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 eighteen years and their four kids, he served as a youth pastor in the Midwest for ten years and as an inner-city ER/trauma nurse for three years. He enjoys walking with people towards Jesus and eating imported Twizzlers. | www.trotters41.com | facebook: trotters41 | twitter: @trotters41

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