CAN USE THE MEDIA, TOO
MARTIN CHEMNITZ PRESS
A MIGHTY FORTRESS LUTHERAN CHURCH
BETHANY LUTHERAN CHURCH
Pastor Gregory L. Jackson, Ph.D.
6421 W. Poinsettia Drive
Copyright, 1998, Gregory L. Jackson
Permission granted for copying within the congregation.
Many congregations complain that they cannot get free publicity for their activities. They open the paper, listen to the radio, watch local cable, and wonder, “Why can they do it and we cannot?”
In larger areas, getting noticed can be very expensive, if congregations pay for any kind of ad. Therefore, congregations think first in terms of free or low-cost publicity. Orthodox Lutherans do not need to let everyone else enjoy freedom of the press.
Lutherans should not think that publicity will substitute for evangelism. Therefore, this essay will mention some of the limitations of each form of communication. Everything listed has been attempted, with some success and many failures.
When I have spoken to groups of Lutherans about publicity, the complaints erupt immediately.
1. We cannot get any articles in the paper!
2. They ignore us because we are conservative!
3. We tried once and it was not put in the paper!
I have one question:
“Have you ever taken the religion editor to lunch?”
The entire group always looks at me the way cows look at a newly painted fence. No, they do not know the name of the editor.
Have the pastor and two laymen invite the religion editor for lunch. If the laymen know the editor or someone at the paper, that may help. The editor will not accept a free lunch and that should not be offered. No gifts or favors should be mentioned. Just find out the name of the person in charge of the religion page, pick up the phone, and say, “The minister and a couple of parish leaders would like to have lunch with you soon, just to learn about how you do your work. Is Monday or Tuesday better for you?” (Appointments are easier when the person is asked which day to meet rather than whether he wants to meet at all.)
Plan the lunch, to make the most of the time. It is not a time to complain about the paper. In fact, most writers are quite considerate and they seldom hear anything constructive. The church members and pastor should work on statements and questions for the editor. Needless to say, the religion editor is not a prestige position. Some statements and questions are –
a. What is your deadline for articles? What time do you prefer?
b. Is it worthwhile for you to receive our parish newsletter?
c. What should we avoid in our publicity?
d. What photos can you use?
e. We know that you cannot print everything that comes in. We do not expect that. But what do you find interesting?
f. Thank you for covering all the area churches. We like reading about other congregations.
g. Thank you for including the installation (anniversary) on the church page. Our members really appreciated it.
When I was on the board of a Christian school, we took the religion editor to lunch. We immediately got a photo feature in the newspaper. Later, when some toy missiles were being launched at the school, I phoned the editor and said, “They are firing missiles at Midland Christian!” She laughed and said; “I will get the photographer out there right away.”
Publicity is based upon relationships. The person who knows the media people by name will also be known. Then, if a conflict erupts, the person known to the media will have a chance to offer his version of events.
· Miracle letter – Send a thank you letter, personally signed, to each media outlet, once a year. It is a miracle letter because the only time they hear from churches is when someone has a complaint. They will talk about the miracle letter for months.
· In a small town, when possible, take the news release to the religion editor, at the editor’s desk, and say hello each time.
· Media list – Have every single media outlet on the parish newsletter list, including the name of the person to contact.
· Lunches – Have lunch with a media person from time to time.
· Photographer – If the city is served by one newspaper with one photographer, it helps to know him, talk about his work, and thank him for what he does. A captioned photo is great publicity. He will be the one who makes it happen.
· Find out how local cable access works. Meet with the person in charge, obtain the guidelines, and start producing a show.
A parish newsletter can be important for the small or large congregation. There is no better way to get the Word of God out to members, friends, prospects, and sworn enemies.
The ideal newsletter contains:
A. The pastor’s doctrinal letter as an introduction. There should be no scolding or pleading for money. Many non-members will look forward to a Gospel message.
B. A children’s page. This should be something Biblical to reach children and teens. Use larger illustrations for eye appeal. I like to write about science and Creation. Adults have been known to read the articles.
C. A section about members and friends of the congregation. Everyone wants to keep up with news. It is a lot of fun to list events big and small, news about pets or new equipment or prizes won. This is also the place to ask for prayers for those who are sick or facing surgery.
Some other sections can include a calendar and national church news.
Quotations can be used on the outside of the newsletter, in large print. A newsletter should be four pages (two-sided) at the most. Longer is a waste of time and money. It can be folded in half and stapled, but staples are not popular with the post office. The newsletter will not likely reach home if it is passed out in church on Sunday. It will be left on the hat-rack, under the chairs or pew, or stepped on in the car.
