One of the joys of being connected online through Twitter is discovering different people who serve in churches and denominations around the world. Today is the first interview with Chris Hall from the Baptist Union of Great Britain. I’ll also be doing more interviews with different communications and creatives in the non-profit and church area.
Hi Chris, tell us about yourself
Born and bred in Berkshire, about an hour’s drive west of London. Married to Louise and we have two small children, Noah (5) and Martha (2). Attend the local Anglican church but work for the Baptist Union of Great Britain based in Oxfordshire. A news junkie, I am an avid follower of sports especially less popular ones like baseball, US college football and Aussie rules! I love watching DVD box sets like 24, The West Wing and 30 Rock and enjoy walking and listening to podcasts.
Tell us about your role
I am Communications Writer/Editor for the Baptist Union of Great Britain. This involves writing for a number of communications channels mostly to provide information to the more than 2,000 churches that are part of the Union. I edit a magazine, send a religious news email every weekday, write and direct short promotional videos. I am also a press officer proactively writing press releases and setting up radio interviews. I also support my manager Amanda Allchorn on crisis media situations at churches. Probably the biggest case we have had of this kind was back in 2005 when Norman Kember from a Baptist church in London was kidnapped whilst visiting Iraq with a Christian Peacemaker Team.
How did you get into communications in a denomination?
For a number of years I helped with publicity at my church and with some cross church evangelism initiatives in Newbury. Then in 2001 I felt called to be a freelance writer, writing articles for the secular and Christian media for 3 years. When I saw the Communications Writer/Editor role at the Baptist Union advertised late in 2003 it looked like the ideal opportunity to increase my skills. I have been here ever since.
What is the difference about being in a communications role at denominational level vs an individual church?
Being paid! Very few UK churches pay someone to do their communications. The other difference is your audience is over a wider area – therefore when I edit my magazine I have to make sure that I cover stories from across the regions we cover, does it have a good racial mix, balance of men and women etc.
What does the landscape look like with church communications in the United Kingdom? Weaknesses/strengths
There are some churches, mostly large ones, that have very talented people producing attractive, engaging, innovative communications (Holy Trinity, Brompton and St Aldates are two examples) and are switched on to the latest developments like Facebook/Twitter, podcasts, even iphone apps! We run a Communications Awards for Best Website, Best Magazine, Best Notice Sheet etc and we get some brilliant entries. For most churches though their communications are OK but quite basic – they have a website, a notice sheet but they are not amazing to look at or read. A lot of churches could do more to engage with local media. I remember doing a communications seminar at a regional Baptist event and asked how many had sent a press release to their local newspaper or radio station and there were not many hands up.
What is the best example of church communications that you’ve seen in the UK?
This is a tough one. I will say Roselands Community Church, a small church plant in the south west of England that is part of the Baptist Union of Great Britain. Their minister, Malc Reddaway came up with a creative communications strategy to raise the profile of the church in 12 months that included producing a well designed new website, new community magazine and visiting houses at Easter to give them free hot cross buns and a leaflet about their Easter services. You can see more about it in this video. It is a brilliant example of what a small church can do to communicate effectively on a small budget and to engage with their community.
What is the worst example of church communications that you’ve seen in the UK?
I won’t single out any churches but my pet hates are putting everything in comic sans font, and organ music playing when you open the website!
What is your favourite project you’ve worked on recently?
We shot a video just before Christmas about a farmer in Wales that had experienced God in a powerful way and a couple called to minister in the same area. It is one of the most inspiring stories I have ever worked on. You can see it here.
What does the future hold for church communications in the UK?
I am not too sure. We are way behind the slick sermon series stings you get at megachurches in the US and Australia but will we catch up? I think it will continue to be a mixed picture, some getting it right, some getting it wrong, most somewhere in between.
Dream communications job?
Some international church communications role. I was a press officer at the Baptist World Congress in Birmingham back in 2005 and absolutely loved it. I have a growing interest in the global church so hope I can move onto something in that sphere at some point.
If there was one thing you could do before you die in church communications what would it be?
The majority of Christians live in Africa, Asia and Latin America where Christianity is thriving. The majority of Christian resources and church communications are from Europe and America where Christianity is facing a challenging future. I would love to play a part in readdressing the balance so churches have a greater voice in the Majority World and we in the West can be revitalised by the Rick Warren’s and Rob Bell’s of China, Nigeria or Brazil.
Thanks Chris. Great to meet you and hear about what you do. You can follow Chris on Twitter or check out his very new blog.