Publicize and Evangelize
T. R. Edwards
As one lingers in the cool mountain twilight of eastern Kentucky, he can see silhouetted against the evening sky a huge chain stretched from the bulk of Pine Mountain to an outcrop of rock. A chained rock —one man’s idea of a means of publicity—has helped change Pineville from an unknown mountain village into one of Kentucky’s outstanding tourist attractions.
Publicity can be used, not only to sell a mountain village to tourists, but to sell almost any product or service. Advertisements make up more than half of your newspaper. About seven out of every thirty minutes of television are used for commercials. American businesses spend millions of dollars each year to advertise their products to the public. These companies must know the value of publicity.
The church must also let the people of its community know what it has to offer—eternal life. It is the only institution Christ left on this earth to introduce individuals to himself and thus to enable them to enter into a personal relationship with Him as a member of His living body. The sad truth is, however, that a stranger can often find the local ice cream parlor more easily than he can the church, because the church has failed to let the public know it still functions. The gates of hell can never destroy the church, but congregations that refuse to reach out can destroy themselves. Each generation must spread the gospel to the next or the church will die. To survive, any congregation must meet the public.
What Is Publicity?
The basic aim of the publicity program of the local church is making the Lord’s work known. We cannot expect anyone to attend the services of the church if he does not know about them. Making the minister, the church’s evangelist, known to all within the community is another aim of publicity. A political party spares no efforts in making its candidate known by everyone within his district. The ultimate aim is to gain votes, but the immediate aim is to present the man in such a way that people will trust him and accept him as their representative. The church should not necessarily rush out and rent a roadside billboard, but it should be trying to make its minister known so he can serve those in need.
Christian publicity is also making known the location of the church building throughout the city or at least within the immediate neighborhood. In far too many communities the church’s existence is a well-kept secret, often even in the case of people who live within a block or two from it. How long would a business last if it did not advertise its location any better than most churches do?
For those who may desire a one-sentence definition of church publicity, the following should be adequate: Church publicity is evangelizing through advertising. As a lighthouse uses a flashing light to attract attention to itself and thus warn of a reef or hazard, the church uses publicity to attract the attention of the world to itself, to its ministry, and to that heavenly light that is Christ Jesus.
The Value of Publicity
Some ministers may feel that a good publicity program will make their work load lighter. This may be true to some degree, because the program does involve a delegation of responsibility, but actually, the only easy thing about a good public relations program is the way in which it brings about more work. One outstanding benefit of a working program of publicity is that it helps to make more effective the evangelistic efforts of all church members. Thus, the minister’s scope of influence will broaden and he will have more work, which is the answer to every good minister’s constant prayer.
During the past year your local church added several thousands of dollars, if not tens of thousands, to the economy of your community. This has not been the goal of the church, but it has been a by-product of the church’s effort to evangelize. The aim of publicity is not to help the businesses within the community by causing the church to spend more money; but as the church publicizes its programs, the businesses will profit from the money spent either by the church or the agencies through which the news becomes known. As more money is spent by the community, new jobs are created within the area, and additional people move in to fill those needs. In this way the church that publicizes effectively may broaden the scope of its ministry. The publicity program of the church is not intended to take the place of personal evangelism, but if the program produces the desired results, it will increase the church’s contacts for evangelism.
The First Need—Zeal
To be involved in an active program of publicity, the church or Bible school has three basic needs that must be met. The first of these is a zeal for Christ’s work. If any man wishes to sell soap, he must first be convinced of that particular soap’s cleansing and deodorizing qualities. It seems that many churches and Bible schools are not completely sold on the cleansing power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Before any church can begin to publicize its work, it must be doing something noteworthy. The congregation must have something to offer the public—a program of worship and service that will inspire enthusiasm in both members and nonmembers.
The church that lacks zeal is not a hopeless case. Some small flame of enthusiasm burns in even the “deadest” congregations. Concerned members must envision the tremendous opportunities available, take the few embers that remain, and fan them into a powerful, consuming fire again.