The newsletter’s eye appeal will increase will good illustrations. It is still a challenge to find ones that will be appropriate and copy well. Click Art has a double CD set with 10,000 illustrations, many of them bad or weird. Nevertheless, it is a good start.
The content is absolutely the most important part of the newsletter. The newsletter should glorify God and proclaim only the pure Word. Jokes and puzzles are out of place, but humor is bound to crop up from time to time.
Churches have used radio for a long time. Some older churches have sweetheart deals to broadcast for almost nothing. If a congregation gets into radio as a new project, a doctrinal show would probably have more impact than simply having the service on the air.
When Bethany in New Ulm asked to have the dedication service on local access, Paragon Cable offered a weekly time slot. The only requirement was having the video tape (not mini-cam) arrive on time. So we got a video camera, turned it on, sat down, and began to tape doctrinal shows. The advantage of videotaping is the circulation of tapes afterwards. Others can use them for classes or discussion groups.
Does the local cable channel reach people? Many people watch cable access TV just for laughs. One comedy show features the worst of local cable shows. It is tough to produce something equal in quality to what we find on networks, but the content can be great in a simple setting. When Bethany’s TV show began, people in New Ulm began saying, “There’s the TV star” when I walked into a store. It was not a big deal, but it reached a new group of people. Some asked for copies of particular tapes.
When we did a tape on our Creation Vacation Bible School, I talked about Creation at my little desk, but we also taped all the children who attended. The tape will be very special when the children are no longer so small. The kids pointed out that they would be saying, in ten years, “Pastor Jackson, you still had hair then!” Kids can be cruel.
It is also possible to have the church on the local TV station’s homemaker or interview show. How is this accomplished? Pick up the phone, dial the number of the station, ask who does the scheduling, and make a suggestion.
The key to the question is finding something interesting about a fairly routine event. The pastor may have a peculiar hobby, such as earthworms or de-fusing bombs. The church may have a unique program. When I was in charge of a Vacation Bible School program in Kitchener, Ontario, I told the TV station that we were dealing with science and faith. I was interviewed for a few minutes on the local show, followed by palm readers who made a point of rejecting “organized religion.” Pagans believe, but their hides bristle.
Writing books will generate radio interviews. A publisher will often work on getting that to happen. But pastors do not publish books as often as they would like, so the key to a radio or TV interview is seeing the interesting side of normal church-life.
Local interest is essential for all local stories. The Ten Commandments would be covered this way: “On Monday, Moses received the Ten Commandments from God Himself. The two most important to Phoenix residents are…”
An earthquake in Chile would be reported this way: “Two New Ulm natives and 5,000 others died in an earthquake yesterday in Chile.”
If the congregation has a complete media list, it is easy to put the same event in many outlets at the same time. Some of them would normally include:
1. The local newspaper.
2. The shopper’s guide or guides.
3. All local radio stations, including the larger ones serving the area from another city.
4. The Christian radio station.
5. The message sign at a local bank.
6. Cable TV messages on the cable access channel.
7. Local TV news coverage (most likely the interview or homemaker show).
8. Free notices in stores or community places (when allowed).
9. Posters in stores and public places.
I used a lot of mailings in the insurance business, and I have also used mailings in congregational work and in publishing. Two basic concepts must be remembered:
A. The response to a mailing is often about 1-2%. Many people think they can do better, but experience changes their minds. One businessman did not like the canned letters offered him by his company, so he did his own letter and got no response. None.
B. A larger address list increases in value when it is focused on a particular group. I try to add to my list of Lutherans-who-care-about-doctrine all the time. I ask for address lists, ask for addresses from people who phone, copy addresses from periodicals.
C. Mailings must be repeated to have much of an impact. I have met with people who asked to be on the Martin Chemnitz list. I knew they already were.
Why do I believe in mailings? First of all, I have seen the power of the Word of God, especially when expressed in written materials. They inspire love of the Gospel and hatred for the Scriptures. They illumine and they harden. The Word is never without effect, because the Holy Spirit is always at work in the Word.
Secondly, I think someone is out there who feels isolated from Lutherans simply because he loves traditional Lutheranism and not the barfed up parody of Lutheran doctrine we find in the “conservative” synods of today.
Thirdly, if various Lutheran write to larger groups of believers, it will result in more people knowing each other and helping each other in various ways. This has happened already in various ways. Like-minded believers will find each other, and doctrinal issues will divide.
I love email. I like to write letters, but I hate to buy stamps, address envelopes, fold letters, put letters in envelopes, and learn they take forever to arrive. One synodical president said that he would like to find the person who invented email and shoot him. He later denied making that statement.
