Welcome to our church–if you can find it; On not playing hide and seek with church media information

 

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

While this article was written with the many international churches we have visited and served in mind, the principles apply to any church in our own countries as well.

Imagine the frustration. A couple arrives in a major Asian city with plans to attend an English-language international church on Sunday morning.

They have done their homework—they looked up the time and location of the Sunday morning service on the church’s website and arrived at the announced hotel with plenty to time to find the room, grab a cup of coffee (or tea) and settle in for the morning service.

Except, they discover after asking several gracious hotel employees that the church has changed its weekly worship to another hotel some distance away and the service has moved from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

How frustrating. And, while it may sound like a little thing among the myriad of activities and planning events during the week, it is major to someone visiting in the city who has taken the time to look up a place of worship only to find the information is out of date.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. While it happened to us about four years ago, just in the past year Polly and I ran into two similar problems while traveling in China.

We had planned ahead and looked up an on-line list of English-language churches in that vast country and noted those that we might attend while traveling.

The first Sunday in a large southern-Chinese city we arrived at a hotel to find that the congregation had moved several months earlier to another facility a few blocks away. We were able to rush there through the rain, arriving late for the service.

Several weeks later in a large western Chinese city, using the same list, we searched for a hotel that was listed as hosting a similar English-language church. This time we weren’t so fortunate: the hotel had been torn down to make way for new construction and we couldn’t find anyone who knew where the church was currently meeting.

One would think that with all of the modern technology that makes travel easier and finding hotels, restaurants and even churches so much simpler, church visitors wouldn’t be left standing on a street corner wondering where to go.

Part of the problem may be that church staff or leaders are not monitoring their media presence closely enough and that the frequent turnover of members, leadership and pastors, especially in international churches, results in social media presence being ignored or forgotten.

So, as a gentle reminder to all church leadership, here are some suggestions to enhance your communication.

  1. Keep your media exposure up to date, even if it means changing it every week. Make sure you are meeting at the time and place listed. In a church with many visitors, offer a google map or some other visual help in finding your location. If you change the time or location of worship, even for one Sunday, be sure to list it everywhere including web site, Facebook page, city-wide or fellowship-wide lists, newspaper advertising and even any publicity posted around the city in schools or other gathering places.
  2. Make certain that your information on lists is updated regularly. This includes the various denominational, fellowship or regional lists such as, English-language churches in “your city”. For international churches, many of which change location and worship times more frequently than do the churches back home, regularly check your listing on those in the guide at the end of this article.
  3. If your church has a new pastor or office personnel, make sure that the church website is updated and that any listings of those positions being open are removed from the web. There are numerous listings for pastor searches that have been on the “vacancies” list of the Network of International Congregations for several years. Check it out and remove yours if the position has been filled. The same with other online job boards where position vacancies can continue to be listed for years if you don’t remove them.
  4. If someone develops a website for the church and runs it as a donation, welcome that contribution but make certain to obtain the address and password as soon as it goes online. I have been familiar with at least two international churches which continue to be featured by rogue website started years ago and for which the church has no way to access it to give it an update or eliminate it.
  5. Provide church location and worship time information on your telephone answering service. Too often we have called a church on a Saturday to inquire about Sunday services only to find a litany of “push one, push two” responses which is of no use when the office is empty.

Unfortunately, even with diligent work in any church to keep people informed, there will always be those who…as a person said to me in one church I served…are illiterate!

I challenged that when he said it to me. After all, we had several PhDs in the church, dozens of people with master’s degrees and most were college-educated. “How can you say that?” I asked.

“Well,” he replied. “Every week we send out an electronic newsletter telling people what is happening, we print a weekly bulletin that we hand out, we put all of the announcements on a Power Point and screen it before and after the service, and we make several announcements at the beginning of the service. And yet, people still say they don’t know what’s going on. I figure they must all be illiterate.”

Despite all of our good efforts, perhaps he has a point!  But, for those few who can read, let’s make sure that what they see is up-to-date and accurate.

