Book review: Reaching Out in a Networked World by Lynne M. Baab

Posted Aug 26, 2011 | New Media Project


By Kenetha J. Stanton

The author of Reaching Out in a Networked World: Expressing Your Congregation’s Heart and Soul, Lynne M. Baab, brings a wide range of relevant experience to the writing of this book. She has worked in publication efforts at the presbytery and synod levels, as an associate pastor developing parish communications, as a person searching for a new church home, and as an academic researcher in the field of communications.

The underlying premise of this book is that everything we do and say as a church is communicating a message whether we are meaning to do so or not. Many churches tend to focus only on words as conveyors of meaning. As our culture becomes more visually oriented, however, the messages we send through our choice of images, fonts, colors and layouts become increasingly important. Yet few of us have had sufficient training to even understand what messages may be conveyed through images to others.

At the same time, the things we do (or don’t) convey with our words can also send unintended messages. When searching for a new church home, Baab writes about how confusing it was when a single church’s publications presented contradictory messages about the church’s identity or mission, or omitted pertinent information about the church (like an address). It is important that we clearly communicate both the unity of our church body and the diversity of ministries and opportunities in a way that encompasses both points of view.

Throughout the book, Baab explores these kinds of topics in a wide range of mediums, from websites to blogs and emails, to desktop published brochures, to projected images in worship. Although the fundamentals of good communication are evenly emphasized throughout the book, Baab also provides examples of good practices, helpful tips, and questions to consider relative to each medium.

Two key questions to answer regardless of the medium are, 1) what is the intended message and 2) to whom is it directed? Baab includes discussion and resources about ways to find consensus within a congregation about the church’s mission, identity, and message. Refining the broader message of the congregation will help make decisions regarding each medium easier, she says.

Each chapter ends with a series of questions for journaling, reflection and discussion. Individuals or groups can dive deeper into each topic as it is relevant to their own situation. An appendix contains instructions for conducting a communications audit of a congregation. The audit will review all of the congregation’s communication channels. The process helps uncover places where the intended message may not be expressed as clearly as desired or where different communication channels may be expressing conflicting or unintended messages.

If everything we do and say as a congregation is communicating more than we realize, it behooves us to spend time clarifying our intended message and verifying that we are actually communicating it effectively. Baab’s book is a very helpful resource for congregations. Additional resources are available on the publisher’s website, including a podcast, webinar, e-book, articles, and more.

Kenetha J. Stanton, the research and administrative assistant for the New Media Project, is also a trained librarian.

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