The Second Need—A Director
The second need is an alert publicity director, for he is the publicity program’s key man. In too many cases this unwanted task falls either on the minister or the Bible-school superintendent. Woe unto the church that allows this to happen! Unless the church is very small, neither the minister nor the superintendent has adequate time for this job. This responsibility, which can be very rewarding work, should be undertaken by a person who is vitally interested in the work of the kingdom of God and has the time and ability to fulfill the requirements of the job.
The publicity director has one main task: to gather all of the church and Bible-school news and to make it known through the use of the appropriate media of publicity. To perform his work, he must have the full cooperation of all church and Bible-school workers. By calling the minister or church office he should be able to learn what the church is doing weekly. From the Bible-school superintendent he finds out what the school is doing. With the help of the Bible-school secretary he keeps abreast of pertinent statistics. From a reporter within each class he learns about individual class activities.
After gathering all available information about the activities of the church, the director must prepare and use the material to the best advantage. With the help of others he can sort this news and prepare it for release. Journalism students will usually be happy for an opportunity to do the writing. Most of the girls taking secretarial training are willing to type. Art students can help on posters and bulletin art work, and for a by-line most photographers in the church, amateur or professional, will take the needed photographs. This sounds like a newspaper pressroom, and it rightly should, for the publicity director is to the publicity program of the church or Bible school what the managing editor is to a newspaper.
The Third Need—A Program
The third need is a good publicity program. The director has the information, but he must become acquainted with the available channels through which he can make it known to the public. If the news about the church and its program has not captured the attention of the members of the community it serves, all of the earlier work is of no real value. Thus, the director of the publicity program must always be using every means at hand for spreading the information that he has. This means that he should be constantly seeking new ways of gaining public attention for the church.
The central idea behind publicizing the program of the local church is to cause non-Christians and inactive members to become interested enough in the activities and services of the church to attend. Once they are present and participating they can be taught, and they may come to know Jesus as their personal Savior. Thus, the better the publicity program, the better the attendance; the larger the attendance, the wider is the church’s evangelistic outreach.
Below is an organizational chart of a typical publicity program:
MINISTER PUBLICITY DIRECTOR HELPERS
CHURCH MEDIA MASS MEDIA OTHER SOURCES
Church Newspaper Newspaper Displays
Bulletin Radio Posters
Bulletin Board Television
Aim for Professional Quality
First impressions are lasting impressions: they bear heavily on the opinions we hold concerning specific persons and places. The church especially needs to be careful about the impression that it makes within the community. The church buildings and grounds, and the services, as well as the staff, create an impression on the members of the community. If the church expects to receive the greatest value from its publicity, and if it wants to grow, the impression it makes on the community must be a good one.
Those persons who pass by the church or enter it will quietly evaluate the grounds and the services. The church staff will be evaluated by everyone in the community who comes into contact with them or hears of them. There is a good deal of printed material available on the topics of a church’s choosing a minister, and the minister’s means of winning acceptance in the community. Every church and every minister should become familiar with this material.
An honest evaluation of the appearance presented by the building, the services, and the staff (salaried and non-salaried) cannot be made unless those involved are truly professionals. The members and leaders must be professional enough to look at the church’s current condition and accept reality. If the building needs to be repaired or replaced, it must be done. If an individual needs to step down and let another take his place, he should do it. The church is not involved in playing a game. There is no room for hurt feelings. “Power plays” for personal advancement do not fit in, for the church is engaged in the serious matter of saving souls for eternity by directing them to the Christ.
The church staff, from the minister to the janitor, must realize that they also are professionals. Those engaged in church work are in a unique calling. They are there to serve, not to be served; they are to minister, not to be ministered unto. The staff is to build by presenting a favorable image, not to tear down by presenting an unfavorable image.
Procrastination is one of the most nonprofessional traits seen in the typical congregation of today. Through procrastination the best-laid plans of the minister, teachers, the church secretary, or committee chairmen can fail to produce desired results. We are all familiar with the pattern of the procrastinator: first, he says with confidence, “I can do that tomorrow.” Later he states with determination, “I simply must do that today.” Finally, in dejection he admits, “I should have done that yesterday. It was such a good idea.”
Every time we must admit to ourselves that we “should have” done something about promoting an event for the church, we have missed a golden opportunity to publicize the church. “I should have asked someone to write up a news item about the Ladies’ Missionary Society.” “I should have encouraged the youth to make a poster for their last program.” “I should have announced that event in the church paper.” The expression “should have” is a sure sign of the lack of professionalism.
