I had recently given my life to ministry when my Dad and I were working together on a remodeling project not far from my home. The homeowner was a brave believer who shared the gospel with us and left us with an old-fashioned gospel tract. That was when my appetite for excellence in church communications really started.
The tract was poorly designed and even more poorly printed. What I’ll never forget was the cartoon-ish imagery of a man being flung into hell by one of God’s angels.
You’ve probably seen similar pieces distributed by your neighborhood church. It’s often called “using shock value” to get people’s attention . . . and it’s dangerous.
There are some drawbacks to using shock value.
We can alienate our intended audience as easily as we can attract them. We can lose the respect of needed friends and mentors. We can even misrepresent the core of our message without even realizing it. But the biggest danger in using shock to spread a message is that often, people don’t look past the object of their shock.
Rather than reading on to get the message of how to go to heaven, many people who received the tract I received, would get stuck on the brutal imagery. Their thinking would hang up on the secondary matter. So instead of communicating the core message, we’ve communicated the attention-grabbing hook instead. And usually, we’ll complain that people are missing the main point.
Using shock is trendy.
Pastors who use profanity, Bible studies involving beer drinking, and sermon series’ on sex that push the boundaries of appropriateness are all the rage. But as communicators, we have to be concerned about the long-term effects on our trust equity. If we condition our audience to be shocked by our approach, will they ever trust us enough to hear our message?
Please understand—I’m not discouraging you from using shock to spread your message. My main point is not to debate whether or not it is right or wrong, good or bad, effective or ineffective.
I’m merely throwing up a warning sign.
Before you launch a campaign that will evoke strong emotional reactions, determine if you’re actually getting attention for your message. It would be terrible, at the end of the day, for people to be talking only about our methodology and not our core message.
Sometimes the risk is worth it. We who specialize in “church communications” have the burden of making that call. And sometimes, the outcome even affects eternity.
So, let’s get it right.
You can check out Brandon Cox here.