The Sounds of Silence

The mainline denominations’ lack of presence
in the multi-media world today results in the sounds of
silence.
(I am posting a series of thoughts on the disengagement of the mainline denominations from mainstream media over the past thirty years that results in the absence of the mainline voice from the public dialogue. This is the fifth installment.)

Characterizing a mass audience as Joe Six-pack is a risky thing under any circumstances. As Stewart Hoover wrote in 1988 (Stewart M. Hoover, Mass Media Religion:The Social Sources of the Electronic Church), there is no mass audience with needs awaiting a mainstream message. There are target audiences. The mass audience, along with mainstream culture and mainline media, is fragmenting in the world of multiple media options.

I take it as a sign of hope that some in the mainline are recognizing how powerfully we are influenced by this media-driven culture. It is imperative that mainline groups participate in the marketplace of ideas, not merely for their own self-promotion, but for the good of the public dialogue and to represent the full range of thought that makes for a humane and just society.

The competition for people?s attention has escalated enormously with each new form of technology. The mainline was slow on the uptake to understand this, and perhaps doesn?t fully appreciate it even today. The challenge mainline denominations face today is to adapt to new forms of communicating with the attentiveness, care and skill necessary to reach target audiences, a challenge not unlike that faced by traditional, responsible evangelicals two decades ago. However, this is enormously more challenging today because we live in a world of unlimited media options.

Teens and young adults are using text messaging, iPods, Internet streaming and searches, email, websites such as MySpace.com, television, radio and music from a variety of places including CDs and DVDs. They are creating their own media.

Gen Y and Gen X are similarly using multiple media, but not as many as the younger generation. Boomers are media savvy and are on the Internet, cellphones and various digital media. Builders are less inclined toward media but many are, indeed, using email and broadband.

The issue of effective communication in this environment is multifaceted. Which media should carry what message? To whom? For what purpose? How does the sender pull the audience and not push a message? How does the message break through the clutter?

It?s also about understanding how these generations use media differently, and they certainly do use them in different ways for different purposes.

This world of amazing variety and congestion requires listening, understanding and translating messages into language that speaks to people where they live.

To do less or to ignore this complicated reality is to drop your messages into a dark hole from which nothing escapes but the sounds of silence.

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