by Annette Spence

The best messages aren’t just “liked,” and they’re certainly not ignored. The best messages are shared.

Speaking to United Methodist Association of Communicators gathered for an annual meeting in March in Philadelphia, Len Wilson drew on John Wesley’s “four seeds” of fruitfulness to teach “Shareability: Creating Messages That Stick in a Culture.”

The four seeds that successfully share messages in social media are message, mission, method and meeting, said Wilson, creative and communications director at St. Andrew United Methodist Church, a large congregation in Plano, Texas.

Wilson shared insight from his work with church staffs and from his own research as an author during a plenary session at the Westin Philadelphia:

Message
“Every good story is about a changed life,” Wilson said. He recommended “eliminating the clutter” of multiple messages and details.

“Talk to me about the fruit instead of the seed,” he said. “Don’t focus on the 5 Ws [who, what, where, when, why]. Focus on the story of changed lives, and then your stuff gets promoted anyway.”

Mission
“Shareable messages care for the community,” Wilson said. To identify and learn more about the community you’re trying to connect with, he suggested: Find the “origin story”—the beginning and early days of the community. Describe an image of a disciple within the community—a person recognized for living out his or her faith. Look for solutions to community problems.

Method
“Shareable messages embody the experience of the community,” he said. Use metaphors to communicate. Wilson said he arrives at fresh images for metaphors by looking in five places: the Bible, community, culture, one’s own story, etymology. The process is often not instant but requires contemplation.

Meeting
Shareable messages speak to the community—“not to the community but through the community,” Wilson said. Craft messages—not with your ideas—but with the needs of the receivers in mind. “We are no longer about sending,” he said. “We have shifted to receiving.”

Wilson said that communicators have to move beyond the former broadcast model of sending out a mass message and assuming it will be received. He reminded communicators of how John and Charles Wesley imported popular tunes from the culture and community of the day to write new hymns to spread the Methodist movement.

He also referred to Matthew 28:7-8, in which the women hurried away from Jesus’ empty tomb “afraid yet filled with joy and ran to tell his disciples.”

“That wasn’t just a ‘like,’” Wilson said. “That was a share.”

Annette Spence is editor of The Call for the Holston Conference of The United Methodist Church.
Photo by Matt Brodie.