What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate


Near the end of Cool Hand Luke, when Luke says, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” he is mocking the captain, who delivered a similar line to Luke and the other prisoners two escape attempts earlier in the movie.

The captain had an idea about communication as a uni-directional passing of information. He was the boss, and what he said was the only thing that mattered. It was the job of the follower (in this case, the prisoner) to listen and obey.

Luke communicated through his rebellion that he understood but was unwillng to follow. The sarcastic irony of the repetition of the line by the follower to the leader highlights the problem with uni-directional communication. Luke completely understood what the captain was saying through his speeches and his discipline, but the captain had no idea what Luke was saying through his escapes and rebellion. Luke was right; what we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.

At this point you may be thinking, I’m not a prison warden, so what does this have to do with me and my creative communication?

In the creative communication process, sometimes we lose sight of the nature of the person we are communicating to – that nature which Luke confesses to just before delivering this classic line. Luke knew who he was, but the captain didn’t, and so the captain’s communication to Luke was lost.

When you create communication that is going out to your community, do you write it in the church’s language or in the language of the community? Do you offer unchurched people fellowship with a missional body of believers based in the Word? I hope that is who your church is, but do you realize that a rebellious generation doesn’t understand what that means? 

Think about an unchurched neighbor or co-worker. If you just walked up to them and started talking about what you did last Sunday, how would you define it? What words would you use? Now, use those words as you are writing the invitation to your church. Use those words on your webpage, enews, bulletin, and whatever creative communication media you send out to the community.


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