The COVID lockdowns have forced churches around the world to engage their congregations and communities through live-streaming and other digital tools. I was curious about how European churches were doing, so I asked my friend and Christian media producer Graeme Spencer who’s based in the United Kingdom. Here’s our conversation:
Phil: Tell me about the situation in the UK and Europe when it comes to churches using media in their outreach.
Graeme: Generally, the UK and European churches have not been as ready to embrace media as the US churches. I think that there are a number of reasons for that, one is that the church is seen as part of the general fabric of society and historically was treated that way. In some countries, the UK for example, the “public” broadcasters had a requirement to carry a certain quantity of religious content so the church had a voice and the mainstream broadcasters picked up the bill.
Also, until the mid 1990’s “religious TV” was illegal in the UK (and also across a lot of Europe), one of the reasons was the fear of what was seen in terms of the excesses of US Christian media. That of course meant that due to the lack of Christian TV stations churches had no outlets to place their content – so why bother to produce programming? Recently though that has changed and churches have started embracing media in a more strategic way. They do still face the challenge of funding, since there are very few “mega churches” in the UK and Europe, so for many churches media has been out of their reach from a budget perspective, and has not been seen as a priority when it comes to resources. Of course the pandemic has seen a massive shift in that.
PC: What’s the biggest mistake most churches in the UK and Europe are making today when it comes to communication and media?
GS: That’s a really interesting question, I think one of the biggest mistakes is not knowing your audience, who you are trying to reach, where they are, and how to best communicate to them. It’s vital to understand that how you communicate through media is way more nuanced than when you are in person, and it’s really important to know who you are and who you want to be communicating to, and adapting everything to that. You can’t start at the “this is how we do things” end of the spectrum and think it will work – you have to start at the audience end and work back. I still think too many people are trying to do what they have always done rather than working out a way of connecting with the viewers that they have.
PC: Have churches in the UK and Europe adapted well to live-streaming during the COVID lockdown? What are they doing well and what are they doing not so well?
GS: Well, I don’t think what I am about to say is unique to the UK and Europe, I also think it applies to the US as well, and many other parts of the world. Ultimately the thing that they have done well are that they have dived in and done something, that is huge and I can only applaud the way the church has responded to the crisis. However, while that was absolutely the correct and urgent response, I am concerned that too many churches are still at that point and have not moved on. Doing something isn’t enough now. Doing it in a way that has a more strategic approach is becoming increasingly important. Quality content that engages with the audience needs to become the aim for everyone. Now, quality is a variable concept in terms of size of church and budget etc, but there are certain things that are vital. Good audio, creative visuals, proper lighting, content that is thought through and delivered in a way that works for the audience are all key components that need to be part of the plan as we move forward. Unfortunately, many of the churches have struggled with these things as they don’t have the skill level to know how best to do this.
PC: Do you think understanding the language of media would help UK and European churches engage the secular culture with the gospel more effectively?
GS: Yes, absolutely. I think it’s critical that the church in Europe learns the language of media. Knowing how to communicate through visual media for me should be a foundational part of any “ministry” training. The church needs to be able to speak eloquently and in a way that is a fusion of truth and love or it will become increasingly marginalized by society. It must be confident of its voice and its message but find how to speak with humility as well. Jesus communicated in many different ways depending on who He was talking to and we as His body need to learn how to do the same.
PC: Tell me about your new venture. How are you helping churches and ministry organizations understand the impact of communication and media in their outreaches?
GS: Our media company is called “Cloak Productions” and we’re launching a new venture called “Media Mentoring.” In short, the concept is about sowing into a new generation of church and media leaders, supporting, encouraging, teaching and inspiring them to develop their skills, talents, passions for the benefit of the Kingdom. I’ve been involved in Christian media for over 25 years and really feel burdened to help the next generation stand on our shoulders, and enable them to run with all their might. I am really excited by how we are planning to deliver our mentoring programme to media and church people alike, wherever they maybe, through monthly masterclasses, weekly workshops, e-courses, Q&As and more – all delivered online and (I believe) at a cost that anyone who is passionate to learn and grow can afford.