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The Less Clicks The Better

Mal Fletcher
Added 01 December 2005
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Communication: What The Internet Can Teach Us

The growth in traffic on the ubiquitous Internet is staggering.

In early 2000, there were an estimated forty-five million Internet servers in the world, and 150 to 200 million people used the Internet regularly. As of November 2005, just under one billion people access the Internet regularly – basically one sixth of the world’s population.

It took radio thirty-eight years to attract fifty million listeners. It took television thirteen years to attract its first fifty million viewers. It took just four years for the Internet to draw in fifty million users.

Today, we bank, shop, research, talk, play games, make phone calls, download music and watch movies or TV -- all via the net. The Internet has exceeded all expectations as a communications medium. Judging by the growth in usage, this medium clearly speaks where people listen; it connects with people where they are.

It obviously delivers services that people need and mobilizes people into action. That much can be seen from the growth in both Internet-based trade, or e-business, and Internet-based communities and projects.

The Internet speaks where people listen -- much more than the church does. What can we learn from the Internet about communication in general?

All the most successful sites on the net are characterized by certain traits. For example, the most successful sites, those that speak where people listen, are designed for maximum access, for ease of movement. They make connecting easy.

They use simple interfaces, with graphics that are simple, yet interesting and quick to download. What’s more, the links that carry people around these sites are easy to see and follow.

One rule of good Internet design is this: ‘the less clicks the better’.

The most effective sites act as bridge builders. The most successful web practitioners see their role as one of reconciling people with concepts, ideas, products, opportunities – or other people. They build connections.

What does this suggest to us about communication generally, as Christian leaders? It reminds us of the importance of our reconciliation mandate.

Current generations have known so much alienation. All our lives we’ve grown up with the rich versus the poor, where twenty percent of the world’s population uses eighty percent of the world’s resources. Today, we have the technological haves and have-nots: even in the midst of the technological revolution, sixty percent of the world still has no telephones.

Our world also pits the old against the young. According to the UN, more than 200,000 children under fifteen are currently engaged in fighting wars – at the behest, or for the glory, of older commanders.

We see all around us the struggle of race against race, the strong against the weak – now manifested in the fight for euthanasia – and even the born against the unborn.

Our alienation stems from many sources, some of them sociological and cultural. In part, it is a result of the weakening --some call it, ‘redefining’ -- of the family unit. Our very definitions of family have become fluid, reducing our sense of security and the identity which we have always drawn from the home.

We are alienated too by the high mobility of our lives. According to some studies Generation X adults will, on average, change industries - not companies within an industry – six to twelve times during their working lives.

Alienation, however, is not simply a problem relating to Western culture; it is a problem set deep in human nature.

According to the Christian worldview, as outlined in the Bible, alienation is the first consequence of sin, or rebellion against God’s plans. Sin cuts us off from God who made us, people whom God gave us and the loving purpose which God has for us.

Speaking to this spiritual aspect of alienation, St Paul noted that the Christian church has a ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5:18). Every Christian is called to be a bridge-builder.

Because ours is a generation which has been so exposed to alienation people are open to our message if it promotes reconciliation.

In terms of communication, if we are to speak where people listen we must provide access points to the Christian message. We must remove the barriers of stereotyping which so often get between us and our potential audience.

We need to learn what the Internet designers already know: how to move people around quickly, or with as few obstacles as possible.

For us, that means helping people to get from where they are to where God might like them to be, with as few clicks as possible.

I studied architecture in the late seventies, at a time when the profession was becoming increasingly conscious about the need to assist the physically challenged.

People with physical disabilities have always found it hard to interface with the architecture of the able-bodied (please excuse me if the latter is the wrong term!). Architects have become increasingly aware of the need to provide, among other things, access ramps for use by people who use wheelchairs.

What is the job of the church in society? Primarily, it is to provide the community with ‘access ramps’ to the Christian message and to the life of the church.

Without taking the metaphor too far, we are called to build access ramps for the spiritually 'challenged'. The gospel contains amazing power to reconcile; but church culture all too often has power to alienate.

Every church has a culture, an accepted way of doing things. A healthy culture is a prerequisite of growth.

Culture, though, is a good servant and a poor master. Culture becomes a problem only when we forget that we have one – when we expect everyone to automatically understand why we believe and behave as we do.

If we’re not very careful, our church culture becomes a series of steps or stairs which people must negotiate if they’re to gain access to Christian truth.

We need to remove some of the ‘clicks’, to make it easier for people to access what Christ has to offer – and what the church can provide.

That often starts with a commitment to meeting ‘perceived’ needs as well as – or even before – ‘real’ needs. People come to the communication process with all kinds of aspirations, challenges and problems. Often, the need a person thinks he has is quite different from the deeper spiritual problem we might identify and want to address.

Removing the clicks often means finding new ministry models for delivering our message.

In terms of public presentation, Generation X and younger Millennials, are not generally impressed with good performance alone. They assume good performance but demand authenticity.

For some of us, this will mean that we need to work with less reliance on notes when we speak. It may mean that we need to be more visionary in our preaching: casting vision which calls for the investment not just of money but of an entire life!

It may also mean that we try to become more interactive – stimulating our audience to think and act, so that they truly ‘own’ the message.

It will definitely mean that we need to be emotionally engaging – without manipulation.

Marketers know this well: people think with their hearts as well as their heads. Emotions can be as important as ideas – and when you have the two together, well, sparks fly!

Removing the clicks also means providing the three major elements of a great community of faith.

1. Relevant style. This is an issue of communication and presentation. It is a question of being in touch with the times. So many church leaders speak almost proudly of the ‘contemporary’ way in which they do church. I don’t see that as anything to be especially proud of. After all, the word ‘contemporary’ simply means ‘to exist at the same time’ as something or someone else. The church ought to exist at the same time as the city it is called to serve!

2. Prophetic substance. Being contemporary is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. We are in touch with the times only so that we can be ahead of the times; so that we can identify the future as God would like it to be and move people into that future. If the substance of what we say and do is prophetic, or forward-looking in a godly way, we equip people to face the changes occurring around them. This is an issue of vision, strategy and programmes.

3. Community-based structure: To meet the needs of generations which are wary of hierarchical structures, we need to provide community and team-based growth while maintaining healthy leadership. Every team needs a clearly identifiable captain – someone who marks out the way forward and is followed because he or she is clearly gifted for and successful in that role. This is an issue of mentoring and discipling.

What can the Internet teach us about communication? It reminds us of the need for ‘less clicks’.

Let’s remove the elements of church culture that get in the way of access to the gospel. At least then, if people do reject the message, they’ll know what it is they’re turning down!

This article is extracted from Mal Fletcher’s MasterClass on Communication and Media. Click here for more on MasterClass…

Keywords: MasterClass | Internet | Communication | Clicks | Mal Fletcher | e-business | Internet-based | Internet-based communities | reconciliation | St Paul | Leadership | Leadership and Life | Life

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