Churches and Christian ministries are not prepared for publicity crises and under-estimate the dangers of the new media age, according to an international public relations and reputation management consultant.
Principal of Mercer PR Lyall Mercer says the media landscape across the world has changed with the evolution of social media, placing churches at a greater risk of serious reputation damage.
He believes that this lack of planning will result in closures of churches and ministries for doing nothing more than proclaiming their beliefs.
“For the first time, the general media is primarily anti-church, fueled by social media that provides a platform for minority views to be awarded much greater attention and credibility,” he said.
Mercer said the mob mentality of social media creates momentum that is often picked up by the mass media which, when added to the 24-hour digital news cycle propagates stories in seconds, whether factual or not.
This provides the perfect storm for churches and church leaders who are too often caught off guard when being the subject of criticism or attack.
As well as advising companies and industry groups, Mercer has worked with high-profile issues across the world, consulted to one of the world’s largest churches and trained church leaders across North America. Now based in Australia, the former Michigan resident deals internationally and services clients across the USA.
He said the excess, hypocrisy and politicization of the American evangelical church, the poor global response to sexual abuse by the Catholic Church and mixed messages by church leaders around homosexuality have contributed to the hostility against the church.
It’s now difficult for many people to see the good churches do, because of the atheistic ideology driving the public debate.
Mercer said many church leaders wrongly believe that their personal communications skills will see them through any public issues.
Any church or ministry leader that thinks they can develop a strategy in the middle of a PR storm is deluded.
He said every church and Christian organization must have a workable and structured media policy, issues management plan and public relations strategy.
It’s a new media world—what worked in the past won’t work anymore.