If you are not familiar with the term “Streisand Effect” and you work in leadership where you certainly deal with church communications you are missing a very important phenomena in our culture today. Barbara Streisand in 2003 sued a photographer in order to ban her coastline home from public exposition on a website about soil erosion. As the story goes, only six downloads of the photo existed, with two downloads of the photo logged by the plaintiff attorney regarding the case in question. Due to the notion of a impending banned photo, the public downloaded the photo 420,000 times within the next month.
Here’s the point: common sense says that if Streisand had allowed the scientific photographer to continue his work unhindered, this now famous photo would instead live in obscurity and exist as only a footnote for those researching soil erosion on the California coast. And, Barbara Streisand’s home in theory would remain unrecognized to the public. The notion of controlling information by withholding it no longer exists in an online-bathed word. In fact, “controlled information” is an oxymoron. In our church settings we need to let the whole idea simply die. Let’s explore for a bit how this plays out in church communications.
In one story I will tell, a church stated on the departure of a staff member, “It is not a firing nor a resignation” in its communication to their parishioners. This kind of attempt to perhaps protect all parties actually had the reverse effect because people’s curiosity was perked, even those that need not be involved. The Streisand Effect is in full force. What is the “true” reason this individual is leaving? Who is responsible? What am I not being told? I confidently assume rightly godly motives on both sides in this example, however controlling the information like this tempts people into gossip, distrust, and disillusionment. What can be observed often in church communication is that when you burry something you put a huge spotlight on it. This is true even if you are burring it for good reasons, as well.
In a perfect world, leaders leave without a cloud and the church left behind is unscathed. But, we need to be realistic and understand that controlling information in this age only weakens our point of leadership. There likely are some dark things in any event, even when all have good intentions. Our fear and patterns of control damage our ability to focus on the main thing since they draw people’s attention to what we hope they wont see. The more we desire to hide, the more the very information that once benignly exist is used as fodder for the worst in human nature. Paul the Apostle does not refer to Christians “devouring one another” twice in separate Epistles for no reason. He knew very well what churches experience on a daily basis.
In a church I served, we had volume complaints for the worship team–which happens in almost every church I know of. I was in charge of the weekly worship service programming and worship which included our audio team. In a business meeting, the pastor mentioned the volume complaints and then said we were working on it and that it was due to “operator error”. As those words came out of his mouth, the entire volunteer audio team sunk in their chairs. The desire to spin information in the form of control can easily lead us to blame shifting. To put things in a better light, is using a political tactic that means we automatically assume a winner and loser. When you choose this game, you will force someone to lose that otherwise may not have to.
The behind the scenes politics in this referred instance had nothing to do with operator error. The sound system had a terrible EQ setting in the install in the back fill speakers. When a concerned member desired to help by pointing this out, his collaboration actually proved this point and the problem was resolved. Our all volunteer tech crew did not need to take the fall to reduce the heat to the leadership. No one had to take the fall. When we control information, we create winners and losers. And, that does not have to be the case in many situations we fear reprisals.
One of the most refreshing things I recently heard recounted was a leader who shared openly the reasons why he was letting go a staff member. It honored all involved, even though the information was quite difficult for all to hear. In the long run, a leader who is willing to take the heat in communicating truth will earn the trust and stripes to deliver bad news when needed. He or she will also garner support when he needs to put the heat on the people to move in a different direction together. Control and fear can be exchanged for openness and trust. Which will you choose to employ in your church leadership communications?