Public Relations management is influencing how an organization is perceived by the community it serves – but do churches really need a strategy to manage public relations? Should they care about how others view them? The answer is yes – because the church represents Christ and the church body has a responsibility for making that representation reflective of who Christ is by maintaining a positive public image.
We often hear of “PR nightmares” during times of crisis. There have been a fair number of church related crisis in recent years – the unfortunate shooting of a pastor as he preached, the sex scandal of the leader of a mega church or the Catholic Church child abuse scandals are times of crisis for the church and influences how the public perceives the organization. Anyone who followed any of these stories can only imagine the behind the scenes efforts that went into its damage control efforts.
Developing an effective Public Relations Strategy is not only good church management, but it is also instrumental to influencing the public image and perception of a church. A good strategy can help build rapport with congregants, employees and the general public. The goal would be for the ministry to have a good reputation within the community.
A well thought out public relations strategy can be used as part of a comprehensive plan and provide a roadmap for a public response during times of crisis.
Creating an Effective Public Relations Strategy
Discovery is a process an organization goes through to understand what their church is, who it serves and who in the community it interacts with. This process is done through very specific strategy and research. For example: a church supported homeless shelter may have a vision to “provide shelter to those who have temporarily lost the ability to provide for themselves”. This statement helps an organization understand who they are, what their mission is and who they serve.
The ministry will then try to identify who in the community they interact with. In the case of a homeless shelter, it may be residents or businesses within the neighborhood they serve. The church should have a goal to create a positive relationship with everyone they interact with. This is important because, in the case of a homeless shelter, a positive relationship can possibly increase funding, identify volunteer labor or foster collaboration for joint community projects.
2. Public Relations Strategy Plan
Developing the Public Relations strategy and plan is very similar to establishing church goals and should be done as part of a strategic planning process. PR goals and objectives should be focused on communicating what was learned in the discovery phase. It is important to have a well thought out communication plan for congregants, employees, the general public and those who interact with the organization. For example, how does the ministry make the public aware of the homeless shelter?
Another part of the plan is developing strategy for how the organization can be both proactive and reactive. The plan is proactive by educating the public on the services the church provides as well as maintaining a positive public perception. The plan is reactive in how the ministry plans to respond to unplanned or unforeseen events. Having a written strategy is the key to facilitating a positive response.
An important part of the plan is the identification of the person who speaks on behalf of the organization, the message that will be communicated as well as the tone of the message. It takes specialized training for someone to be able to field questions from the media so having a person with the right skill set and gifting is critical.
3. Public Relations Policy
PR policy should be written for how to manage communications or respond to any number of situations. This includes communicating with employees, the news media or an announcement as part of an advertising campaign. For example, identifying what and how information is communicated about a community outreach event is an important part of the policy creation.
4. Public Relations Strategy Plan Implementation
Implementing the plan according to policy requires church budgeting, scheduling and a process to roll out the plan. Budgeting and timing of implementation is critical to the end result. For example, dollars may be budgeted for printed material about a church sponsored event or community outreach.
It is important to evaluate the performance of how well the plan is working and having SMART Goals can provide measures to track success over time. Using the PDCA model of quality improvement can also help facilitate a consistent process.
A good PR strategy can help build relationships with congregants, donors, employees and the general public. Having a reputation for positive things such as giving back to the community, a great place to worship, or supportive of other social needs can do more to acquire new members than any other form of advertising. People like to connect with a church that is doing the work of the Kingdom!
So what is your PR strategy?
photo by: Konstantine Lazorkin