Imagine you are a journalist at a small-town newspaper. Because of the size of the operation, you not only initiate stories, but write them up as a reporter, and then help distribute the paper to those interested in getting a copy.
Your paper has around five thousand readers.
One day it occurs to you that while you have five thousand readers, you live in a town of over 50 thousand people. So while you are reaching a large group, it is far from the majority. Over 40 thousand people are not reading your news.
You decide to reach them.
One thing is clear: designing, and then marketing, a newspaper to people who demonstrate no interest in reading the 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 thus you can be free of older, traditional “newspaper” 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 at all, 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 your second insight: It isn’t news itself that people are rejecting, but way that news is being offered. News in print is not as up-to-date, convenient, portable, accessible, or cheap as news online. This is the day of the internet, and content is increasingly preferred to come to iPads and smart phones.
You see, 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
James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, N.C., and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His newly released book is A Traveler's Guide to the Kingdom: Journeying through the Christian Life (InterVarsity Press). To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, log on to www.churchandculture.org, where you can post your comments on this blog, view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.