Telling the Story in Local Media
When it comes to churches, the “If you build it, they will come” assumption just doesn’t ring true in most cases. However, when it comes to the local media, the “If you send it, they will print it” assumption works out more often than most congregations realize.
Case in point
According to Rev. John Whitehurst, pastor of Grace Crossing UMC in Longview, TX, “Grace Crossing has been successful in its efforts to get recognized in the papers simply by making the effort. We send press releases to all the local news outlets when we have a special event or mission project that benefits or includes the community at large such as leading Christmas Day worship at a local homeless shelter.”
When Grace Crossing celebrated its four-year anniversary and charter service led by Bishop Huie in February, the story made front-page news accompanied by six large photos. “It’s always exciting to have the Bishop come to town, but doubly so when we are able to show the community that Grace Crossing has grown from three initial members in 2008 to more than 120 on an average weekend,” says Pastor Whitehurst.
Dr. Don Waddleton, Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence for TAC celebrates this news with Grace Crossing. “Chartering is important for a new church in that they are considered to be a sustainable congregation,” he says. “Many of our church planters start with small numbers which gradually build. Pastor Whitehurst is to be commended for working toward having the congregation debt-free as they move forward.” The church leased space in 2009 and recently purchased land on Hawkins Parkway and began strategic planning for future fundraising and building.
The Longview News-Journal also highlighted the church’s training, financial and ministry support from the denomination and Grace Crossing’s local mission work and recent “Good Samaritan” Award.
If you tell them…
According to Grace Crossing Administrative Assistant Stephanie Adams, the press releases usually lead to an interview by one of the reporters from the Religion section of the local paper. “We have not yet been featured on any local television but we continue to send them press releases.”
“We applaud churches such as Grace Crossing UMC for building relationships with their local media outlets and sharing the United Methodist news with their community residents via community newspapers, blogs and websites,” says TAC Communications Director Paula Arnold. “The Texas Annual Conference Communications staff is working to help all local congregations get their stories out into the local community, knowing the mainstream media is always looking for good news as well as activities and resources available to local residents.”
Adds Pastor Whitehurst, “The coverage we have received from the local paper has been a great benefit to the church. The article on our recent charter/anniversary service brought one family to the church, commenting they had been looking for a church and saw our article. However, an added benefit has been the pride our members feel as they use the publicity to tell their friends about what we are doing.”
How do churches begin getting press coverage?
Explains Stephanie, “We have a big Community Candlelight Service each December, so back in late November I worked on compiling a list of media contacts and I made a spreadsheet of where to send press releases. I went online to find some information and also made some phone calls to track down this info. Also, while online I added our event to the community calendars that most news stations/radio stations/papers have. I did this in addition to submitting an actual press release.”
She suggests sending a media notice by email 3-5 weeks ahead and following up with the media recipient.
Another local media coverage success story
League City UMC, south of Houston, has built longstanding relationships with area media outlets, successfully receiving news coverage on a regular basis. Former reporter Greg Miller, a member of LCUMC, is happy to share his ‘insider tips’ and welcomes churches to email him for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org. Notes Greg, “In earlier days, a press release may or may not get the editor’s attention and lead to an interview – and that process still works some of the time, but we do something slightly different that has been wildly successful. League City UMC sends a full story with pictures, written in feature story style with quotes from area residents and recipients, and this makes it so easy for the news folks to just go with it, and not have to invest any of their nonexistent spare time.” View one of LUMC’s news stories.
Conference Communication Support
“When you tie your church news to a current event, such as hurricane relief or seasonal activities, for example,” adds Paula, “the media outlet is even more likely to use your information. If you provide quality pictures – that’s even better.” For additional tips on obtaining “free publicity” in your community media, refer to our tipsheet from TAC Communications at www.txcumc.org/tipsheet, or call Paula Arnold at 713-521-9383 or email email@example.com. “TAC Communications is planning a webpage at www.txcumc.org to highlight churches that get United Methodists in the news, so let us know if we can help you get local coverage, or if you have a link to upload that highlights your congregation telling the good news. We might even have a contest, who knows!”