HomeReligion ZoneThe case for religious PR for the church (Part Two)

The case for religious PR for the church (Part Two)

The Zimbabwe Adventist Communicators Association (Zaca) was formed recently and in the last article, we explained what led to its formation.

By Lenox Mhlanga

That is, to respond to the apparent deficiencies observed when the local Seventh-Day Adventist (SDA) church came under intense media scrutiny on issues that the public demanded explanation.

The paralysis, apparent stoicism, or the choice of sticking its head in the sand on such issues could not have been the church’s intention. Yet not responding directly to media enquiries was doing much damage to the church’s image and reputation.

Zaca’s formation, it is stated, is not to be interpreted to be an attempt to usurp the role of communication directors in the local structures of the Adventist church or the officers that already exist.

But rather, it seeks to offer the advice and counsel existing in church lay members who are respected and qualified communication professionals in the secular world.

Zaca places at the disposal of the adventist church and its officers, the knowledge and experience inherent in its membership, of communicators such as journalists, broadcasters and public relations practitioners.

The general conference (GC) communication department of the SDA church has confirmed that it’s important for the church to hire experienced public relations professionals, television producers, and journalists for communication departments worldwide.

Media-savvy consumers are reached by professional-quality content. Gone are the days when church employees of other professions could simply be re-tasked for communication departments.

Howard B Weeks, secretary of the Public Relations Bureau of the General Conference of the SDA in 1960, wrote that the work of public relations, which is the work of the church, was then vital in preparing the way to the grand objective — communicating and not simply talking, reaching the minds of men in a persuasive, convincing manner.

“In this way, public relations’ not a “front” operation; it is not a cloak that can be put on to make an occasional good appearance. It is a part and parcel of what the church really is and how it relates to the people around it.”

The mission of the communication department of the Inter-European Division of the Adventist church, is not only enlightening but instructive. It should be for the building of bridges of hope. This will be accomplished by reaching the diverse church audiences, both within and externally, with an open, responsible, and hope-filled communication programme.

They go on to declare that they will effectively use contemporary technologies and methods of communication and public relations.

“The desired effect of our vision and activities is to create a favourable image of the church, its mission, life and activities, and witness that many will become followers of Christ and become members of this, His church.”

Ebuzor continues: “Gone are the days where the [pastor] stands and preaches over the head of the people, because he feels they fear God, and it is the Holy word of the Lord.”

He says that what they fail to know is that the soul longs to be fed, and it is their duty as the shepherds of souls to find out what the needs of their environment are, and then strategise to tailor the church’s activities to meet them at the point of need.

This, however, does not imply compromising the basic tenets of the church that are founded on biblical principles. It is about using proven communication practice that can help the church properly communicate its message, vision better, so it can properly guard the sheep against the wolf, according to Ebuzor.

Creating relationships that are cordial, when “pastors are known and respected as a constructive element in communities, they may then speak as to brethren, not as an alien force attacking accepted community patterns of living,” Weeks writes.

“Good public relations is about becoming personally acquainted with the people, to learn about their interests and attitudes before rushing in to impose those of the church upon them.”

The church is challenged to use the press, radio and television, exhibits, public speeches, films and contemporary forms of media from a sense of fairness and Christian regard.

How can the church insist that decisions be made on the merits of the message when neglecting in any way to let the people know who they are and the character of its work?

We are told in the tract, Evangelism (p 128) that, “The character and importance of our work are judged by the efforts made to bring it before the public.” Another element that is shared is that of looking inward, it will be compelling Church officers to plan for good internal communications within the congregation so that each member will have the knowledge and sense of participation necessary so they would commit themselves fully to the programme they are expected to support.

A former communication department director, E W Tarr wrote in the Ministry in 1967, “If public relations are to operate effectively, organisational leadership must be prepared to reveal plans, talk about problems, expound its policies, and familiarise the communications director with its objectives.” His words hold true today.

He also added, “It is unlikely that [public relations] can be effective if it is called upon only after decisions have been made and policies formulated.”

As the church sits for its strategic planning sessions, the communication directorate should be incorporated to include a four-point plan that will:

lCreate feedback channels for the church’s message

lResearch the external and internal environment

lCreate a communication strategy

lEvaluate the strategy

The work of church public relations, writes Weeks, is not to lead the church into subservience to public opinion, but rather to lift the level of public opinion itself above the level of ignorance, speculation, and suspicion, “so that the words of life may come forth clear and undistorted, that their power undimmed may be felt in the lives of men.”

lLenox Mhlanga is a communication specialist for over 16 years and is an associate with Magna Carta Reputation Management Consultants and a member of the Zimbabwe Institute of Public Relations (ZIPR) Council. He has worked with the World Bank Group.

The views that are shared here are his own unless stated otherwise. Contacts: lenoxmhlanga@gmail.com WhatsApp: 0772 400 656

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