What is church public relations?

The work of church public relations is not to lead us into subservience to public opinion, but rather to lift the level of public opinion itself—above the level of ignorance, speculation, and suspicion—so that the words of life may come forth clear and undistorted, that their power undimmed may be felt in the lives of men.

Secretary, Public Relations Bureau, General Conference

When we consider the ways in which the message might have a greater impact on the public we often we often think in terms of a more massive volume of literature, efforts, broadcasts, and publicity.

Yet we recognize that all the volume in the world will not penetrate even one mind whose approaches are barred by the barriers of suspicion, mis­understanding, and prejudice. Such bar­riers resist any religious appeal whose source is unknown or poorly known.

This is why the Spirit of Prophecy writ­ings abound in counsel to first "win the confidence of the people," and to "do all we can to remove the prejudice that exists in the minds of many."

Failing to do this through sound, con­secrated public relations action, we inevi­tably waste large sums of money, material, and energy in attacking "unneutralized for­tifications."

The work of public relations, which is the work of the church as a whole, is vital, then, in preparing the way to our grand objective—communicating and not simply talking, actually reaching the minds of men in a persuasive, convincing man­ner.

When we consider public relations in this context, we must recognize that it is more than publicity, more than an occa­sional talk with one of the powers that be, more than a rare, spectacular solitary ac­tion on the part of the church.

Public relations is not a "front" opera­tion; it is not a cloak that can be put on to make an occasional good appearance. It is a part and parcel of what we actually are and how we relate ourselves to the peo­ple around us.

When these relationships are cordial, when we are known and respected as a constructive element in our communities, we may then speak as to brethren, not as an alien force attacking accepted community patterns of living.

All public relations activities, then, de­rive from our basic attitudes toward the peo­ple. If we are motivated by Christian love for them, we shall do naturally and sin­cerely many of the things that other organi­zations would call good public relations.

For example, we will want to become personally acquainted with the people, to learn of their interests and attitudes before we rush in to impose ours upon them. More­over, we will want to become acquainted with persons of influence, not because this gratifies our ego but for their own sakes and because their acquaintance will help us to reach a larger sphere of Christian influence.

If we conscientiously regard the integrity of others we shall make every effort to give adequate information before we confront them with life-and-death decisions. We shall use the press, radio and television, exhibits, public speeches and films in other churches and clubs—all the media of pub­lic information from a sense of fairness and Christian regard. How can we insist that decisions be made on the merits.of our mes­sage when we have neglected in any way to let the people know who we are and the character of our work. We are told, "The character and importance of our work are judged by the efforts made to bring it be­fore the public."Evangelism, p. 128.

Our regard for others will be seen, too, in the appearance of our houses of worship. We will be thought of as good neighbors and friends if we contribute something to the appearance of our churches—and one less barrier will restrict the way of those whom we want to fellowship with us.

The same motivation will lead us to de­vise effective plans for welcoming visitors to our church or newcomers to our church neighborhood. Looking inward, it will compel us to plan for good internal communi­cations within the congregation, so that each member will have the knowledge and sense of participation necessary if he would commit himself fully to the program we expect him to support.

Thus, while a public relations staff mem­ber or department is essential to implement many parts of a public relations depart­ment, public relations itself is the work of the entire group, each officer and member radiating in all his community associations the "signals" of Christian love and con­structive interest.

The community impact of this united and purposeful action will be dramatically revealed in terms of community support and participation—be it an Ingathering campaign, a Vacation Bible School, a Sun­day law issue, or an evangelistic campaign.

Far from blunting our evangelistic thrust, prayerful public relations actions combined with a certain earnest conviction, time and again produce results superior to those of a hit-and-run approach—and equally impor­tant, a community is usually just as receptive after a campaign as before.

The work of church public relations, then, is not to lead us into subservience to public opinion, but rather to lift the level of public opinion itself—above the level of ignorance, speculation, and suspicion—so that the words of life may come forth clear and undistorted, that their power undimmed may be felt in the lives of men.

 

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Secretary, Public Relations Bureau, General Conference

August 1960

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