Evangelizing a communication-saturated world

Gaining people's attention in a media-crowded age.

Alejandro Bullón is Ministerial Association Secretary of the South American Division, Brasilia, Brazil.

During the last evangelistic crusade in the Maracanazinho Sports Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, the average nightly attendance reached 25,000.

More than 15,000 names were recorded and 1,300 individuals accepted the invitation to join the church through baptism.

How is it possible, in a city like Rio de Janeiro (with such an active nightlife), that 25,000 people chose to attend meetings about Jesus every night? What led so many individuals to decide for Christ?

First, it is the Holy Spirit who at tracts individuals to Christ. The Spirit leads into "all truth," offering deeper understandings of Scripture, victory over sin, the desire to obey, and power for that obedience. This is why we must consistently place the Holy Spirit first in our evangelistic activities. Then we will see extraordinary results.

The role of persuasion

The fact that the Holy Spirit is in dispensable does not justify ignoring key persuasion principles. The Holy Spirit acts through these means as well. No decision is made by chance or accident. Everything is governed through the principles established by God.

"There are great laws that govern the world of nature, and spiritual things are controlled by principles equally certain. The means for an end must be employed, if the desired results are to be attained."1

The evangelist who does not know how and why decisions are made is disadvantaged. "To lead souls to Jesus there must be a knowledge of human nature and a study of the human mind."2

"Whoever desires to obtain decisions from people must know first, foremost, and finally, the deep recesses of the human mind."3

Therefore, we must understand that every decision is the result of a de sire and conviction that takes place within the mind. It does not matter if the subject involves clothing, the purchase of a car, or joining a church. In every case, desire and conviction lead to a decision.

To change a mind?

We live in a society saturated by all kinds of communication media. In the United States alone, 30,000 new books are published each year! Perhaps that does not sound impressive until one considers that it would take the average person 24 hours a day for 17 years just to read those 30,000 books.

Every year North American news papers use ten thousand tons of paper for printing. This means that every individual, on the average, consumes 94 printed news sections per year. The Sun day edition of a newspaper, such as The New York Times, weighs four and a half pounds, and contains approximately 500,000 words. To read all that, at the average speed of 300 words per minute, would take 28 hours. In other words, Sunday isn't long enough for most readers to read the whole of the Sunday pa per.4 And the newspaper represents only a tiny fraction of the communication media available in the contemporary world.

With all communication roads so jammed, with traffic so heavy, so disorganized, so maddening, so pervasive how much information is actually gained, let alone retained? Combine and mix together radio, TV, video and audio tapes, movies, theater, magazines, newspapers, books, posters, billboards, and now the Internet, and we may well ask, "Who is left undrowned in this massive torrent of communication?"

With the communications traffic so gridlocked at the toll booths and crossroads of modern minds, and with our mental engines boiling over, the question is How do we effectively grasp and hold people's attention?

To defend itself against the daily communication onslaughts, the con temporary mind has learned to filter and reject much of what bombards it. Generally, the human mind accepts only that which somehow coincides with its own knowledge or with a previous experience. Thus, millions of dollars have been wasted in the effort to change minds through advertising. Once the mind is set, it is almost impossible to change it. When communicating a mes sage, simply attempting to change someone's mind is a venture doomed to almost certain failure.


What should be done, then, to communicate our message successfully in a world filled with so many voices? Positioning is the organized system that discovers a window to the mind.

Positioning is not what is done with the product, but what is done with the mind of the individual who is to receive the product or service.

In the world of communication, positioning has changed the way of presenting a message. Avis is only number two in the car rental world, so their slogan is "We try harder." But in such an approach, what has happened to marvelous words such as "The First," "The Best," and "Number One?" They're not there. Why? Because what is ultimately important today is not necessarily being number one. What is important is to occupy a place in people's minds.

In Brazil, for example, the soft drink that holds the best position in the market is Coca-Cola. But, Guarana, a national soft drink, wants to have a piece of the market. In such a situation, what should this company present to the public? Should it make the claim "Guarana is better than Coca-Cola?" No. Here the Guarana advertisers must remember what we have said: When the mind is set, it is almost impossible to change. Also, the mind will accept only that which somehow coincides with its previous experience.

Coca-Cola already has the first place in people's minds; how then can you approach people and communicate to them that Guarana is better? Certainly not by telling the public that they are wrong in consuming Coca-Cola.

