Well. I wrote a piece for eternity on some of the stuff I’ve posted about lately in response to Guy Mason’s piece on Sunrise, but the nature of news is that it needs to be new and it wasn’t new by the time the new Eternity came out. So rather than letting this good gear go to waste, I’m going to post it here. In three posts. Firstly, this post, is the article I sent (a slightly extended edition), and in the follow up posts I’ll share the interviews with Guy Mason from City On A Hill church in Melbourne, and Mike O’Connor from Rockhampton Pressy. Two sharp guys who are grappling with what it means to use the media as a platform for the gospel.
Here’s the article.
Being on message for Jesus in Public Relations
Religion and the church are on the nose, but Jesus is still pretty popular with the average Aussie. So said the research behind last year’s Jesus All About Life campaign. Gruen Transfer panelist Todd Sampson summed the findings up as “Jesus is cool,” but the church “is letting the brand down.”
One of the foundational principles of public relations is to stay on message, to keep answers relevant to the brand. For Christians this means talking about Jesus, and our response to moral issues should be based on our relationship with him.
Guy Mason, pastor of Melbourne’s City on a Hill church has a background in public relations, his recent appearance on Sunrise to discuss a series of sculptures depicting Jesus as a transvestite, a cross dresser, and an indigenous man, is an example of staying on message.
The segment was billed as a “religious controversy,” the artist essentially accused anybody offended by his work of bigotry, while Guy defused the situation and invited people to consider Jesus’ death in the place of sinners. He says his aim when given a media platform is to talk clearly about Jesus.
“I love the gospel and I want as many people as possible to hear the good news of Jesus. If opportunities open doors for the gospel than I’m happy to get involved,” Guy said.
“I am aware that on shows like Sunrise you only get soundbite opportunities to speak. Thus, with a very complicated and heavily loaded segment, I wanted to be clear, concise and point people to Jesus.”
Modern newsrooms are time poor and under-resourced, a 2010 study found that half the stories we consume originate with public relations, which means churches can be proactive about getting the gospel a hearing in the public sphere.
Guy Mason doesn’t pursue media coverage like he did as a public relations consultant, he picks and chooses opportunities, but he is aware of the benefits of establishing a rapport with the media.
“The first person I met when planting a church in Melbourne was the local news editor. I asked him to tell me about the area, his perception of church, and also how we ‘the church’ could serve him. I have learned, and continue to learn, a lot from this friendship.”
“Jesus said we’re a city on a hill, a light to the nations. We shouldn’t hide that light and disconnect from culture, but rather be in the world living radically counter-cultural gospel lives that both display and demonstrate the glory of Christ.”
Former Federal Treasurer Peter Costello told a recent gathering of Anglican Clergy in Melbourne to beware the false idol of positive media coverage. He urged Christian commentary on issues to stick to the gospel and expect not to be popular.
“If the Church is going to speak on the issues of the day, it should be a distinctive contribution,” he said.
“The historic message of the Church, the Gospel, is a timeless message. It’s for every age. It does not have its relevance defined by what preoccupies us for the moment.”
Public Relations can be a blessing for regional churches looking to engage with their community.
Rockhampton Presbyterian Church Minister Mike O’Connor has built a relationship with the local media in his three years in regional Queensland. He’s had media coverage across a range of issues, from pizza shops to the recent Queensland floods.
“I wonder if there is still a ghetto mentality amongst Christians when it comes to the media. I think a more helpful way of viewing the media is seeing it as a platform where we can reach people with the message of Jesus. We have the message, they have the medium.”
It was this approach that led to a feature article in the local paper after Mike scoffed at suggestions that Christians should boycott the Hell Pizza chain if it set up shop in his city.
“I made a comment on an online article saying that it was just a Pizza shop and if they opened in Rockhampton, I would take my church youth group there. The local paper contacted me the next day and asked me if I would do an interview or write an article as a follow up to the story and if they could send a photographer around to my office.”
“I told the photographer that he needed to put his trust in Jesus and this was the point of the article I wrote. That while Hell is a real place – this was just a pizza shop and that church needs to be talking about Jesus and not what people can and can’t do.”