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19 December 2014

Communicating the Church

Communicating the Church

Marcia Dixon is founder of MD Public Relations, a niche company that provides PR services to organisations seeking to communicate with the black Christian community. She also serves as religious editor of Keep The Faith, Britain's leading magazine about the black faith community. Amaris Cole meets Marcia to find out more about the important work she does.

Brand identity is very important to Marcia's clients, who range from Sony Music to Tearfund and to one of her favourite projects, Street Pastors. All organisations have a vision of how they want the outside world to perceive them, she says, and this is usually what they want her to project in their campaigns. But what about the Church?

"As society becomes more secular, it would appear that in some quarters the Church is losing the communication war, particularly when society's values are at total odds with biblical values." However, the Pope's PR demonstrates that it's possible for a Christian leader to effectively communicate the values the Church stands for, such as love, mercy and grace, expressed in a non-confrontational way, Marcia says. "Churches just have to communicate in a way the world understands, using powerful stories and imagery to get their messages across." Churches and para-church organisations need to become more PR and media savvy, so they can communicate more effectively to the audiences they want to reach.

Street Pastors, founded by Les Isaacs, David Shosanya and Ian Crichlow, is an example of one doing this successfully, with Marcia's help. Established in 2003 in response to the gun and knife crime that was prevalent at the time, it has grown from a small London-based organisation to become an internationally-recognised social action project. "Its success is a template to me of how PR is an effective tool in helping organisations share their message, connect with their audience and grow."

Governments need Marcia's help with PR, too. In 2010 she served as a faith adviser. "It was evident that the government had a respect for faith groups and the work they carried out, but it wasn't always too sure on how to communicate that fact." The communications expert thinks this government respects faith groups for the community work they carry out. "Politically, black Christians tend to lean more to the right than the left. However, I don't think the government is always keen on the values that faith groups stand for, particularly when they are odds with government policies or the agendas of certain lobby groups."

Marcia calls the Church the black community's "fourth emergency service". "We turn to it when we experience life: it's the institution that christens, marries and buries us, and it has played a key role in transforming broken lives and teaching people principles required to succeed in the workplace and the marketplace, and also how to raise their families." The Church is also the most stable and influential institution within the black community. "Long may it continue."

But the black Church in the UK does face a number of challenges. "These include finding ways to reinstitute some of the cultural values that helped sustain the black community when they came here in the 1950s and 60s, that have slowly been eroded." Also, the promotion of respect for self and others, a commitment to family, and the importance of developing good character, she says. "Black churches also need to find ways to reconnect with the younger generation – don't all churches? – as well as find ways to appeal to people of different cultural and ethnic groups. Some churches are  effectively doing so, but we need more to step up to the plate."

In a trying time of secularisation and division, shouldn't we lose the labels and join together as one Church? "In my mind, Christian unity doesn't mean that everyone comes together, forgets who they are and becomes part of a big, boring mass. I believe that Christian unity means that we can acknowledge our cultural, spiritual and ethnic differences, but recognise that we are united in our common belief that God loves us, sent Jesus to die for our sins and that the gift of the Holy Spirit is available to all. In fact Revelation 7:9, which talks about people from "every tribe, people and language" standing before God's throne and giving Him worship, indicates to me that we serve a God who celebrates unity amid diversity – and so should we."


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