of Good Public Relations for Churches
By Doug Joseph
Let’s take a brief look at five little concepts that could help your church with regard to good public relations (PR), i.e. putting your church to the forefront in your community:
While this author is not a professional at public relations, God has blessed us to read a few good books here and there, and to be exposed to the wit, wisdom, and wonder of some awesome professionals who were highly trained and wonderfully adept at good public relations. Some of the simplest, most necessary concepts rubbed off (or, we should say, wore in). These five little concepts are easy to grasp and to implement. They’re so basic, and so rooted in common sense, that we almost entitled this article “Five DUH-mensions of Good Public Relations for Churches,” because some of these concepts just make you want to say, “Duh!” We hope these concepts help your church as much as they have helped ours.
For many, many years a plaque was displayed in the church in Charleston, WV, where Brother Billy Cole is senior pastor. The plaque said simply, “Consistency.” It reminded us of the old saying, “O Consistency, thou art a jewel.” Of course, as apostolic people, we are all quick to point out that a double minded man is unstable in all his ways. We all realize that when one starts living for God, he needs to be consistent. Why don’t we more often practice this same biblical principle in matters of advertising and PR?
The worst thing a church can do is repeatedly tear down its PR foundation and start from scratch over and over. Let’s think about some actions that are detrimental to a local church’s PR foundation, and consider which behaviors cannot be helped, and which can (and should) be avoided in most instances.
- Change of Pastor
- Change of Church Location
- Change of Church Name
- Change of Church Doctrine
- Change of Church Logo
The list could go on, but you begin to get the idea. All of the above are detrimental to a local church’s PR foundation.
A church should change pastor only when necessary. “Duh!” Sometimes a death or change of calling makes this change inevitable. A new pastor usually lacks the many connections, associations, friendships, and experiences that the former pastor benefited from. This often equates to reducing the local church’s PR foundation to rubble and starting over. Anything a new pastor can do to minimize the potential damage to the church’s PR foundation would be a very wise move. Don’t tear down any “fences” until you learn why they were built, and ask around before building new ones. Don’t think that you must change the church’s name, or logo, or letterhead, or signage, or advertising schema … just to “establish” your personal “identity” as the new pastor. If you’re that insecure, you probably should not be pastoring. Furthermore, such acts usually destroy years of work and thousands of dollars worth of PR investment. If changes are needed, fine. But don’t just change for the sake of changing.
A church should change location only when necessary or clearly beneficial. Sometimes, due to growth (a good problem) or leasing troubles (a bad problem), etc, a change of venue is inevitable. But remember: Unless you’re very careful, not everyone who knew where you were, will automatically know where you will be. While the ideal move is to get a good “location, location, location” (where lots of traffic will see your church and realize its presence), sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way. Regardless, it’s never a good idea to relocate without letting all those former guests, former members, and distant acquaintances know just where you’re moving to. Surely you are using visitor cards and/or altar cards, and keeping up a database of all those names and addresses, right? It’s a bit difficult to let people know anything without such a database.
A church should change name only when necessary or clearly beneficial. Sometimes, a new pastor is handed an old name like, “John Michael Higgenbothom Memorial United Pentecostal Church.” Hmmmm. A change of name would be beneficial. “Duh!” If your church moves from one area/neighborhood to another, and your name was tied to the old area (i.e. the name of the neighborhood was part of the church’s name), then a name change might be in order. Please consider not making the same mistake again. A really good church name should be short, easy to spell, easy to remember, and should offer a connotation of power, or family, or salvation, or doctrine, etc, such that the name alone makes people want to belong. Once you get a good name, stick with it. Bite the bullet. Be consistent, for the long haul. Because every time a church changes its name, it reduces its PR foundation to rubble, and you start all over again.
A church should change its doctrine only when it finds itself to be in error. Thus, the only doctrinal moves are toward truth, and never away from truth. Churches that “let down” on their standard or change their fundamental doctrine away from truth quickly discover that they were mistaken in thinking that it would bring in a big crowd. The opposite usually happens in short order. God blesses churches and groups who are moving toward truth. A curse is upon churches and groups who are moving away from truth. It’s not so much about “where you are” as “which way you are headed.” That other church with less truth might have a bigger crowd with (supposedly) more “anointing”, and one might think “we could get the big crowd too, by switching to the other church’s doctrine.” Big mistake! And this is not to mention that changing your fundamental doctrine reduces your PR foundation to rubble and forces you to start all over. Folks who thought they knew who you were will realize that they don’t know you at all. You’ll look like a chameleon, and the distrust this engenders is not good for PR.
