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Baptist communicators relay ideas, advice

NASHVILLE (BP) — Tapping the popular “TED Talks” format, Baptist communication and public relations professionals shared their experiences and counsel in a first-ever Fall Forum originating from the Southern Baptist Convention Building in Nashville.

Baptist Communicators Association officers Jim Veneman, Cam Tracy and Shannon Baker organized the six-hour event of presentations that, akin to TED Talks, relayed ideas, advice and teaching from practitioners in a variety of fields.

Between presentations, Baker, communications director at the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network (the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware) and BCA professional development coordinator, showed video clips with other professionals sharing tips on rebranding, web development and other topics.

Those who couldn’t go to Nashville could watch the event through online streaming provided by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Viewers were encouraged to text questions to the speakers. Several college journalism classes watched online.

Forum speakers included Shawn Hendricks, managing editor of Baptist Press; Jennifer Rash, executive editor, The Alabama Baptist; Marty Duren, social media strategy manager, LifeWay Christian Resources; Bill Bangham, director, The Academy, International Mission Board; Stella Prather, communications director, Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes; Ian Richardson, communication services director, Mississippi Baptist Convention Board; and Eric Murrell, communication director, Long Hollow Baptist Church.

Baker, serving as emcee, noted, “We all have different gifts. We’re here to learn from each other.”

Shawn Hendricks told participants, “We have the best story, the best message and a reason for what we do, and that needs to reflect in the material we present to people. At the end of the day, we’re trying to tell a good story.”

When sifting through notes and material, sometimes we just have to step back and look at the big picture, take time to reflect, pull out the big “nuggets” and allow the most important elements of the story to rise to the top, Hendricks said. Asked what he would suggest to help journalism students, he immediately answered internships.

“They make you realize you have a lot to learn,” he said.

Jennifer Rash spoke about efficient teamwork, noting that many workers are overwhelmed, juggling too much work. Other workers are underwhelmed, dragging out projects, not knowing how to step up and take initiative. And some are “just right,” handling a manageable amount of work and doing it well.

To work efficiently as a team, Rash cautioned overwhelmed participants to not judge or criticize the underwhelmed, but to find ways to help them engage. She challenged the underwhelmed to not be complacent and to strive to engage, and she told the “just right” to work with others to help them find balance.

Marty Duren, in his presentation, available at bit.ly/bcamarty, said search engine optimization, which once “ruled the roost,” is fine for static sites. But for sites that have ongoing fresh content, social media is the answer. “It’s the greatest opportunity in your lifetime to put your content in front of the most people possible with social media. People read and share what interests them,” he said.

“Dare I go any further than the ice bucket challenge? No one went to Google and searched. Everyone learned about the ice bucket challenge when they went on Facebook and saw folks pouring ice water on their heads.”

Veteran photojournalist, writer and editor Bill Bangham suggested media professionals focus on three things: learning to see beyond the obvious, learning to hear and learning to feel.

Asked how he becomes disciplined to cut out distractions, Bangham said he has to disconnect, turning off the cell phone, walking along the river, or taking a road trip by himself. “I don’t turn the radio on; I drive and listen to what’s going on inside me,” he said.

Stella Prather, with a nod to Jennifer Rash about being overwhelmed, said in the midst of juggling too much at times, she discovered the tremendous value of volunteers.

Prather said her volunteer board has purchased furniture, bought school supplies, redecorated homes and raised an incredible amount of money to support the Arkansas Baptist Children’s Homes.

Ian Richardson shared how the Mississippi Baptist Convention helps churches witness through media. Richardson oversees an annual conference sponsored by the convention that offers training, support and inspiration for churches.

Asked about particular trends in church communications, Richardson pointed to social media and technical issues such as projection systems and worship software.

Eric Murrell, a member of the vision team for Creative Missions, which pairs teams of church communication professionals, creatives and techies with under-resourced churches during a mission-trip wrapped experience, shared about the power of curiosity.

“How do we stand out? You have to be able to grab the attention of the community. We have the most important message,” Murrell said.

Murrell recounted how Long Hollow Baptist Church decided to deviate from the usual mailers and announcements and bought 100,000 Easter eggs, filled them with bouncy balls and church information, and distributed the “egg” invites throughout the community.

He also shared about “The Fortunate Death of Phillip Randoll,” a campaign in which the creative team developed a fictitious character and used billboards, newspapers, blog posts and other ways to create curiosity. The program culminated in a live drama that told Mr. Randoll’s story, a modern parable with a Gospel presentation.

The church saw a 20 percent increase in attendance, spending 50 percent less money. “And it was 100 percent more fun,” Murrell said.

Baker closed the forum in prayer, “God, please use us as agents for good and help us communicate your words well.”

Presenters and others were pleased with the forum. “It was amazing. I learned something from every one of the speakers,” Rash said.

Former BCA President Jim Veneman, who teaches photography at California Baptist University in Riverside, said he was pleased with the event, noting, “And it’s just the tip of the iceberg. BCA members have a wealth of information to share.”

Veneman said he also is pleased to hear Cam Tracy, web development specialist at Union University in Jackson, Tenn., and BCA historian, already is making plans for the next Fall Forum.

BCA is a professional development association to assist Baptist communications personnel in professional growth and fulfillment. Members come from Southern Baptist entities, state conventions, Baptist newspapers, Baptist universities and Baptist churches.

In addition to sharing useful ideas, BCA provides fellowship for members and gives recognition for outstanding professional achievement through its annual awards competition, held in conjunction with a yearly workshop, slated next year for April 15-18 in San Francisco.

Videos of the Fall Forum presentations will soon be available at www.baptistcommunicators.org. For more information, contact Margaret Dempsey-Colson at [email protected].

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  • Sharon Mager