TIME is no longer on our side. When Walter L. Burgan came to head the General Conference "Press Bureau" fifty-five years ago and J. R. Ferren came to Washington twenty-five years ago, knowledge in the world had only doubled for the second time since about 250 B.C. Now in the late sixties all knowledge has doubled for the fifth time.
It is trite to say that new and dramatic changes affecting every phase of life are taking place in the world today. This is no less true of religion than it is of such things as technology and society. As Ellen G. White has so succinctly stated, "The final movements will be rapid ones."—Testimonies, vol. 9, p. 11.
Organized public relations in the Seventh-day Adventist Church demands our unremitting effort and attention. Public relations is an inseparable part of church life. It is our constant endeavor to relate and interpret the church's distinctive teachings to our neighbors, the community, and the world. It is our abiding concern to communicate the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world in such a way that men will find it reasonable and compelling and persuading.
But in order to win friends for Christ and His church, we need to reach people, and in order to reach them we must be sensitive to their reactions to the church and its teachings. We must know how to reach and understand people and in turn be understood and accepted by them. In this relationship with people we experience the electrifying thrill of good church public relations.
New Fact Book
The bureau's new Seventh-day Adventist Fact Book is a step in this direction. In its new format, with its more modest price, the Fact Book should be within the reach of not only every pastor but every church press relations secretary, and through him every newspaper editor, every station news editor, and every well-known news commentator and columnist.
The bureau has sent the Fact Book with its "Quick Look" insert and a covering letter to top news services and news magazines. We have selected names of national syndicated columnists and provided them with copies. We have placed a copy, with covering letter explaining its use, in the hands of every member of the General Conference Committee in Washington. We believe the book will help them better to meet news media, to have something with which to bolster their statements concerning the church when they are interviewed.
Workshops a Success
The educational program of the bureau has been one of its strong features. Workshops for pastors and press relations secretaries of local churches have been a part of the PR scene for at least twenty years. Over the years these have taken different forms, varying in length from two or three hours to a day or a weekend or longer. They have played and are continuing to play an important part in producing better-trained PR secretaries in our churches.
The two-week public relations seminar designed primarily for ministers and public relations workers, but open to others, has been offered as an academic course with graduate credit available. The seminar has been closely linked with the Theological Seminary for the past ten years. Similar to the seminar is the regular public relations summer course offered on the campus of Andrews University under the direction of the Bureau of Public Relations.
To the enlightened administrator, PR is the bridge between his organization and the public. It is in a sense the administrative function which evaluates public attitudes, wherever possible identifies its policies and procedures with the public interest, and executes a program of action to earn public understanding and support. It is unlikely that PR can be effective if it never reaches the top levels of administration. It is unlikely that it can be effective if it is called upon only after decisions have been made and policies formulated. If public relations is to operate effectively, organizational leadership must be prepared to reveal plans, talk about problems, expound its policies, and familiarize the PR director with its objectives.
Nine Danger Signals
Finally, here is a list of nine signals, the presence of any of which may, if unchecked, herald a loss of power and effectiveness in our public relations efforts for the church:
When we forget we are dealing with sacred things and act as if we are working for men.
When we measure success by the impression our efforts make upon our leaders or peers instead of progress in leading lost souls to the kingdom of Christ.
When we begin to feel that "they" (whoever "they" may be) are unreasonable or aloof and are responsible for poor morale or an inadequate program.
When we begin to know all the answers and if our point of view is rejected, to feel our contributions are overlooked or belittled.
When we become allergic to change and endow the familiar but outmoded habits of the past with a certain veneration or sanctity simply by reason of age or familiarity.
When we see and try to use the tools and techniques of communication as if they were an end in themselves rather than a means to an.end.
When we fail to recognize that every individual, no matter how high or how low he may seem to be in our estimation, is an individual in his own right and is entitled to respect for his dignity.
When our minds go island-hopping or we are busy framing a reply when a fellow human being is attempting to communicate his problem to us.
When the page of a book or a report becomes more fascinating than the faces of the people with and for whom we work.