Friday, June 17, 2011

Conference Assimilation: Rusty Wright on Reaching Non-Christian Audiences

The Write-To-Publish Conference schedule included, as have all major Christian writers conferences I’ve been to, a continuing class—that is, a class that is taught over several days. The WTP ones covered all four days of the conference, amounting to five hours of class time.

The one I chose to attend was “Effectively Communicating Christ to non-Christian Audiences”, taught by Rusty Wright. I hadn’t heard of Rusty before, which speaks more about my lack of knowledge than his notoriety. He’s been on the lecture circuit, speaking at conferences, and writing articles for a long time. I just haven’t happened to cross paths with him. A big concern of his is that Christian writers need to branch out from writing only for people who are already Christian to people who are not. It takes a different approach.

The first day he talked about figuring out about who your audience is. What motivates them? How do they want to be entertained? What are their goals, hopes, fears, desires? This really isn’t much different from what we should be doing for any audience, but we don’t often do it. Or, when deciding to write something to reach non-Christians, we don’t adjust our writing style to really reach them.

An example of an adjustment we have to make to change our vocabulary. When writing for a Christian audience we use what he calls “Christianese”, the vocabulary of the church. Just how much we use this can be hidden from us. When writing pieces in which we want to reach those who want nothing to do with the church or their Jesus, we need to carefully consider every word used, and strip away all language that will even not be easily understood or will be off-putting.

On the third day Rusty told us about using humor. It’s a universal technique. Almost everyone likes to laugh, regardless of their spiritual beliefs. Why not use humor in writing and speaking, and sprinkle in the Christian message through that humor. He gave many examples he has accumulated over the years. As I am not a naturally humorous person, this will likely be difficult for me. Still, it’s a good technique and I need to expand my writing abilities to include it.
Rusty gave examples from his writings of pieces he wrote that went into secular magazines, yet included a small pro-Christian message of some type. usually these were subtle and short, though at times longer and more overt. He gave us links to his website where he had examples shown. In some cases, an article he wrote for some newspaper was picked up and republished, with or without permission, in a dozen other publications. His message went out.

I found this class to be useful, and a good use of my time at the conference. I’ve passed up these type of classes before, not because I didn’t want to take them, but because I had many things I needed to know and lots of choices. Finally the right time and mix of classes came along. I have some good notes and handouts to review. Hopefully I will be able to put some of this into practice soon.

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