 

Internet sites with information about international churches:

Network of International Congregations: http://internationalcongregations.net/

Missional International Church Network www.micn.org

Association of International Churches of Europe and the Middle East www.aiceme.net

International Baptist Convention   http://ibc-churches.org/

Fellowship of European International Churches   http://www.feic.org/feic-churches/

Global International Church Network http://www.globalicn.com/ (Warning, as I prepared this list, this site carried a notice that it had been infected by Malware)

International Christian Fellowships in China http://bicf.org/en/resources/international-christian-fellowships (Note, several listings here are no longer correct)

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Wisdom From the Waiting Room; What I Learned While Getting my Tires Rotated.

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

It’s amazing what we can learn while waiting for something to happen.

I was in the waiting room of a tire dealer recently and picked up a one or two-year-old copy of Reader’s Digest magazine. As I thumbed through the pages I ran across one of those bottom-of-the page fillers which gave me some astounding, and disturbing, facts.

Fact number one: Movie popcorn costs more per ounce than does a Filet Mignon steak. So, that explains the credit card charge recently when my wife took our granddaughter to see a movie. The goodies cost more than the film.

Fact number two: In a three-hour National Football League game, the ball is in play for only 11 minutes. Now, if you figure the average minimum ticket for an Atlanta Falcons game at roughly  $78, that adds up to a little over $7.00 for each minute of actual play. And, that seat is definitely not on the 50 yard line.

Now, here is the one that got me. Fact number three: If you have assets (including your house) of over $77,000, that puts you into the wealthiest ten percent of the world.

Seventy-seven thousand dollars doesn’t sound like a lot, compared to the millionaires and billionaires that we read about in the newspapers. Why, it is likely that most readers of this blog own a house worth more than that, let alone retirement plans, savings accounts, a car or two, and the list goes on.

Yet, even with that amount, most middle-class Americans are in that elite ten percent, while NINETY percent of the world would be classified as not among the wealthiest.

In contrast, then, this very recent article in early March, 2017, from CNN  is so very revealing.

Read just a few of the highlights:

Somalia and three other countries (Yemen, South Sudan…and northeast Nigeria) desperately need aid to save more than 20 million people from starvation and diseases, the United Nations said.

“We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN,” UN humanitarian chief Stephen O’Brien said….

“Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease….”

In Somalia, more than 6 million people are in need of food assistance — more than half the population.

Drought, impending famine and the presence of terrorist group Al-Shabaab have left the country and its people in a desperate situation.

South Sudan, where a famine was recently declared, has more than 7.5 million people in need of assistance — more than half of whom have been displaced, according to the UN.

In northeast Nigeria, “famine looms for over 120,000 people,” the UN’s World Food Programme said.

And in Yemen, more than 7 million people are severely food insecure, the UN said….

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres made a similar appeal this week, warning that the crisis facing Somalia has been “neglected” by the world.

“Let’s not forget that each one of these people is an individual case of extreme suffering,” he said.

“There is a moral obligation for us all to do everything we can to support these people.”

Reporting on the same problem, the Washington Post  said: It is the first time in recent memory that so many large-scale hunger crises have occurred simultaneously, and ­humanitarian groups say they do not have the resources to respond effectively. The United Nations has requested $4.4 billion by March to “avert a ­catastrophe,” Secretary General António Guterres said last week. It has so far received only a tiny fraction of that request.

Now all of this alarming news is not presented to send the reader on a guilt trip. But it is a reminder that there is a pressing need for us to reach out to those in such dire straits through the many not-for-profit organizations that are working to alleviate the impending disaster.

While governments are retreating from helping the neediest by reducing aid, the onus falls on those NGOs, Christian and secular, which work in the refugee camps, the war-torn villages and the relief centers which reach out to help those who face certain death.

So, as we read this disturbing news, what can we, you and I, do about it? Here’s a link that offers a variety of ideas. 

For me, I’m glad I ran across this article. It makes me think, pray, act. I invite you to join me.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.

