By Ken Satterfield
Summer is almost upon us. Even if you are not in school, you may be making plans for vacations, reunions or other special events in the next few months.
What about your church? Although attendance often dips, summer is also an exciting time for outreach and ministry. Vacation Bible School, mission trips, anniversaries and special community events may be on your congregation's calendar in the next few months.
Sometimes event publicity is an afterthought, rather than an initial part of the planning process. Reasons can range from 'If we plan it, they will come" to "If it involves God, He'll handle the details" to "Nobody wants to hear about what we're doing." In fact, publicity should be critical.
Hear are a few tips to encourage your church to maximize opportunities to get the word out:
What is the hook? Not everything may be newsworthy, but often a story becomes more interesting when you consider the Golden Rule of publicity: "Tell unto others, as you would want them to tell unto you." In other words, identify with their interests.
A bake sale or Vacation Bible School may not attract a lot of attention because many churches are having them. However, what if your VBS featured a project to help the local homeless ministry? Or if the sale allowed someone with a rare disease to receive treatment? Twists like these move a listener's interest from "Oh" to "Oh!" Newspapers and local newscasts like to be able to report an interesting and engaging story.
Develop your community options. Brainstorm a list of ways you could let people in your area know about what's coming up. TV, radio, local cable access announcements, flyers, libraries, community and media Web sites, your church sign and many other possibilities exist. Remember that word-of-mouth is often the most effective form of communication.
Develop relationships. Get to know contact people at newspapers, radio stations, television outlets, community organizations and other places you have listed. If you stay in touch and share newsworthy information, they will grow to welcome your calls and e-mail. Also, make sure to learn their routines and avoid hectic times in their production schedules.
Develop your materials. If you don't have time to write up a good press release or put together an attractive flyer, the recipient probably won't find time to look at it, either. Remember the basic who, what, when, where, why and how in your materials. You can find a more thorough guide to press releases at guide.gospelcom.net/resources/writing-pressreleases.php. Depending on the event, local stations may consider airing a Public Service Announcement (PSA) or including it in their community calendar. Don't confuse your advance publicity with necessary advertising and/or direct marketing, because your recipient won't, either!
Don't forget the home front. Sometimes it is easy to assume that that those around you are as involved as you are. They're not. Brainstorm again to find ways to communicate to the congregation. Ideas can range from the common -- church bulletins, bulletin boards and worship announcements -- to the creative, like flyers in high-traffic areas such as over water fountains and even on bathroom stalls. Utilize technology as well -- e-mail, Web sites and worship projection.
Consider your follow-up. Once the event is over, don't consider your publicity efforts to be complete. Gather your best pictures, tabulate any results, write a follow-up and go back to your news and community contacts (including this newspaper!). The goal of this second wave of publicity is not only general awareness, but also to provide closure and identify you to people looking for a church home.
Evaluate. Take the time to celebrate the victories, examine disappointments and learn from any miscues to make future efforts even better.
Still need resources? You can find articles posted at the Baptist Communicators Association site. Publications to help with all types of communications, including the brand new "Speaking Faith," are available from the Religious Communicators Council. And the North American Mission Board has the book "Total Church Communication" available for download as an Acrobat PDF file.
Publicity and, yes, even marketing should not be thought of as 'necessary evils.' They provide the means to tell your story to others, to publicize the work of God through His people to a secular world and a useful means of outreach to your community. Communication efforts allow you to tell good news so that you can ultimately share God's Good News.
Ken Satterfield's "Media & the Internet" columns appear regularly in Word&Way. Let him know if you have any subjects you would like to be addressed.