Church Public Relations 101
By Lynne Marian
The Who, What, When, Where and Why on Building Relationships with the Media and Your Community
When it comes to good church public relations, no slick, fast-talking spin-doctors or expensive consultants are required. Public relations are simply that–relating to the public so as to create a favorable impression. PR is one of the most accessible promotional tools available to your church, and creating an effective campaign may be far less intimidating than you think.
WHY PUBLIC RELATIONS?
Creating a positive perception of your church in the community provides a critical foundation for all other communication, outreach and evangelistic efforts. This positive perception can make a world of difference when a church member invites a friend to your next event. Instead of hearing someone say, “The Easter Service at Grace Church? Who are they?”– a church could receive this response: “You mean Grace Church is having an Easter Service? I’ve heard good things about them!”
In addition, public relations is more powerful and influential than advertising alone. Advertising is often perceived as hype or self-promotion, while the results of your public relations efforts are perceived as more genuine and often more truthful.
Finally, while a small display ad in your local newspaper can cost hundreds of dollars, a press release about that same event can fill that same size space (or larger) at no cost. Public relations makes dollars and sense.
WHAT DOES GOOD CHURCH PR LOOK LIKE?
Building community goodwill and generating positive mentions in the local media starts with a plan founded on basic public relations principles. Plan your church’s strategy by asking a few questions:
• Who is your church’s target audience?
• What is your church’s message? Why should someone in the community care?
• What are some creative, meaningful and/or newsworthy ideas your church can generate?
• What are the most appropriate media options for this message?
• How do we execute the message?
CASE IN POINT
Initially, generating media coverage can sound like a daunting task, but after taking a look at this church example, you may begin to see the opportunities:
Although Fellowship Church has been in Farmingdale, Nev., for more than 50 years, many community members (especially those in the newer subdivisions) aren’t aware of the church. Several young families, however, do attend the church. The church feels called to reach young families in their growing community.
• Who is their target? Young families in their growing community.
• What is their message? “God cares about what’s important to you, and, at
Fellowship Church so do we.”
• What are some creative, meaningful and/or newsworthy outreach ideas?
Creative idea 1. Offer free parenting workshops weekly for a month. Classes will be held at a local school and will have no overt evangelistic content.
Creative idea 2. Church will host a free ice water station at the local baseball throughout the season. In addition, a sportsmanship award is given and posted each week. Donations are made in the chosen player’s name to a local children’s hospital.
Creative idea 3. Sober ride sponsorship after dances at the local high school.
These events, which build visibility and goodwill in the community, could also be considered newsworthy to the local press. While somewhat labor intensive, none of these ideas is particularly expensive.
HOW TO MAKE IT HAPPEN
Challenge a sharp businessperson or even a stay-at-home mom in your community to spearhead your public relations effort. Begin with a phone call to each of the media outlets in your area (newspapers, magazine, local radio and television, key newsletters) and determine the appropriate contact information and submission guidelines. Input the contact person and the contact information into the database or address book so that labels, letters or even electronic e-mails or faxes can be easily generated on a regular basis to these media outlets.
Next, write a press release about the event and send it to the media on your database. Follow-up a few days later with a phone call to answer any questions and to keep your news event “top-of-mind” with the media outlet. Like most things, PR is most effective when it is consistent and the media begins to trust you as a news source in the community.
Put PR to work for your church and see how God uses it to help reach people for Christ in your community.
-Outreach magazine, “Features,” January/February 2003
“This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”