Avoid the pitfalls of electronic communication with practical action steps toward real conversation
My whole family seems to be addicted to their mobile phones and computers. How do we break this?"
I often get this question from concerned parents who, like this woman, are starting to realize that instead of having genuine, face-to-face communication, their family talks with one another and others through online chat, emails, text messages, tweets, Facebook and other social networking tools.
While there's nothing inherently wrong with using these communication avenues, we can look out for some warning signs. As leaders, it's important we're aware not only of how this issue affects our own families, but we also need to help the families in our church maintain a standard.
Communicating electronically has the benefit of expanding the ways we can talk to one another in families, but it cannot replace face-to-face communication. The danger can be that electronic communication replaces real, personal sharing and intimacy. Re-member that non-verbal communication is about 80 to 90 percent of the message. When all we send and receive from one another is a text or email, the full communication is missing.
Beyond that, when we only use written words, we miss the clarification dialogue brings. Online and electronic communication can never impart the full non-verbal impact of tone of voice, facial expression, body language, gestures, appearance, eye contact, physical touch, etc.
I realize that to some degree Skype (video in addition to audio) can improve our online communication, but it's still not the same as talking together in the same room, making eye contact and validating the other person's presence by choosing to be with them.
With electronic media taking over in the mainstream, church communities and families are at risk of falling into the many traps that come with it. Healthy boundaries for electronic communication need to be established. As a ministry leader, you may want to consider passing along these tips to families:
Don't stop it. Texting and chat are a great way for family members to stay in touch with one another, especially during the day when school, work, errands and different locations keep family members apart. But when family members are together at home, in the car or on an outing, set limits on the time you use online communication.
Be proactive. Married couples need daily one-on-one, uninterrupted personal time together—time that can be spent affirming one another, encouraging each other and praying together.
If you don't already have this daily time together, then start small with five to 15 minutes you intentionally set aside each day. If necessary, spend your personal sharing time together when children are asleep. Also, focus on positive things. Leave your problem-solving and conflict resolution to other times. Starting with 15 positive, healthy and holy minutes with each other daily (cellphone free!) can profoundly increase intimacy and happiness in a busy couple's marriage.
Set family times together sans technology. Turn off the computers and smartphones! Give your full attention to one another at a meal, while playing a game together or sharing a fun experience. Set phones on vibrate or better still, leave them stored in another room.
To keep our church communities strong, we need to keep in the mind the importance of keeping our families strong. Address this issue with parents or spouses that approach you with communication issues in their family relationships. Encourage your entire congregation to really listen to each other without the potentially destructive disruption of electronic communication.
Larry Keefauver is an internationally recognized pastoral leader, teacher and author. He has pastored and planted churches for more than 35 years in Texas and Florida and presently serves as executive director of YMCS (Your Ministry Counseling Services). Keefauver is the author of many best-selling books, with more than 2.5 million books in print in 11-plus languages. He is a regular contributing editor for Kairos magazine. He and his wife, Judi, lead family and ministry seminars on marriage, parenting, leadership and prayer.