"The challenge is just information overload and then you go numb."
“It takes energy to be connected to all these things.”
That’s what a respondent to a survey about church and missions told Rick Hiemstra of the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada about the challenge of staying up-to-date with all the communication coming from church-related ministries these days.
The respondent went on to compare life today with what it was like before the Internet.
Now, he said, “the circles of concern are increasing and some of these people are just stretched to the limit because there so many issues at all these different levels.”
The response was part of the Canadian Evangelical Missions Engagement Study, sponsored by the EFC and the Canadian Missions Research Forum.
During the study, over 3,400 members of evangelical churches n Canada were polled about their engagement with missions.
In the fourth of a series of five reports from the study, Rick shared results about how people in Canada want to receive communications about missions.
(Another finding of the study was about what has been called the domestification of priorities when it comes to how churches decide what to support—more and more are deciding to keep money at home for important local needs.)
Although the study is about missions, it still provides insights for church-related groups doing relief and development work.
In his report, Rick notes that many respondents “talked about the challenge of managing the volume of communications from missionaries and mission agencies.”
Said one person: “The challenge . . . is just information overload and then you go numb.”
At the same time, many respondents said they wanted information. Yet they “saw a paradox in the demand for information and the common complaint that there was too much information to absorb.”
So what kind of communication do churches and individuals want?
Most commonly, respondents said they expected written communications anywhere from monthly, to twice a year, to annually.
Said one: “I think twice a year is good. If you get too many letters you tend to stop reading them because sometimes they don't have new information and then they all start to sound the same!”
And what do they want to see in the communications? Most said they want two things: Stories of lives changed, and evidence that missionaries have a plan that they are carrying out.
Said one pastor about an agency he thinks is doing a good job of communicating: “They communicate well, a lot of stories . . . but they are also good at saying this is how we are spending our money.”
Said another after noting appreciation for information about what is being done: “At the same time, they’re telling the story where it’s not boring, they’re telling it actually how it’s affected people and what’s going on and what they’ve gained . . . it's not just numbers and facts.”
And how long should communications be? If it is printed and mailed, keep it short.
Said Rick: “Almost all informants said the ideal length for a written report is about two pages and it should be “as basic as possible.”
They went on to say that the “elements they want in a more formal written communication are goals set, goals met, and stories of transformed lives, and they want this in two pages.”
What about social media? Some churches like to be able to have a Skype conversation with a mission worker—it makes it much more personal.
Said one pastor: It's the relationship that's key. Social media is personal and immediate unlike form letters.” Said another: “Skype in the service makes missions extremely personal and much more alive.”
One form of communication that people also appreciate is in-person, which helps authenticate and personalize the need and the person or agency being supported.
Says Rick: “Printed media, on its own, is not sufficient. It needs to be corroborated or authenticated by a person. As quality communications have become easy to produce, people are paralyzed by the volume of information and are looking for ‘real people’ and relationships to help them sort what is important.”
And yet, despite all this, the challenge remains: Even when agencies follow all these guidelines, getting people to pay attention is hard.
As one pastor put it about the lack of pick-up for missions in his church: “I suspect that they are not catching what you are throwing at them because they do not have the resources of time and energy to process it.”
For the complete report, click here.