Why Nobody Came

THE AUDITORIUM was spotless and clean. Three hundred metal folding chairs were arranged in rows of twelve across the room. The speaker's stand was occupying its position of prominence and dignity at the center of the stage. The clock on the wall pointed to ten minutes of eight. . .

-director of public relations at Hinsdale Sanitarium and Hospital in Hinsdale, Illinois at the time this article was written

THE AUDITORIUM was spotless and clean. Three hundred metal folding chairs were arranged in rows of twelve across the room. The speaker's stand was occupying its position of prominence and dignity at the center of the stage. The clock on the wall pointed to ten minutes of eight.

But the crowd, the public, the people the church wanted so badly to reach where were they? The parking lot was practically empty. At eight o'clock the situation had not improved. The technician started up the film. The lights went out and the program began. Fifty Adventists spent the evening listening to a program that was intended for the general public that wasn't there.

What went wrong? Why did this exercise in futility happen?

Why This Lack of Response?

Possibly the church board picked the wrong night. Holidays or days when big community events are planned are always poor choices. Or perhaps the weather was so bad nobody wanted to brave the elements to come.

Another very real possibility is that the program itself was poorly conceived in terms of its public appeal. Adventists may be concerned about the mark of the beast or the testing truth of the seventh day, but chances are that the average nonmember is turned off by any mention of these unique doctrines.

This lack of response shouldn't happen in health programs. People want to know how to live healthfully. They recognize their need to find out how to bake bread, prepare low-cholesterol foods, stop smoking, or lose weight. Nowadays, even vegetarianism and sugar-free diets are be coming popular. If we appeal to "felt needs" we should be able to attract the non-Adventist public.

Yet sometimes even these do fail. Why? The factor that is responsible more than any other, I believe, for poor turnout at Adventist- sponsored community programs is the almost total lack of a communications plan to reach the potential audience.

Sometimes this may be because we are afraid to let people know who we are, owing to poor community image. If so, you need to get your church involved in the community. Every church should have an ongoing program of community relations, and the health work ought to be in the forefront of that program.

Communications Plan

But if community relations are what they should be, how do we best communicate to the public that we are offering a program designed to meet that "felt need"? Here are some suggestions:

1. Think thousands, not dozens. Our Lord was able to speak effectively to thousands at one time. Our message is not to be limited to only a few people who will fit comfortably into a small corner of our church. Spread the word, plant the seed, let as many people know about your program as you possibly can.

2. Use the press. It's the cheapest way to reach the public be cause it's absolutely free. Don't buy space and advertise your pro gram that way. If it's not compelling enough on its own merits to interest the editor of the local papers, it's certainly not going to have much appeal for the general public.

3. Put your communications secretary to work. Involve this per son as early as you can in the planning for your next health pro gram. Don't ask the communications secretary to "do publicity" for you. Get that person involved on the planning team, helping set dates and locations. Motivate him or her to believe that your pro gram is important, and he or she will find time to get a fact sheet down to the press in time.

4. Prepare a brochure, if at all possible. Make it as attractive as you possibly can, using a commercial artist for the cover design if you have any budget at all. If you must design it yourself, keep it simple and uncluttered, and print twice as many as you think you'll use. This little tool will open doors, seal commitments to at tend, give pertinent information, and keep repeating its message over and over and over. You need it at least thirty days before your program, which means your planning has to be on time.

5. If nobody in your church can write a feature story or take a great news picture, get acquainted with the fact sheet. Go through the church press manual, which is distributed to all church communications secretaries. Then decide with your communications secretary how you can use the sample stories and tips there. Be sure it centers around the need you are fulfilling.

6. Assign people to make contacts with all the groups you can think of. If you have your brochure and your fact sheet, you've made it easy for others to make that group contact with the service club, the ministerial association, the church down the street, the PTA, the Chamber of Commerce, the factory or bank.

7. Build in your response. Don't just describe a program. Tell people what you want them to do and how. Some papers won't print telephone numbers but most will, and this is the best tool for measuring crowds before the event. We find that about twice as many people come as call, unless we specify that appointments must be made in advance.

8. Keep communicating.

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

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-director of public relations at Hinsdale Sanitarium and Hospital in Hinsdale, Illinois at the time this article was written

July 1975

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