This is part ten in our Copy Matters series.
Words are important. Very important. Think about how long you’ve deliberated over the wording of an e-mail, a bullet point, a resume or even a text message. If eyes are the window to the soul, then words are the gateway to the mind. And in the church world, it needs to be clear what we are trying to communicate. As communicators, it’s vital that we are incredibly, relentlessly intentional with our choice of words.
If you really want to know about a person, pay attention to the words they use. Have you ever been around people who swear a lot? Doesn’t it instantly cause you to form assumptions about them? Think about this organizationally. If you are responsible for communicating for your church or organization, you must be increasingly diligent about what words you use so people form the correct assumptions about your church. Here are a few tips for choosing your words carefully:
1. Know Your Audience
If your audience is a group of senior-citizen suburbanites, don’t use lingo better suited for urban teens. It wouldn’t fit. As churches, we typically are communicating to vast groups of culturally different people. It’s not easy to get some messages across to everyone and there could be a tendency to become generic in our wording. Don’t let cultural diversity keep you from working to create sophisticated and relevant communication.
2. Keep It Simple Doesn’t Mean Keep It Stupid
When I had to take state required tests in high school, I would get exhausted from the English sections. Some of their ‘which statement best fits’ questions were so tedious. When studying with my best friend (who was ridiculously smart) he told me “if two answers have the same meaning, choose the shorter one.”
Keeping it simple doesn’t mean dumbing down your message for the masses; it means choosing your wording carefully so your statement is concise and carries the same weight and meaning as a longer one might.
If you’re not reading… this doesn’t apply to you. If you’re not reading you’ve got bigger problems to fix (start reading!).
Reading reduces stress, improves your analytical thinking and increases your vocabulary. Listen to what an author is trying to say and glean from the way they communicate. Reading opens your mind and imagination to the wealth of information available to us today. If a picture is worth a thousand words, creating the same picture using words leaves the picture open to the audience’s imagination—creating their own experience. By understanding this, we will communicate better stories through our words, and ultimately better experiences for everyone.
4. Reinforce Your Vision.
Everything should point back to your vision. Making sure your communication is consistent with your overall vision happens because someone is intentional with the words they use. If repetition is key, then you must repeat the same words and you’d hate to repeat the same awful phrase over and over again. Make sure what you want people to remember is worthy to be remembered.
5. Take a ‘Time Out’
When I’m working on a project, sometimes I can get so into an idea that everything about that idea seems to glow with awesomeness… in reality, it doesn’t glow at all. I’ve come to realize this by having ideas flop, people not laugh at my jokes and blank stares during a ‘main’ point of sermon. Now, I’m intentional about taking time-outs from my work so I can gain some perspective on what it is I really want to say. Take a minute or two and walk away from your project, return with a clear head and perhaps you’ll see something you didn’t see before. If you still think everything is great, ask someone else’s opinion (someone with different ideas than you). If we really believe what we’re saying is important, then it’s worth the extra attention.
Words Are Powerful
Be intentional with what you say and communicate. Be overly cautious and intentional if you communicate on behalf of others or an organization, especially if you are communicating for the church—we have the most important message ever told.
- Check out the full Copy Matters series.
- Or get those resources and more in our ebook, Getting Started in Church Communication: Copy Matters. It’s a guide to writing and editing for church communicators.