PREVIOUSLY: Crowdsource the Translation
For my last post in this series on The Seed Company, I’d like to turn my attention to the organization’s communication efforts.
The Seed Company has a lofty goal to lead the way in Bible translation by promoting the utilization of technology and community-based translation cohorts to accelerate the work. They’ve also been extremely gracious in accepting and interacting with my entirely unsolicited advice. Needless to say, I’m a fan. So it’s in love and a spirit of humility that I offer some advice for their communications.
If I were in charge of The Seed Company’s communications, here are some things I’d want to implement:
What’s the difference?
In his comment on a recent post of mine, Eddie, who works with Wycliffe UK, wrote: “you do not seem to have understood the different roles of Wycliffe and the Seed Company.” I’m sure he’s right; throughout the course of this series I’ve confused the work of one for that of the other. But if those differences are lost on me, a missionary practitioner, missiologist, and communications consultant, will it be any clearer to the general public?
As it stands, The Seed Company does a poor job distinguishing itself from Wycliffe Bible Translators. I believe much of confusion is due to their reluctance in saying explicitly what their website implies: “Some thought Wycliffe was too slow, so they started The Seed Company to be faster and more innovative.” The problem isn’t helped by the fact that The Seed Company seems to speak in the first-person “we” when referring to work done by other organizations (in the missions world, it’s called “partnering.” (By the way, Johanna gives an excellent clarification in her comment on that same post.)
The communication is further confused by the various initiatives and campaigns they’ve sponsored. OneVerse and End Bible Poverty, from what I gather, are programs of the Seed Company, which is an organization started by Wycliffe, while the Blank Bible Challenge seems to be more of a campaign, done in partnership of an organization and one of its programs. Each of these has its own URL and though they’re all quite well done, it’s hard to tell what’s what and whether the money they raise is all going to the same place.
Bring in the church
Currently, trained consultants assist first-language (native) translators to insure accuracy in new translation projects. At any given point in time, a consultant is interacting with multiple translators on multiple languages. The process does not require the consultant to be fluent in each of the languages. Usually, the dialog between translators and consultants happens behind closed doors. But what if it didn’t?
I recommend that The Seed Company pull back the curtain on the translation process, and allow the general public to see and participate in the “behind the scenes” discussion. Making these interactions (which may happen over the internet) open to all would be a great way to intrigue, equip, and involve more people on mission. Those translators who are working from English source material could benefit from the input of many. It would allow participating individuals and their churches, to get to know nationals and interact with them personally while working on valuable translation projects.
The Seed Company App
Despite the fact that The Seed Company has digital copies of hundreds of translations of the scriptures, they don’t generally handle the publication and distribution of those translations. But they should. A mobile app would be a perfect way to distribute the scriptures freely. Say I run into an Afghan immigrant at a bus stop and find myself sharing the gospel with him. I look up a passage of scripture in English using an app on my iPhone, and The Seed Company app allows me to show that same passage to the man in his native Hazaragi dialect of Persian. Then, as we part ways, I email the man the scriptures in his language as a gift.
This would be way more helpful than an app that “helps” me not drink coffee and send the money to translation agencies instead.
Don’t hide behind objectivity
Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, the Seed Company should personalize its work by highlighting the personalities of its people. Let interesting people like Johanna Fenton and Gilles Gravelle and others explore innovative ways of telling the stories of translation. We don’t need more “objective” (whitewashed, staid) coverage of “what God is doing on the mission field.” We need real people to work through the tensions, challenges, joys and blessings of this adventure we call mission. Every organization needs at least one spokesperson to make it personal. Who’s The Seed Company’s?
EDIT: Changed some wording in the second and fifth paragraphs for clarity, and edited the eighth to show that not all translation consulting happens via the internet.
Welcome to the Communications, Misunderstood tour, where I offer unsolicited advice on the communications strategies of different missionary initiatives. I’d like to start with an organization with an unquestionable track record of missions sending.
This year, Youth With A Mission celebrates 50 years of sending young, mostly untrained, volunteer missionaries around the world. These guys have the reputation of being radical– while other groups are making plans and raising money, YWAMers (as they like to be called) will be among the first to move into an area and make the most of every opportunity.
Why start with YWAM? Because they have put a lot of work into establishing channels of communication. There are lots of groups with bad websites and no plan. But communication is much more than having a cool website (they do) or using Twitter (nearly every day). YWAM is the sort of organization that doesn’t have to dream up stories to tell– they’re out there making new ones every day.
While YWAM is certainly getting the job done on the field, their survival as an organization depends on their ability to communicate with their supporters, recruit new volunteers, and raise awareness of the tremendous need for what they do. This is a big job, because YWAM does just about everything a missions agency can do, from Mercy Ships medical ministries to discipleship training courses to sports ministries.
Entry into closed-access countries they can do. Building a fiercely loyal family of unstoppable volunteer missionaries, no problem. YWAM’s biggest challenge is how to communicate with supporters and potential missionaries all that they’re seeing God do among the peoples of the world.
Before we evaluate YWAM’s approach to communications, I want to point out the value of its people. As an organization of 16,000, YWAM doesn’t just have a single voice, it has thousands. Add in alumni, supporters, and lives touched, and they have the potential to saturate the media with stories of God’s global activity. The potential is tremendous.
In my next post, we’ll take a look at YWAM’s website, ywam.org.