Imagine you are a journalist at a small-town newspaper. Because of the size of the operation, you not only initiate the stories, but also write them up as a reporter and then help distribute the paper to those interested in getting a copy.
Your paper has around 500 readers.
One day, it occurs to you that while you have 500 readers, you live in a town of more than 5,000 people. So while you are reaching a large group, it is far from the majority. Approximately 4,500 people are not reading your news.
You decide to reach them.
One thing is clear: designing and marketing a newspaper to people who have demonstrated no interest in reading your existing newspaper presents a challenge. You can’t simply do what you’ve already been doing. If it was working, they would already be readers.
You decide to go with some “blue sky” thinking, freeing yourself to reflect on the situation in ways you may never have considered before. After many hours, over many days, you come to three significant understandings:
First, you realize you are not really in the newspaper business but the news business and, therefore, you can be free of older, traditional paper formats and pursue newer, more contemporary mediums.
In other words, you realize you are in a similar situation as the old railroad barons who were confronted with the development of the car and truck. When automobiles came along, the railroad companies were uniquely poised to take advantage of the new breakthrough. Instead, they fought it—clinging to trains as if that was their business. They failed to realize they weren’t in the train business, but the transportation business. If they had made this realization, they would have led the way into the new century. They didn’t.
This leads to a second insight: It isn’t news itself that people are rejecting, but the way that news is being offered. News in print is not as up-to-date, convenient, portable, accessible or cheap as news online. Readers increasingly prefer to access the news via laptop, tablet or phone. You see (perhaps as never before) that it’s not the message, but the medium; it’s not the content, but the delivery. You are free to convey the news in whatever medium seems best.
Finally, you understand that because of the tsunami of news and information available to the average person, you have to find a way to gain their attention. You don’t want to become akin to a tabloid, and you don’t want to give up the importance of serious journalism. But somehow you have to find a way to gain a hearing, win their loyalty and then earn the right for them to read the more thoughtful, challenging pieces you’ve given your life to convey.
This means you will have to find out what news is considered relevant to their life, and then use that interest to create lead articles that hold value for them. This will encourage them to delve deeper and expose them to a wider spectrum of events that are more critical for them to know; even more than they realize.
You know there is much more to understand, but you have a new sense of true north, a new freedom to innovate and a new set of challenges that never occurred to you before.
Now, imagine you are a pastor at a small-town church…
James Emery White
This blog is a reposting of an entry from 2012. The Church & Culture team thought you would enjoy reading it again.
About the Author
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit ChurchAndCulture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.