Email is not a medium for arguing with people. I wish that Lutherans who like to bicker would sit down on a manual typewriter, pound out their frustrations for a day or two, and then tear up the results of their work.
Email programs make it very easy to send mail to a large group of people all over the world for almost nothing. As someone who used to mail bundles of manuscripts to various people each week, I can testify that email can get the information out faster to more people than ever before.
Email is great for sending out doctrinal information. The following uses of email for a congregation are worth considering:
1. The weekly sermon.
3. Lessons for children.
4. The parish newsletter.
5. News items of interest to the mailing list. Since many mailing lists overlap, A Mighty Fortress often sends information from ELCA, the LCMS, WELS, and the ELS.
WORLD WIDE WEB CAUTION
Web-sites are extremely popular with churches, but most congregations are not using them as they should. I list many Lutheran sites in my folder of favorites, but some of them never change! Those of us who use the favorites list to call up the same sites are expecting information not a colorful tombstone.
I asked one pastor if he might want to put a map to his church on his web-site, since it was so hard to find. He did not think of that.
I believe the best Lutheran site would have plenty of articles and sermons posted on the site, with new titles listed all the time. Another benefit would be having links to other sites (good, bad, and ugly) about the faith. The LCMS web-site links people to insurance companies, among other entities!
I am no longer a fan of paid advertising. I have used it in the past, and ads can bring in visitors for the first time. It would be last on my list now.
A new congregation in a small town may want to consider a Yellow Pages ad. They are always half-price the first year. It is said that people moving into town will look for a church in the Yellow Pages. If this reaches people and it is reasonable in price, a Yellow Pages ad is good for the congregation. Many will find themselves priced out of the market.
Newspaper ads need size and repetition. That means a lot of money. Some smaller, suburban papers are relatively inexpensive, so the concept can be tested for less money. I suggest using doctrinal ads aimed at the apostasy of the liberals. They can be rotated and say, WE STILL BELIEVE…
IN THE VIRGIN BIRTH OF CHRIST
IN THE INERRANCY OF THE BIBLE
IN THE SANCTITY OF LIFE
IN THE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT.
A different phrase can be used for each week, for a number of weeks in a row. I know that these doctrinal ads have generated discussion in liberal churches. One person brought our ad to his liberal church and said, “This ad is aimed against US!” The Word is always effective.
It is foolish to say that the church is friendly, air-conditioned, or features a nursery for kids with short attention spans. The ad should be doctrinal or omitted entirely.
BROCHURES, AGONY OF
Somebody donates $200 for brochures. So what does the congregation do? They put together something so trite and worthless that they have virtually wasted their money.
Bad brochures always give the pastor’s resume, and I assume that is his idea. They list all the activities of the congregation, sometimes when those groups meet. They usually tell everyone they are a friendly parish, even if visitors could skate down the aisles and knock ice-sickles off the noses of the ushers. Often not a word is mentioned about the Christian faith.
A good brochure emphasizes the doctrinal identity of the congregation. It is not the time to hide from liberals but to defy them. Everything should point the reader of the brochure to orthodox Lutheranism, the Means of Grace, the Book of Concord, The Lutheran Hymnal, the inerrancy of the Bible. A simple message about sin and forgiveness in Christ may be the only Gospel message noticed by someone for years. Do you want him to read about the atoning death of Christ or the sewing circle that meets on Tuesday at Gertrude’s home.
"And this call of God, which is made through the preaching of the Word, we should not regard as jugglery, but know that thereby God reveals His will, that in those whom He thus calls He will work through the Word, that they may be enlightened, converted, and saved. For the Word, whereby we are called, is a ministration of the Spirit, that gives the Spirit, or whereby the Spirit is given, 2 Corinthians 3:8, and a power of God unto salvation, Romans 1:16. And since the Holy Ghost wishes to be efficacious through the Word, and to strengthen and give power and ability, it is God's will that we should receive the Word, believe and obey it."
Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration, Article XI., Election, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 1073. Tappert, p. 621. 2 Corinthians 3:8; Romans 1:16.
"That we may obtain this faith, the Ministry of Teaching the Gospel and administering the Sacraments was instituted. For through the Word and Sacraments, as through instruments, the Holy Ghost is given, who works faith, where and when it pleases God, in them that hear the Gospel, to wit, that God, not for our own merits, but for Christ's sake, justifies those who believe that they are received into grace for Christ's sake. They condemn the Anabaptists and others who think that the Holy Ghost comes to men without the external Word, through their own preparation and works."
Augsburg Confession, Article V, The Office of the Ministry, Concordia Triglotta, St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1921, p. 45. Tappert, p. 31.