Public relations is about building, managing and sustaining positive, authentic relationships, said Marc Whitt, a public relations professional who recently discussed the first impression of churches on an episode of Leadership Lessons with Kentucky Baptist Convention Executive Director Todd Gray.
Whitt, an author and the director of media and strategic relations at the University of Kentucky, said his relationship with Jesus Christ began at age 14 and shapes everything about his approach to his work and life.
“It shapes how I listen to others, how I care for, love and serve others, how I advise people, how I create, develop, shape and share thoughts and ideas, how I collaborate with people, how I work with those who are unlike those, how I lead where I am, how I teach, how I respond to crises,” Whitt said. “In everything and every way, it’s my faith in Christ that is my rock.”
That bedrock of faith, Whitt said, yields a firm foundation of integrity, character and good reputation — crucial components for PR professionals and churches alike.
“We must be principle-centered and principle-driven … it is crucial that we stay in the Word and keep a healthy prayer life.”
Whitt said it’s critical churches consider their first impressions.
“How do we come across to visitors? How do we greet them and make them feel welcome?” Whitt said. “What kind of follow up do we do, and how soon do we execute that follow up? How do we properly minister to a multi-generational church? What can you do to be viewed as a community partner? When people think of your church, what comes to mind?”
Self-awareness is a healthy exercise, Whitt added. “We should always strive to be the best servants possible,” he noted.
“We must consider many opinions and take ample time to listen, pray and work for positive solutions. … We cannot rely on our own personal likes and dislikes to dictate the likes and dislikes of the population we are trying to attract and engage.”
Churches should also avoid doing something just because other churches do it, Whitt said.
They should do it because “it fits and supports your church’s mission, values and goals and ministers to the needs of your members and perspective members.”
He noted, “You cannot do PR from shooting at the hip.”