A church should change logo only when necessary or clearly beneficial. The word logo is derived from logos. It is interesting to consider that Jesus Christ is the Logos made flesh (the Word of God made flesh), John 1:1, 14. The Logos of God is the thought, or intent, or expression, or plan, or Word of God. Before there was a Jesus in flesh, there was the Logos for Christ: the plan for Christ. Nothing of consequence can be built without a plan. God planned for His church, and He is building His church according to His plan. Perfect plans never require changing. Imperfect plans do. The more imperfect, the more often change is needed. If you have done a poor job in planning your church’s logo and PR schema, then you will often regret the lack of work, lack of monetary investment in professional help, and lack of planning. Thus, you will find yourself dumping your old logo and “PR look” to change to some new logo. Every time you change your church logo (and letterhead, and envelopes, etc) you are sorely damaging your PR foundation and starting all over.
A good logo should have clean lines, contain simple imagery, convey competence, convey progressiveness, convey stability, and convey trustworthiness. This next statement is going to be blunt, but it’s true: If you are not a professional designer, it’s highly likely that you are neither qualified nor capable of designing your logo. Get some help. If you cannot afford help, go without a logo and save up your money until you can afford help. A professional agency might charge anywhere from $1,000 to $10,000 to set you up. You get what you pay for. Once you make up your mind to hire some help, don’t swallow the cat and choke on its tail. Make your investment but once: soundly, solidly, and with serious intentions of sticking with it for the long haul. If you hire a designer, don’t let him convince you to accept something on which you are not absolutely sure. You must really be keen on the final logo choice, because the ideal path is be “married” to that logo for the long haul. Can any of you remember how many years it’s been since AT&T settled on the globe with stripes? Can any of you remember how many years it’s been since McDonald’s settled on the golden arches? Can any of you remember how many years it’s been since The Pentecostals of Alexandria settled on their distinctive symmetrical dove? You know why? It’s because they’re smart. Get a good thing, and stick with it for the long haul. Changing your church logo often is just poor, poor, PR work. “Duh!”
Carefully pick your “colors” and stay with them. When we say “colors”, we mean literal colors as well as your overall “look” (which includes font choices, aspect ratios, design implementations, etc). There should be some trademark elements that appear on everything your church sends out. These trademark elements should always appear “in character” ... meaning: You should always use the same carefully chosen font(s) for your church name and address; Your logo and text should always be set in the same carefully chosen colors (whenever you spring for color documents); The location of the “footer” and/or “header” with the trademark elements should be consistent no matter what the given document is intended for. You should have several different configurations with carefully selected aspect ratios (such as wide, a.k.a. landscape mode, and tall, a.k.a. portrait mode, etc), with regard to relationship of the church name, address, and logo, to each other. When someone looks at your letterhead, they should note the same identifying trademark elements as on your business cards, envelopes, church signage, invitations, revival flyers, tracts, CDs, tapes, web pages, billboards, etc. Make sure that all the different configurations have all the crucial bits of info, such as address, email, and website.
Choice of color matters more than you think. Colors affect humans in powerful ways. Certain colors evoke certain moods or emotions. Blue evokes peace and calm. Restaurants never want customers totally peaceful and calm, because folks wouldn’t eat as much. That’s one reason why restaurants seldom use blue plates and decorum. Fast food places use yellow and red signage because yellow is the easiest color for the human eye to see, and red is a color that evokes aggression and action. Based on this, one might think that blue is a good main color for a church sanctuary’s carpet or decorum. Not necessarily. Good for signage, yes. Good for main color in decorum, not a given. We advocate blue on signage, flyers, tracts, and handouts because it evokes peace, which we have and the world wants. But hundreds (or thousands!) of square feet of blue carpet might make your church members so docile that you could not get worship for God out of the crowd with real dynamite. Red carpet might be overreacting in the other direction. Instead of just getting demonstrative worship, you might also aggravate children to the point of fist fights. You may think this author is jesting, but he isn’t. We once witnessed a phenomenon regarding carpet color that was amazing. We taught a Sunday school class in a room with carpet containing lots of red. In spite of good discipline, the aggression in the kids was alarming. Then, we saw firsthand the marked change in their behavior when the old brownish-red carpet was replaced with new carpet with blue overtones. A huge difference in behavior was caused by a simple change in the carpet’s color. It was so stark and dramatic a difference that it astounded us. So, what makes a good color for trim, tracts, and letterhead need not be implemented on walls and floors of a sanctuary (although perhaps perfect for Sunday school rooms!). We recommend getting some good books on color, or consulting with a good designer.
You can’t say everything in one tract. If you say too much, none of your many messages will be read at all. For each advertisement or PR effort, pick one important message that you want to convey, and stick with it. Say it until it gets through. Don’t try to convey everything about your church in every single document you publish. Such would be overkill, and wasted paper. Besides, what are your Bible study nights and services for, anyway?
