I’ve seen an article passed around a lot this week called “What if gay kids had a church that loved them?” and it has generated a lot of comments and shares. There is nothing wrong with the piece; in fact it’s a nice call for churches to be more welcoming. The issue is there are LOTS of churches that love gay kids! In fact, churches like the United Church of Christ, Metropolitan Community Churches, and the Old Catholic church (along with a couple of others) have not only been welcoming queer folks for about 40 years, they’ve been affirming their calls to ministry as well! The problem is, no one knows these churches exist.
Mainline churches (UCC, ELCA, Episcopal, the DOC churches that are affirming, Presbyterians, etc) we have a problem. No one knows we exist and no one cares. And you know why? Because we suck at public relations. We often suck at social media. Our websites are ugly and hard to navigate, our twitter accounts are only links to our sermons and don’t include any interaction, we use terms that no one outside of our denominations can understand. We say things like “we’re a reconciling congregation”, “we’re open and affirming”, “we’re a more light congregation” and expect people to know what those things mean.
It’s not that we’re not doing good work! Mainline churches are often doing amazing social justice projects in the community, they are organizing on political issues, they are sheltering people and fighting for their rights. But our messaging sucks! We’re not trained to be on camera, we don’t know how to give a good soundbite, and so when something happens and the press look for someone to call, they don’t call us.
If it were only about getting press for whatever our new project is it wouldn’t matter, but like the article above says, kids are dying because they don’t know we exist.
When I was gearing up for my ordination I contacted the press. In one of the articles someone left a comment that said, “Our Catholic community ordained a transgender [side note problematic language was the commenter's] in 19XX but we didn’t go out looking for press over it.” And I thought, that’s the problem! It doesn’t matter if you do it if no one knows about it! This isn’t about attention grabbing it’s about sharing a message that can save lives! If a news story about my ordination means that one trans* kid knows that there is a church that welcomes them, then that, to me, is worth it.
Do we believe we have good news to share? Then let’s get out there and share it! Learn how to use social media, learn how to write a press release, call your local newspapers and television stations, learn news people’s names, start a media list. Write blog posts that are easy to share, craft some really good soundbites, learn how to speak in front of a camera. Show up and make statements. Be visible!
We have allowed the conservative, evangelical church to control the conversation about Christianity in this country. We have allowed them to get all of the soundbites. We have allowed them to shape the dialogue. Up until now we have been constantly responding. It’s time to go on the offensive. It’s time to reshape the conversation. To do that we need to shift how we interact with the world. Look at the websites of popular (and growing) evangelical churches. Look how they do their social media presence. Look at how they have branded their churches. This stuff works and we need to be using it! I have been in so many meetings in mainline churches where they do one of two things: roll their eyes at an idea because the evangelicals use it OR come up with an idea that the evangelical church has been using for a decade and act like it’s new. We need to be students of what works. This isn’t about being something that we’re not, it’s about figuring out how to tell people who we are in ways that are accessible and meaningful. The old idea of “if you build it, they will come” doesn’t work anymore.
We’ve been building it for years and no one is coming. Don’t you think it’s time for a change?