Guarana discovered that young people in Brazil enjoy eating pizza, consequently in their advertising they say, "Coca-Cola is better, but pizza only goes well with Guarana." Thus Guarana openly accepts the fact that Coke has the first place in people's experience. But they then look for a new and different "position," one involving a close association with a central and widely accepted element in the life of the culture pizza. Using this strategy, they are of course attempting to remove Coca- Cola from the individual's preference.

Placing our message in the mind

But our message is not a soft drink. How do we place it in the mind of the individual? The easiest way is by being there first. It is not difficult to prove the importance of this principle. Who is the father of aviation in Brazil? Santos Dumont. Who is credited with aviation firsts in the United States? The Wright Brothers. And in either country, who is the second most important name in aviation? This is not so easy to answer. The first doctor to perform a heart transplant was Christian Barnard. That's easy. Who was the second? The Catholic Church is the largest Christian denomination in the world. Which is the second?

It's not only the message that's important in communication. In a very significant sense, the mind to which the message is directed is itself just as important. Thus an innocent mind that has never been touched by another message in the same area is the easiest to reach. The most difficult part in the journey of reaching someone's mind is to arrive second. If we are not the first ones there, then we have the problem of positioning. In communication, the first message to mark a position has an enormous advantage. It is good to have the best message, but it is even better to be the first one to arrive with it.

Fortunately, there are strategies for those who are number two, three, or even one hundred. Naturally, we must be careful, because the messages presented in the old traditional style of aspiring to prove that one thing is better than another does not have the same chance of success in our society as when there were fewer messages being presented! Inventing or discovering something good or best is not enough; it is necessary to be the first in the public's mind. The correct message is not sufficient; it must be positioned correctly.

Identifying and addressing human need

We must search for the root of things as they reveal themselves within the minds of people. One way of finding these is to discover what people want, what they need, what they dream about, what they desire, and what they desperately search for. Also, it is not so much what we say as how we say it that meets the individual's inner needs.

The basic needs of our listeners will never be fully satisfied by social or economic improvements. Jesus said, '"A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions'" (Luke 12:15, NIV). There is a void in the life without Christ. Humanity continues crying out for something that it cannot identify.

If a person wins one million dollars, there is no ultimate satisfaction. Sex and all other forms of sensual indulgence do not satisfy the deepest internal yearnings. People are empty without God. We need to take advantage of that emptiness by showing them how it can be filled.

Another point that needs to be considered is that all listeners experience loneliness at some point in their lives. Some have referred to this universal sense of human aloneness as "cosmic loneliness." Deep down it is loneliness for God. Moreover, we must not forget that our listeners are carrying feelings of guilt. And finally, we must remember that in one way or another, our audience is afraid of death and the future. Human beings were not born to die. Death is an intruder.

The real question

Thus the question must be formulated and faced: How will the doctrines presented occupy a place in the public's mind so that they truly address the common existential problems and needs of being human? Individuals may not even want to know that the Sabbath is the day of the Lord. But if we present the Sabbath as a day of fellowship and communion with Jesus and the church, the people may find an answer to their loneliness.

Our answers, taken from the Word of God, may sound simplistic or overly obvious in the face of such complex problems. But experience has demonstrated that the practice of positioning involves the search for the obvious and the simple. And the obvious should be the easiest concept to be communicated because it makes sense to the individual who receives the message.

Unfortunately, the obvious concepts are often the most difficult to be recognized and transmitted. The hu man mind admires the complicated; it rejects the obvious because it is too simple. But we have to spread the Eternal Gospel's obvious concepts which contain, however "simplistic," the only answers to human apprehensions. "But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise: God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong" (1 Cor. 1:27, NIV).

More than a thousand people dis covered some of these answers during that series at Maracanazinho Sports Stadium in Rio de Janeiro. Millions more, the world over, are waiting. We have the message that they need to hear. The crucial question is Can we position this message so that these millions will hear it and, hearing, take it to heart?

1 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press* Pub. Assn., 1909), 9:221.

2 Ellen G. White, Testimonies to the Church (Nampa, Idaho: Pacific Press* Pub. Assn., 1885), 1:453.

3 Robert Oliver, Psychology of the Persuasive Speech (New York: Longmans Green and Co., 1957), 6.

4 Al Ries and Jack Trout, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1985), 5.

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Alejandro Bullón is Ministerial Association Secretary of the South American Division, Brasilia, Brazil.

February 2000

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