Cultivate a Friendly Tongue
Business, especially big business, can experience success without using the personal touch, but the church cannot. According to the results of a survey taken of the residents in suburban Houston, Texas, the personal touch is the most important reason for people’s attending the church they do. Fifty-six percent of those queried attended the church they did because they liked people in the church or because friends or .neighbors had invited them.1 The personal relationships with concerned, active Christians cause the visitors to experience a feeling of “belonging,” and as a result the local church grows.
It is the friendly tongue, the one that is constantly inviting friends and neighbors to worship, that proves to be the best form of advertising the church can have. In the survey previously referred to, thirty-four percent attended because friends or neighbors had invited them. You, Mr. Member or Mrs. Member, are the best medium of advertising your local congregation has.
The second best form of advertising available to the church is the friendly greeting extended to the visitor as he enters the house of worship. The most expensive, the most creative, and the most effective means of attracting visitors to the church are wasted efforts if the visitor is neglected when he arrives. Let us publicize the church in the byways and along the highways of our communities, but let us also publicize our friendliness to those entering the church doors.
Avoid the Slippery Tongue
A road sign, observed in Kentucky several years ago, carried the following message: “Danger! The Tongue—Slippery When Wet.” How true this is. And, since the tongue is always wet, we must always be on guard against its slipping.
A few ill-chosen words when ‘uttered in haste or anger can destroy all of the favorable publicity that a church or minister has carefully established. A bit of gossip, proven or unproven, is like a flame touched to the dry grass on a windswept prairie. Before anyone knows that it has started, it is out of control. Also, as with an uncontrollable fire, the damage may take years to undo.
Church members must control their tongues. Even better, members should endeavor to control their lives to such a degree that they leave nothing for the gossips to use. Everything a church member does or says reflects upon the church. We should be sure that we are thinking before we start acting or talking, especially where the church is concerned.
Get Ready to Publicize
Anyone driving in or near most of our large American cities is likely to be appalled by the large number of junkyards he observes. Looking out upon a roadside that is covered with mutilated auto bodies, piles of indistinguishable masses of rust, and patches of over- grown weeds, he may find it hard to believe that what he is viewing was originally a grassy meadow or a cool patch of woodland.
Laws have been passed by local and state governments in an effort to deal with the problem of the junkyards. It seems that the only action taken has been an attempt to hide these eyesores with fences, trees, or shrubs. The junk remains, but since we cannot see it as we pass by, we assume that all is well.
Unfortunately, many churches are like these junkyards. They have slipped into such a state of decay both spiritually and physically that they are unattractive to their own young adults as well as to the un-churched individuals in their communities. In many cases these decaying churches have brought about a lessening of interest in Christ.
This does not mean that there is something inherently wrong with the church. It is the Lord’s own institution. It was bought with His blood, and it is eventually to be presented to Him as His bride. The faults that exist within the church are human in origin. Christians are, after all, only human and they have often failed to adopt the principles of Christianity: love, mercy, purity, hope, and grace. In many cases, therefore, the church is not what it should be simply because Christians are not what they should be.
Since the church cannot build a large fence around itself and still survive, it must clean itself up, both physically and spiritually, and then it will be ready to do the Lord’s work. The church should keep a constant watch on its own level of spirituality. We can convince no one of his need for the peace that Christianity brings if we are fighting among ourselves. Let the evangelist preach, the elders oversee, the deacons minister, and the entire congregation work in harmony so that the observing world may believe what we preach.
Questions for Discussion
1. Discuss the relationship of publicity to evangelism in the local church.
2. Why should the church be concerned about its minister’s public image?
3. What steps should be taken to revive the spirit of zeal in a “dead” church?
4. Describe the duties of a church publicity director.
5. In what ways can procrastination hurt the church’s program of publicity?
6. How can Christians “make or break” their church’s public image by the use of their tongues?
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.”
This article “Publicize and Evangelize” by T. R. Edwards was excerpted from: Publicize Your Church. Standard Publishing. 1965. pp 7-13. It may be used for study & research purposes only.
1 Reported in The Kingsport, Tennessee Christian, August 31, 1966.