The Advantage: Overcommunicate Clarity, Part 1

We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.

Lencioni explains,

Once a leadership team has become cohesive and worked to establish clarity and alignment around the answers to the six critical questions, then, and only then, can they effectively move on to the next step: communicating those answers. Or better yet, overcommunicating those answers—over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

That’s right. Seven times. I’ve heard claims that employees won’t believe what leaders are communicating to them until they’ve heard it seven times. Whether the real number is five, seven, or seventy-seven, the point is that people are skeptical about what they’re being told unless they hear it consistently over time.

Got it? Overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate, overcommunicate, and overcommunicate.

This is a personal failing of mine. I find repetition painfully tedious. Besides, as an elder, I was in the room when we meet for 10 STRAIGHT HOURS on the subject. I’ll remember the conclusions until I die — and long after, I’m sure. I can’t bear to repeat it — I’VE HEARD IT OVER AND OVER AND OVER ALREADY!

But the church members haven’t. No matter how big the letters or how moving the sermon, once is not enough. Once with a PowerPoint and a handout is not enough. In fact, in church, even seven times isn’t enough.

The problem is that leaders confuse the mere transfer of information to an audience with the audience’s ability to understand, internalize, and embrace the message that is being communicated. The only way for people to embrace a message is to hear it over a period of time, in a variety of different situations, and preferably from different people. That’s why great leaders see themselves as Chief Reminding Officers as much as anything else. Their top two priorities are to set the direction of the organization and then to ensure that people are reminded of it on a regular basis. So why do so many leaders fail to do this?

Most churches do small groups nowadays. Those that work very hard at it get around 60% of their members in groups. It’s a good goal. Saddleback, where Rick Warren is the pastor, gets 120% of their members in small groups. That’s right — they have 20% more people in small groups — listening to some amateur read from a script — than they have in church where Rick Warren preaches! Amazing …

How do they do it? Well, if Rick preaches 45 times in a year, he mentions small groups in 45 sermons. Every single sermon includes a reference to small groups because he really, really, really believes his members need to be in a group. And because he believes it, the members believe it.

In most churches, my own included, you’re lucky to get two sermons on groups during the sign up period, and after that, we’re on to a series on Nehemiah.

If you want the members to think something is important — important enough to change for — talk about it constantly. If small groups really do help the elders pastor the flock, if small groups really do help members in time of distress, if small groups really do help us become disciples, then why can’t we mention them at least once a month? I mean, if groups help with what matters, and if we’re preaching about what matters, why isn’t it perfectly natural to mention groups as part of the sermon nearly every Sunday?

You see, we’re victims of the retail mindset. We sell small groups. If the customers aren’t buying, we tell them to go to Aisle 3 and pick up some youth ministry goods and services or move on over to the check out line and pick up some nursery goods and services. We’re selling rather than transforming. We just want them to buy something so they’ll attend and give. We aren’t thinking about actual transformation.

If the goal is to transform hearts, minds, and souls, and if small groups does this, then why would we be content with two sermons a year?

Obviously, it’s not just small groups. If our theme for the year is evangelism, then evangelism needs to be the theme throughout the year — not just the launch week. If evangelism is really important, then it should be mentioned in the bulletin, the wall posters, the Bible classes, the weekly mail out … but most especially, many, many sermons. You see, in the American church, if it’s not important enough for the preacher to emphasize, it’s just not important. We take our lead from the sermons.

Use testimonies, dramatic readings, videos, special songs, guest speakers … every means you can imagine to make the point. But make sure the preacher is on board and helping in every way possible.

And then make certain that the theme is repeated in every age group. Encourage teens and their parents to have conversations about evangelism. Encourage college students to train under older adults on how to do evangelism. Select short-term mission trips that are evangelistic.

Whatever the theme is, recognize that we live in a media saturated society where we hear a constant din of messages that we all routinely ignore. Car companies spend billions on car commercials, and most of us skip past them on our DVRs and don’t listen to the ones that accidentally play. We are experts at ignoring messages.

If the church comes across as just another retail advertiser, with slogans and ads, the message will receive the same level of respect. It just won’t work very well. Therefore, it’s not just about repetition (as important as repetition is). It’s also about helping to make an emotional connection. It’s about people caring about people. It’s about making the message real.

Therefore, testimonies by effective evangelists about the joy of converting the lost will change hearts far more than the slickest marketing materials. Testimonies from those who were converted and found true joy in Jesus will transform hearts in ways that even sermons can’t do. Stories matter more than slogans.

Even so, we are all experts are repressing and denying the uncomfortable, and becoming evangelistic is uncomfortable — and so repetition is key. After all, I may come to church hard hearted and closed minded the first six times the topic comes up, but the seventh time, well, maybe God’s been working on my heart and finally I’m ready to hear the message.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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2 Responses to The Advantage: Overcommunicate Clarity, Part 1

  1. Stories matter more than slogans.

    How true! In my work as a fund-raiser for Eastern European Mission, I use stories to make an emotional connection with my audience – whether it’s with a congregation, a mission committee, and eldership, or an individual. The stories are about people – hungry for the Word, finding joy in service, learning a new way of looking at life, and coming to know Jesus.

    When people hear the story[ies] they want to help, even if they can’t. I never “twist arms” or lay “guilt trips.” All I do is present opportunities in a way that makes them attractive.

    What you said about “seven touches” is also true. That is what I am experiencing in how many times I have to “touch” a group to get the response I am looking for – and even then, I want to keep in touch and keep reminding them. It is important.

  2. Passion breeds this sort of repetition. Around here, nobody has to remind the Dallas Cowboy fan to continually bring up his team in conversation. It’s getting him to shut up and change the subject that presents the challenge. If there is no Spirit-led passion in me as to what God has called me to do, I’m not sure that I am the one who should be leading anyone else in that direction. If the leaders at a congregation are not already speaking of their passion for this particular call of God at every opportunity, they can resign themselves to a constant struggle to find ways to push one another to push others. This is not leading sheep, this is herding cattle… or cats.

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