Don’t write like you talk.
Unless you talk in short, choppy sentences, rarely using words with more than two syllables.
The web is growing, continuously and constantly, and the people who are getting their messages across aren’t communicating at a college reading level.
It may come as a shock, but according to readfaster.com, “21 million Americans can’t read at all, 45 million are marginally illiterate and one-fifth of high school graduates can’t read their diplomas.”
Let me say that again: one-fifth of high school graduates can’t read their diplomas.
How many high school graduates are in your congregation?
How many high school graduates do you think maintain “normal,” 9-5 full-time jobs?
And you wonder why your theologically-sound inductive bible rants aren’t getting read?
Your sermons and your blog are NOT the same thing.
Sure, they’re both great platforms for getting your message out there. They’re both similar in structure, content, and organization. And they’re both reflections of your church–and your personal–thoughts on Christianity in American culture.
But they’re still not the same thing.
Your sermons are, obviously, the main way your congregation gets to hear what you have to say. Whether you deliver one a day, the same sermon over three services, or record it and allow it to be streamed online, it’s still the main line of communication between your congregation and their pastor.
But your blog–or your website–is a place where people get your message in a different way. It’s not just a change in medium and delivery, it’s a change in style.
Sure, there may be a few people who visit your blog because they were visiting the in-laws last Sunday and missed your recap of Romans. But there are also the “anonymous masses”–those people who find your site in search engines, linked from other blogs, or mentioned on other sites.
The question is: are you communicating well enough to those people?
Chances are, probably not.
Again, don’t write like you talk.
Have you ever read Rob Bell’s books? Regardless of your opinions of the well-known pastor and his message, his books are easily digestible by pretty much anyone.
Bell’s writing is short, to-the-point, and almost oversimplified. His paragraphs are usually two or three sentences long; no more.
Unlike the “introduction-thesis-example-example-example”-type paragraphs we’re taught to write in grade school essays, blogging and communicating online has been changing the face of how the American population receives messages.
Thanks to Twitter, most people feel that your feelings, thoughts, and what you had for breakfast should be summarized in 140 characters or less (leaving room for #hashtags, of course!). And bloggers have been writing easy-to-scan posts and articles since the dawn of the web.
If you want people to care, they first need to understand you.
“There are almost half a million words in our English Language – the largest language on earth, incidentally – but a third of all our writing is made up of only twenty-two words.” –Paul Kropp, The Reading Solution.
Do you think words like transubstantiation, propitiation, anagogics, hypostatic union, kinosis, or monergism are among the twenty-two words?
Your congregation can understand you. If they couldn’t, they wouldn’t be coming back week after week.
But your online audience? How often are they leaving comments, interacting on your social networks, or sharing your message with friends and family?
If you’re not getting a response, you might look at the way your message is being perceived (read: if an eighth-grader can’t understand what you’re talking about, don’t expect the average American adult to be able to, either).
Here are some ways you can write in a compelling, impacting, and insightful way, without “dumbing it down”:
- • Use smaller words. James Chartrand of MenWithPens says to write “with one-syllable words as much as you can.“
- • Use lists. The blogosphere has always responded well to the infamous “list post.” While you don’t need to write posts like “27 Ways to Be A Better Christian Today,” it doesn’t hurt to break up your content into easily-scanned chunks.
- • Use subheads. ChurchMarketingSucks.com has a post that reflects this point as well, stating, “Break up your text with subheads. This makes it easier to read and scan. It allows people to jump ahead to what’s relevant to them.”
- • Use bold and italic words. To help readers scan through your content, give them help with bold words and italicized words when you want to emphasize a point. IT’S LESS INTENSE THAN ALL CAPS, and it helps you portray your message as if you were speaking it aloud.
Speaking of the last point, try reading your post aloud before you hit “Publish.” It’s a weird feeling, akin to practicing a sermon or speech in front of a mirror, but it works. You’ll be able to catch odd-sounding phrases and bad wording, and it will read more as if you’re in the same room as your audience.
Again, the goal with simplifying your writing for the web is not to “dumb down” the message of Jesus Christ (which is pretty plain-and-simple most of the time anyway, right?). It’s not to make you sound “uneducated,” or even to “bring yourself down to our level.”
Writing for the web should be about reaching people where they are. We know they’re online–and many of them are searching for spiritual answers.
Are you reaching people where they are?