Everything we do for the church should represent Jesus Christ with excellence in every way. Every PR effort should be rooted in excellence from start to completion. Don’t send out anything for your church (not even an email!) without carefully spell-checking it and having someone besides the author to proof read it carefully. For goodness sake, never entrust all your PR efforts to that animated, upbeat, enthusiastic brother who never finished high school and who has lots of get-up-and-go, but also has very poor grammar and poor spelling habits. In this generation, you cannot afford to have your church branded as a “bunch of ignorant hicks.” If it’s not right, don’t let it by. Do everything with class.
Don’t be guilty of never doing anything with, for, or about your community. Could there be any worse mistake for the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ? Community is who we’re trying to save, affect, reach, impact, and love. It’s sad to say, but some of our churches get so wrapped up inwardly that they don’t do anything during a given calendar year that is for, and about, the community.
For starters, involve your community in your church’s own accomplishments. Did your church get a new pastor? Then make your community part of the celebration. Send a press release to the newspapers and media outlets, letting them know about the change, and offering the community a chance to feel good that their town and people attracted such a qualified pastor. Having a revival? The goal is to reach the community, right? Then it’s time for another press release. We cannot say enough about press releases. If you miss everything else this author has said, remember this: Your local news media outlets and your local newspapers are scouring the bushes looking for local news. Press releases are readily received by all of them, and press releases will result in FREE airtime and FREE ink for your church. This is going to sound amazing if you never knew it, but it’s true: If you write well, then every press release is an opportunity for you to write your own PR statements and have your articles published, community wide, for FREE. We have been pastoring in Clarksburg, WV for just over one year now. We’ve already been featured on news stations and newspapers repeatedly. Most of the time, we got to write our own send-up, simply because we wrote well and submitted press releases. At other times our efforts for the community—conveyed by means of a press release—caused the media to come out and interview us. The media people have chased us down to write articles on what we were doing, and have chased us down to film us for the evening TV news. Not once, but repeatedly—and all within our first year here. When you think “PR” don’t just think “Public Relations” ... also think “Press Releases.”
Finally, and correlating with the above, it’s crucial to do important things for and with your community. Don’t just sit there feeling powerless and thinking, “Why doesn’t ‘somebody’ do something about this?” Who is ‘somebody’? You are ‘somebody’! Get up, get to work, plan, organize, take leadership, and involve your community. For example, we did just such a project before and during the war to liberate Iraq and bring down Saddam Hussein. Our community wanted, needed, and loved the opportunity we provided for them to stand up for our troops and publicly profess whatever Christian faith they held, demonstrated in public prayer for these heroes. Two community prayer meetings were held, open to all faiths. One was held at the county courthouse plaza, and another inside a large mall. The turnout was tremendous. The troops were blessed with prayer. News media outlets helped us at no charge. This is but one example of what we mean when we say “community.” We needn’t agree with everyone on doctrinal issues in order to simply provide the community an opportunity to stand up for Christ in the streets of town. Everyone has a right to pray for our U.S. troops who are laying their lives on the line for us; Even lost folks; Sinners. We gave them such an opportunity, and they took it. Now a lot of them know we’re here, whereas, before, they did not. That’s good PR by anyone’s definition!
Doug and LaDonna Joseph recently celebrated 28 wonderful years of marriage, and they have four awesome kids. Doug is an ordained minister in the United Pentecostal Church Int’l (since 2003), and pastor of Christian Apostolic Church (since 2002). He serves on the board of directors of the WV Home Missions Department, as secretary-treasurer. In 2004, the Josephs led CAC to establish Apostolic Christian Academy (K-12 Christian school). Previously, Doug was creative director for the General Home Missions Division, at the United Pentecostal Church International headquarters in St. Louis, MO, where the Josephs were blessed by the friendship and mentorship of Rev. and Mrs. Jack & Elsy Cunningham. Doug helped launch the UPCI’s national Men’s Ministry, and was editor for the Apostolic Man magazine. He oversaw the creation of Ready To Be Free, a sweeping evangelism thrust. Before that, the Josephs served on pastoral staff of North Charleston Apostolic Church (WV), blessed by the leadership of Pastor Billy & Shirley Cole. LaDonna Joseph is a great wife and mom. She is CAC’s general secretary, school principal, and minister of music. She has served on the board of directors of WV UPCI’s Ladies Ministry. She has also served as the pianist for WV’s All-State Choir. The Josephs helped the Coles to publish their memoirs (available at www.amazon.com and www.BillyColeBook.com). Doug is also author of New IMmortal, a futuristic Christian novel (available at www.amazon.com and www.newimmortal.com). LaDonna is a native of West Virginia. Doug hails from Shreveport, LA, and is an adopted, honorary West Virginian.
Pastor Joseph's blog is at dougjoseph.net.