart, and still is. I didn’t go on deputation and all my financial supporters are individuals who know me personally – either relatives, friends from China, or people from my home church where I grew up. I’ve never felt like I need to seem miserable or like I’m sacrificing but can be honest when life is tough too, not just presenting a “look at the amazing ways God is working (aka you’re getting a ‘good return on your investment’).”

    I sent out various updates on previous short-term scoping/vision visits here, to close friends or people that asked, but those lists have grown and morphed into two newsletters sent to just under 150 people (of which, less than 10 are regular monthly supporters). One is called [the practical] and the other [the personal]. The practical is sent out every other month. It is formulaic: one section on the tasks for the month, one section about one of our four locations, and one section about a national staff or child. Each section is 1-3 paragraphs long. Plus some pictures. It’s easy to handle.

    The other newsletter, [the personal], is a journaling/devotional approach. I write it whenever I am compelled to work out “stuff” in writing. I’ve written about loneliness, friends, barrenness, desperation and knowing God…whatever He’s teaching me. There is storytelling and a human element in [the practical] but [the personal] is much more vulnerable. I am committed to being real with people and they’ve responded in such amazing ways.

    Loved the article, loved the reminders and things to process, and especially loved the call to love the church that you came from since she’s no less the bride of Christ. Can you text that to me before my next trip back to the states? :^)

    • I love this comment! It’s so full of, well, communication! : ) I did chuckle at all of your free gifts, and again at your request for a friendly reminder via text. For real, we could all use one of those at just the right time… Thanks for stopping by, Stephanie!

  • Anna Ne

    I am finishing up 2 STMs and need to write one final update before going home (aka my regular placement of LTM) . This was helpful as I dread the “concluding” updates – don’t really know the conclusions yet. But I do have a good story that I just laughed out loud at as I was reading your post – about a certain horse cart race through the narrow gorge of Petra that happened yesterday – it was so hilariously dangerous, I laughed the entire time :)) thank you – even if I don’t get to the writing today, I still laughed 😉

    • Glad this was helpful, Anna! Problem is, now I want to know about this race through Petra! : )

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