Constant Non-Contact

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I am not a tele-marketer.

But each month as I make contact with the families whom I serve as a deacon, I often feel like one. I usually manage to get through to most of my families by utilizing a diverse array of communications tactics which include but are not limited to calling, emailing, texting, Facebook messaging, Facebook stalking, direct messaging on Twitter, checking their recent Instagram posts, and when possible, having a good, old-fashioned, face-to-face conversation.

One of the most visible and important ways laity serve in Baptist churches is through the role of deacon. Though it varies in form and function from church to church, one essential task as outlined in Scripture is taking care of people in the congregation as an extension of the ministry of the staff.

At my church, this means each of our 10 congregationally elected deacons has a “flock” of 10-12 families that he or she is responsible for checking with on a consistent basis.

As I begin my second term as chairman of deacons, what I hear repeatedly from our diaconate and what I have experienced personally in performing my deaconly duties is that although we now have more ways to contact people than ever in the history of the world, it is harder than ever to have a meaningful interaction with a church member.

Whether this failure to communicate is by design or a product of our overly busy culture is immaterial. That we cannot connect even though we have communication devices on or near our person 24-7 has real consequences for the church.

So how can deacons break through communication barriers and reach the people they are trying to serve? Here are a few tactics that have served me well:

Seize the moment. When you see them at church, have a conversation. A real one. You don’t have to ask them to reveal embarrassing health details or describe their personal crises to you while standing in a crowded hallway or, worse, the bathroom, but you can quickly and effectively check in with someone. More important than the information exchanged in the face-to-face confab, you have let them know that you care about them and are available to them when they need you. Hopefully this will help them feel more comfortable reaching out to you when they have a need.

Always call. Even if you know you won’t reach them or they won’t return your call, leave a message and let them hear your voice. But be prepared for a conversation every time you call. Who knows, you might win the deacon lottery and actually get someone on the phone. It would be really awkward and a wasted contact if you’re so focused on leaving a message that you fumble the chat when they pick up.

Go for the combo. We just established that it always helps to call. So now you mix in an email or, preferably, a text. Think about your own personal communication habits. You respond to email sporadically, but you tend to treat texts as more immediate. And even at the risk of sore thumbs, people will sometimes take the time to let you know what’s going on with them in a series of texts, particularly if they are trapped at their kid’s soccer practice.

Less is more. Always aim to have a meaningful interaction over a lengthy one. An hour-long conversation over coffee is what’s needed for some people, and never miss a chance to visit one-on-one if they are in a hospital or rehabilitation center. But if they are hard to pin down, keep that in mind when talking to them. Don’t take much of their time. They will be more likely to take your call if they know they’re in for a short check-in rather than a lengthy discourse. And always, always, always make hospital visits brief. It means a lot if you take the time to see them. It means a lot less if you stay so long they hit the call button “on accident” to make you leave.

These are challenging times to have genuine relationships, and many of us struggle just to stay connected with our own flesh and blood. Don’t give up on your family of faith. If you’re called to the ministry of a deacon, it’s worth the effort.

Lance Wallace_for_webLance Wallace is a Baptist layperson and member of Parkway Baptist Church in Johns Creek, GA, does media relations and issues management at his day job, and blogs at newsouthessays.com.

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