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‘Everyone Has a Story’: In a digital age, tips for sharing yours

Five questions for leaders of churches, Christian schools and parachurch ministries to consider.

FORT WORTH, Texas — For 30 years, an Idaho newspaper reporter wrote a weekly column with the simple premise that “Everyone Has a Story.”

David Johnson, who retired in 2013, focused on the ordinary lives of people chosen randomly from a phone book.

Image via Pixabay.com

From time to time, I’ve wondered if The Christian Chronicle might turn up compelling features with arbitrary calls to the 12,300 congregations listed in “Churches of Christ in the United States,” the national directory published by 21st Century Christian.

In traveling to churches in all 50 states and 11 nations, I never have failed to return home with more interesting stories than we have space to publish. If that sounds like a wonderful problem, it is!

Kelly Moore, new president of the National Christian School Association, invited me to speak at the association’s recent annual conference in Fort Worth. My topic: “Sharing Your School’s Story in a Media Age.”

While my presentation related to schools, the concepts could benefit churches and parachurch ministries, too.

Five questions for leaders to consider:

1. What is your story?

We’ve already established that you have a story. But what is it?

A good place to start is to ask: What is your mission? What examples can you show of pursuing or fulfilling that mission? What excites you about your congregation, ministry or school? What person or project in your fold best epitomizes what you are all about?

More than likely, the answers will lead to story ideas — no shortage of them, in most cases.

Leaders of the National Christian School Association sing “We Love You with the Love of the Lord” to outgoing President Philip Patterson and his wife, Linda, during the association’s annual meeting in Fort Worth, Texas. Philip Patterson, distinguished professor of mass communication at Oklahoma Christian University, served the association for 20 years. (PHOTO BY BOBBY ROSS JR.)

2. Who is your audience?

Once you know what story you want to tell, you must determine the audience you hope to reach.

If you’re a school, is it prospective students and parents? If you’re a ministry, is it potential financial supporters? If you’re a congregation, is it the community you serve?
Identifying your desired audience will help you figure out the best means of sharing your story.

3. What ideas can you pitch to the traditional media?

Make a list of key media outlets — be it the local newspaper or a television station — that might be interested in your story.

Try to make a connection with a reporter or editor with each outlet. Find out how the journalist likes to be contacted. Many prefer email to phone calls or personal visits.

Kim Chaudoin

Pay attention to the stories and features that your preferred outlet publishes, and try to pitch ideas that fit within their normal approach. If your suggestion is rejected, respond in a gracious way that reflects positively on your faith-based organization.

“I do think it’s important for us not to get discouraged,” said Kim Chaudoin, assistant vice president for communication and marketing at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tenn. “I mean, if you stop and think about it for a few minutes, what we do in PR … can be overwhelming and discouraging.

“There are so many messages hitting all of us that sometimes you wonder how on earth you can ever break through all of the clutter,” Chaudoin added. “We still have to communicate clearly — and still have to have good stories to tell.”

4. How might you use new media to tell your story?

As much as I hate to admit it, the traditional media are not the only game in town anymore.

Grant Rampy

There are great — and inexpensive — ways for an organization, regardless of size, to share its story directly with desired audiences.

Options include free platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as well as tools such as mobile apps, email and blogs.

And, of course, video is crucial.

“In this day and age, when equipment is so cheap, when software is so easy to use, and when publication costs are nada, there is no excuse not to be adding video to school social media feeds and parent communication pieces and e-newsletters and news releases,” said Grant Rampy, former public relations director for Abilene Christian University in Texas.

Dawn Bramblett

Remember, though, that easy access to communication channels heightens potential challenges as well as blessings.

“Social media provides an opportunity to have a conversation, and while it eliminates the necessity of gatekeepers in reaching large groups of people, it also brings great responsibility,” said Dawn Bramblett, co-owner of an agency that handles public relations for Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tenn.

“Although creating and posting on an account is technically free,” Bramblett added, “doing it well requires a significant investment in time — both for creating quality content and answering feedback 24/7.”

5. When was the last time you updated your website?

I can’t tell you how often (read: frequently) I visit a church website that hasn’t been updated in forever.

You click a section title like “Latest News,” and the most recent post came in 2012. Or there’s a calendar page, and it’s blank. Trust me, outdated or incomplete information does not make a positive impression.

You have a story to tell — no doubt a wonderful one.

May God bless your efforts to share it.

Bobby Ross Jr. is Chief Correspondent for The Christian Chronicle. Reach him at [email protected].

Filed under: digital media Inside Story Travel Reports

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