Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Written Communication

From the Communication series.

There are two primary forms of communication available to you as a leader: written and verbal. Most of your verbal communication occurs within the context of the group setting, and the bulk of material we have already covered in this series has been related to verbal communication. But it’s important to recognize the value of written forms of communication, as well.

Study Materials
Obviously, any handout materials that you give to your group members at a meeting are a form of written communication. If I am not using a printed curriculum, I like to give handout notes. Granted, it’s sometimes annoying for linear thinkers and presenters like me to see people “reading ahead,” or to suspect that perhaps people are listening only to fill in the blanks. Admittedly, I myself often make a game out of fill-in-the-blank notes by trying to guess what the word is before the speaker gets to it. But, I think handout notes can be helpful. Here are a few reasons why:

First, giving everyone written notes can help reinforce the principles of the lesson.

Secondly, written materials can help you as a leader keep the group focused and moving forward. It’s one way to avoid long rabbit trails.

Thirdly, giving people handout notes puts a resource into the hands of your group members so they can continue to process the lesson throughout the week. Some people in your group are wired as “intellectual” disciples, and they really like having information that they can make notes on and come back to later. Sarah Owen is a great example of that kind of person. I got really nervous when I realized that she had saved every piece of paper ever given to her as a leader– summit notes, retreat notes, zone leader meeting notes. She recently had to upgrade to a new bigger binder.

Finally, developing written handouts can also be extremely valuable to you as a leader because the process of drafting notes forces you to think more strategically and in greater depth about what to say, how to say it, and when to say it. Written materials can enhance and improve your verbal communication.

Written communication can be a valuable skill for building community beyond the meeting itself, as well. One of the best lessons I learned about small group leadership is this: what happens during the week is often more important than what happens during the group meeting time itself. Understanding the communication tools available and effectively using those can help you create community throughout the week.

Email is one of the best tools available to us as leaders. Here are some hints for using it effectively and guidelines for using it appropriately:

  • Touch base with group members at least once a week through email. Share a verse, a word of encouragement, or give them something to think about for the upcoming group meeting. Touch base with group members through corporate emails and individual emails.
  • Use email to coordinate some of the administrative components of group life (who brings snacks, where the group is going to meet, etc)
  • Use email to send out prayer request lists. Appoint someone in your group to be in charge of recording the requests during group and then emailing them out later.
  • Very important: Do not use email for navigating conflict. In email, there is a tendency to fire off quickly without thinking, and it’s impossible to control the tone. Wherever there are people (especially Christians!), there will be conflict. Conflicts are a natural part of community and they should be approached as growth opportunities for everyone involved. Don’t be caught off guard when they happen; just remember that conflict navigation should always be done face-to-face.

A blog, google group, or yahoo group can also be an effective tool for building community within the group. Many of our group members sit in front of a computer for 10 hours a day, so let’s use technology to our advantage. A group blog can be used for the following:

  • Announcements. Use the blog or group to announce last minute changes in meeting places or to get the word out on activities that the group is doing.
  • Discussion. Sometimes, we have to cut off discussion in the group for the sake of time. Use the blog to allow for the discussion to continue beyond the 2-hour group meeting. Post a compelling question every day to encourage group members to think more deeply about the topic and to engage in on-going discussion using the comment threads.
  • Create culture. You can use a blog to create culture for your group. Do a weekly interview with a group member, asking off-the-wall questions to help others know the person better. Post music, movie, or book reviews or encourage group members to post their own. The posts that have generated the most comments at zonegathering are the posts that link to dumb questions like “What Narnia character are you” or “What theologian are you.” It’s frustrating at times that more people are more excited to jump in to share their Star Wars name than to post a win, but I’m getting over that because building a community and a culture has to begin with getting to know one another.

Everyone likes to get a good old-fashioned handwritten note from time to time. I think it’s because people know that it takes more time and thought to write and send a note than it does to fire off an email. Handwritten notes can encourage people, especially those who have “words of affirmation” or “quality time” love languages. Do an experiment one semester and try to write a note to one member of your group each week.


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