church communications

Less Clutter Less Noise: 12) Ask, Don’t Tell

ListenI started out with facebook when it first opened up to the public. I started using twitter pretty much once it was available.

While I was excited about these new opportunities to connect, share, and communicate, I found there were many who saw both as a huge waste of time.

I would hear things like “Why would I want to know what others had for breakfast?” or “Twitter is just a bunch of people telling me about their mundane life!” And in some cases I definitely agreed. As time went on I tried to monitor what I was putting up. I found something very interesting.

When I would post about me, what I was doing, eating, watching, or thinking, my words would go with little or no response. However, when I would ask open ended questions like “What’s your favorite ice cream?”, “ it or hate it?” or “What bible verse do you need to hear right now?” my comments and interactions were significantly higher.

In chapter 12 “Ask, Don’t Tell” Kem starts out by saying effective communication means listening to others.

“Knowing how to carry on a dialogue is more important than forcefully proclaiming what you know… The most effective team-builders make time to hear from others about their unique audience needs, department hurdles, system problems and team pain points.”

People want to be listened to, not talked to. They want to know that their ideas and thoughts are valued. They want you to treat them as if they were smart. As Kem says in the book “They like it when you get them thinking, but not when you tell them what to think.”

Right now we are in the midst of emphasizing communications at our church. We are changing from every department, ministry and staff person doing their own thing, to the newly created communications department creating those publications.

This chapter was great for me to read as we begin this change. We have had some successes, and some areas of conflict. Usually the success has come when I have “asked”, and the conflict when I have done the “telling” how it needs to be.

For Discussion:

1. Do you create a dialogue, or proclaim what you know?

2. What ways to you use to get people thinking?

3. In light of this chapter, what advice could you give to someone starting in communications?

[photo by ky_olsen]

11) Rewrite Your Job Description <– Less Clutter, Less Noise –> 13) Find the YES behind the NO

About the author

Russell Martin

Russell is worship leader and communications director at Williams Memorial United Methodist Church. He is married to his wonderful wife and has 4 dogs. He writes about music, worship, and communication on his blog, fork in the road music. He and his wife also blog about their adoption process, to family and friends informed, and to encourage others in their own adoption journey.


  • So many of us that share online mostly do so by spouting off advice or quotes that we believe people need to hear (since we only have 140 characters to do so). Others want to be heard, and caring about them is a direct challenge from the Lord. I know I need to listen more, and that starts by asking more questions.

    More reading and commenting on other's blog posts / status updates instead of writing so much and asking others to comment on mine. Thanks for the challenge!

  • "Usually the success has come when I have “asked”, and the conflict when I have done the “telling” how it needs to be." I definitely relate to that. Just been slow to understand the dynamics. After all I grew up with a model of ministry and training for ministry that emphasized "proclaiming the word." I thankfully took a cross-cultural Masters of Divinity degree that introduced me to paying more attention to people and group dynamics. But guess what, in my own culture I subconsiously kept up the proclaiming followed by magical thinking. Ouch, that hurts to admit.

    Do any of you younger sprouts struggle with that pattern?

    Again, I really, really liked this chapter. Have to admit I was glad to not be the one writing the blog about it.. Russell you did an amazing job. Thanks.

    • I fell into this communication thing because no one else was doing it really. I have had to learn along the way. I think I am just now grasping this idea. An earlier post talked about the fact that we get our feedback from our staff or even ourselves about how effective our communication is or will be. Instead we should get out into the congregation and ask those who are being communicated to.
      Seems like such a simple, obvious thing..not sure why I did not realize it before.

  • Question number 1: Do you create dialog, or proclaim what you know?

    Thank you for asking this question. To often we just spit out what we know, assuming that's what people NEED to hear. Great reflection on this chapter!

  • Love how this question is being forced onto the table. One area where I see this explicit difference is in the worship experience of offline and online churches.

    Offline church – you are "SHUSH!"ed when you do anything that disturbs the Sit 'n Soak format. Online church — there's dedicated ministry leaders and pastors who attend to chat questions about Scripture referenced in the sermon, theological questions, and even pastoral care issues via immediate move to private prayer rooms.

    Which do you think is more engaging, contributes more to strict academic learning, retention, etc? Which do you think allows for witness of the community caring for each other when questions, problems, crisis arise — being triggered by something during the message?

    ASK, don't tell is a framework that can be extended to beyond corporate communications for the church. It's something that can inform almost all of the interactions within ministry.

    • What are the ways that the offline and online can be merged. We took a tiny baby step a few weeks ago by encouraging our members to "check in" to our church on facebook. Not groundbreaking but at least a step.

  • A good portion of this chapter discussed the dynamics of how the rest of the staff interacts with the communications team. In that context, I think a big part of "Ask, don't tell" involves asking the staff to help develop the communications handbook/guidelines instead of imposing it on them. That helps everyone see the big picture, that the purpose of the guidelines are to insure communication is simple, clear, and consistent. And your more likely to get buy-in from everyone.

    From a congregation-wide perspective, one thing I've seen some churches do that I really like is for the pastor to post a conversation starter to the church blog during the week on the topic of the following Sunday's sermon topic. That's a great way to ask instead of tell, a great way to get people thinking instead of telling them what to think, and it can even provide some valuable input into the pastor's message. The pastor could quote a couple of comments from the blog, or even touch on a certain aspect of the topic he hadn't considered because it's an area where people expressed an need for more guidance.

  • This is such a delicate matter from my perspective. When we ask what folks think and then don't follow through on what they've shared, we run the risk of discouraging them. So it's important to think about how we'll manage our dialogue and feedback channels. We need to not only ask, we need to think about what we'll do AFTER we ask.

    • That is a great point, Ed.

      As I'm thinking about what you're saying I'm also thinking that the need to have a good response is one of the reasons some people hesitate to ask. If you ask, you might have to get involved, do things you wouldn't normally do, change the way your program works, or miss the kick-off of the 1pm game ;). I think that can be scary for people. It is for me sometimes.

  • "People want to be listened to, not talked to. They want to know that their ideas and thoughts are valued."

    That's a great insight into human beings.

    There's a conflict born into that reality because we are "people", too. I think that's why this is such an issue. We, being "people", want to be listened to and think that our thoughts and ideas are valued. So, when we communicate, we tend to tell people what we think, instead of asking what they think.

    Making good connections requires that we put aside (to some extent) our desire to be heard in order to listen to others.

  • […] 12) Ask, Don’t Tell <– Less Clutter, Less Noise Sarah Holbrook is the Communications Director for Cypress United Methodist Church (a suburb church in North West Houston). She has been married to Brandon for 14 years and has two boys. She believes whole heartedly that she is a work in progress and is happy to have Jesus mold her, she shares ideas at her blog God Is My Gardener. In her spare time, she loves to teach adult Sunday school, cook, create jewelry and garden. church, communications change, church, communication, Less Clutter Less Noise 3 Ways to Make Your Website Beautiful […]

  • >>What are the ways that the offline and online can be merged.

    How about having your media guy post the "main points" of the sermon that day to the church Facebook page to encourage others to add their comments… this could foster greater dialogue in the church and also let visitors see their is some good stuff being talked about at your church.

    Of course all this assumes that he preaching is relevant and open to criticism as well… 🙂

    Patrick Steil

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