When it comes to communication in the missions world, web presence is everything. Monthly newsletters and bi-annual visits aren’t enough anymore. In order to feel connected to your ministry, supporters want to know what’s happening now. And not just the good things, either– they want to know the good, the bad, the mundane (see Twitter).
The YWAM website is very well-designed, and visually interesting. Despite being one of the world’s largest missionary organizations, ywam.org is not found in the top 300 Google search results for the keywords “Christian missions,” or “Christian missionary.” Nevertheless, the site is well-organized and easy to use. It makes great use of photos and stories. The use of three words to explain what they do: “convey, change, care,” makes it easy to understand what YWAM is about. The site is packed with news and stories of spiritual transformation.
Good design, however, will only get an organization so far. ywam.org is great for communicating with people who are deliberately looking for information about YWAM. But it does little to set the organization apart from the hundreds of other missions agencies out there, and the website alone isn’t likely to help expand YWAM’s network.
Like most missionary organizations, YWAM tends to suffer from the typical hesitance to feature its own people. Partly due to security concerns and partly out of humility, it is very difficult to find information about YWAM’s missionaries from the home page. This means that at the site, the average, mildly-motivated visitor is expected to connect with the organization rather than any individual. But people don’t connect with “organizations,” they connect with people. That’s why McDonald’s has Ronald, Progressive has Flo, and LifeWay has Ed Stetzer.
I’m not saying that YWAM should start an ad campaign with a clown or talking Gecko. They should, however, feature the voices of their greatest asset– their people. Higher-visibility leaders could include insights into their personal lives and ministries. Front-liners serving in restricted-access areas could post under pseudonyms (though I’ve heard that nobody likes an anonymous blog…). YWAM nationals from around the world could tell their stories of how God is moving among their people.
I understand the reluctance to focus on the missionaries. You want to be advocates for unreached peoples, not for the workers. But without the workers, there’s no connection. Nameless peoples in far-off places, a sea of need and desperation; these aren’t motivating, they’re overwhelming. It’s hard for me to care about people until I have some connection with them. YWAM missionaries are that connection.
The number one question we get from people considering full-time mission is: “What does a typical day look like for you?” Having been on the “inside” of the missionary world, I know that there really is no answer to this question. But missionary candidates want to know what life would be like for them if they were, in fact, to take the plunge and move overseas. What they’re really asking for is a peek behind the well-planned press releases and into real life. It seems counter-intuitive to share stories of frustration, boredom, loneliness, strange meals, or language mishaps, but these allow a person to connect; to see themselves in the shoes of the missionary.
For YWAM, featuring these voices wouldn’t be difficult at all because they already exist. It wouldn’t take much to mention on the web site what YWAM bloggers, locations, networks, staff, bases, and alumni are up to. This would demonstrate the diversity of ministries in the YWAM family, and would promote the individual efforts by sending web traffic their way and encouraging conversation around what God is doing among them.
To give the organization even more of a personal voice, YWAM leaders could provide a sort of running commentary of what is featured. In other words, ywam.org could feature updates from its various ministries, and national/regional leaders could weigh in with opinions, relating those things to other work around the world.
It wouldn’t take much for someone to put together an organization-wide editorial calendar of suggested topics and themes for YWAM bloggers to write about. This would help inspire participants to write about accessible and personal topics, and would add a certain amount of unity across channels. With a bit of organization and intentionality, YWAM could easily become the most personal and effective communicators in missions toady, simply by pointing the spotlight at its people.
p.s.– Speaking into the many lines of communication is also a great approach to handling criticism. When this guy says that YWAM is a cult, by encouraging your people to write about it you’ve got 5,000+ voices saying otherwise.
Next Up: YWAM and social media.