It’s Time to Quit Talking to Ourselves

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

It was good to see an article in a recent issue of the Guardian Weekly which pointed to the pioneering work being done by Prison Fellowship Rwanda to bring reconciliation to that country which still suffers the psychological pain of a mass genocide 22 years ago.

What was refreshing, in addition to the delicate but successful work of the agency, was the recognition by the Guardian reporter that the efforts are being carried out at the hands of a Christian organization.

The two villagers form part of a pioneering community of 54 families living in the reconciliation village of Mbyo, one of six set up in Rwanda’s rural regions by a non-profit Christian organisation to promote healing after the brutality of the 1990s.

The project was launched by a local NGO called Prison Fellowship Rwanda (PFR), which identifies people and families in need of housing, regardless of their actions during the genocide.

All too often when I read religious news I find that it is critical or skeptical or just down-right condemning of the church and Christian beliefs and practices. Seldom do I read an article that reports positively on the efforts of the church worldwide to serve the needs of others, improve society or reach out to troubled, lost individuals.

Instead, I read either news pertaining to the on-going cultural wars, or self-serving public relations which primarily serves as a way for the church or Christian organization to pat itself on the back (and, not so coincidently, to raise funds). What these press releases amount to is Christian churches and organizations talking to themself about what they are doing, rather than reaching out and letting the public know what God is doing through their ministries.

And, with the exception of the occasional excellent article in community newspapers highlighting the work of churches to reach the homeless, hungry or addicted, most of the actual news concerning Christian ministry goes unnoticed.

With that, then, comes the perception that churches aren’t doing much to alleviate the concerns of the poor, the persecuted, the refugee or their more traditional evangelistic outreach.

While many will blame the media for overlooking or ignoring the good work of Christians around the world, much of the blame must lie on us for our negligence in letting the world know.

Bruce Buursma, who was a religion writer for a number of newspapers including the Louisville Courier-Journal and the Chicago Tribune, once said that religious news that media outlets are looking for occurs where the interests of the religious community intersect with the interests of society.

That is the key for those of us who serve congregations or work for a mission or Christian social service agency. What we do is of interest to the media, and does intersect with the needs, concerns, struggles and interests of society. But reporters aren’t mind-readers. Someone has to let them know.

And that’s the job of the church or agency—to be proactive at sending news-worthy information to local and national media outlets; to be thinking about an angle that those media would want to see that would attract them to cover your work; to begin to discern what we are doing as a church/agency that is different, addresses societal needs, and does meet the intersection of society’s interests and concerns.

Does it work? Yes, but not most of the time. However, during the five years that I was writing about what the Lord was doing in Latin America through missionaries of the Latin America Mission, while I never had one of my articles published by a major news organization, I did receive inquires from such places as the Associated Press, the New York Times, The Miami Herald, The Los Angeles Times, several Los Angeles TV stations, the Canton (Ohio) Repository, and others. Each was seeking contact information for missionaries who could help them as they wrote their own stories.

While 90 percent of what a church or agency sends to secular media outlets will likely not be used, that which is used will go a long way to informing the skeptical, secular audience that followers of Jesus Christ are relevant to the needs of society, and are working to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our Lord. (Micah 6:8)

ADDENDUM

Here are some articles that provided excellent coverage and could have been sent to media outlets as a lead for them to develop their own coverage.

These two were written by my good friend, Ralph Kurtenbach, an excellent journalist working with Reach Beyond (formerly HCJB) in Quito, Ecuador. The first demonstrates the ground-breaking work of a missionary doctor in helping to eliminate river blindness in several South American countries. The second reports on the on-going struggles in the indigenous tribe in Ecuador that made news in the 1950s through the murder of five missionaries.

And, here is a recent piece from a daily news service which shows Christian ministry in a war-torn part of the world. Should security concerns permit, more Christian groups working under such difficult circumstances should be actively making their labors known.

Please feel free to leave comments on this site. Those comments posted through the button on this page will be posted if appropriate. Comments sent directly to me are welcome and I will respond, but they will not be posted. To receive notification of future posts, please click on the “follow” button at the top of this page or write to missionaryjournalist (at) gmail (dot) com.