Marijke Hoek co-ordinates the Evangelical Alliance’s Forum for Change initiative. Here she spells out their vision for local Media Hubs.
It was the highlight of the year for the primary school. They had been rehearsing new songs with catchy tunes and good lyrics. They had even created their own CD with the help of a music director and a professional sound man. They invited the local paper to their open air concert and presented their CD to an enthusiastic audience of 800 people. But no journalist attended the event. When the Head asked why he was told that this really wasn’t news. “So what would be ‘news’”, he asked. ‘Probably when a child in your school dies,’ the editor replied. ‘That would be news’.
OK, so that’s a lack of editorial imagination. Nevertheless there an awful lot of significant and surprising stories do feature in the local press and media. Partly this is because of quality local media professionals. But it’s also due to the growing number of cities where the Christian community is developing good relationships with the media. We are getting better - more creative - in telling our story.
In 2001 I was asked by the Network of evangelical churches in Manchester to facilitate media engagement within the city. Working part-time, I fed suggestions and press releases to the local media channels. I was amazed at the number of interviews and articles it generated. In a culture that values authentic voices, the people of God have great stories to tell. In a culture of captured imaginations, the Christian worldview can offer a surprising and hopeful perspective.
Standing on a hill in Galilee, Jesus challenges his followers not to hide their light but to raise it on a stand so that people may see their good works and praise God (Mt.5:15). This text became the motivating force for my work in facilitating these ‘good news’ tales to be told publicly. The colourful array of people who are involved with such ‘good works’ in the city now means that Christian voices are heard in all sorts of public debates; issues of asylum, business ethics, work-life balance, restorative justice, youth identity, regeneration, the arts and more.
The life of a former gangster who now leads the Street Pastors speaks of the gospel’s transformational power on a personal and community level; the households who provide a home for destitute asylum seekers show the compassion for the persecuted; the crowds blowing whistles in our city square remind the government of its commitment to the Millennium Development Goals; the businessman who alleviates poverty by creating jobs demonstrates the power of compassionate enterprise.
These are some of the many faces and voices that hit the local airwaves and feature in the local press. The gospel is good news for the city. And we have seen remarkable ripple effects. One interview generates the next; a letter to the paper generates an invitation for an article; a story is picked up by a national paper or Sky. Also, various spokespersons have been invited to significant platforms. They have spoken at Police Conferences, taken part in Home Office Consultations, and even met the Prime Minister.
Now we want to see more “local Media Hubs” like this develop in other cities. One person who acts as a catalyst in the media can serve many Christian organisations and initiatives. It is an effective way of communicating the gospel and it is a cost-effective way of working. A suitable person is appointed on a part-time basis. They develop relationships with local editors and producers, writing press releases, organising interviews and responding to media queries. Alongside this we have a rolling program of media training, helping local people to develop confidence for radio & TV interviews. The one-day media training has been instrumental for a growing pool of artists, teachers, entrepreneurs, medics, charity- and church leaders who are now equipped and envisioned to take part in the public debate with knowledge, grace, humour and flair.
Over the last two years, several cities have developed such a Media Hub. For example, www.mediahub.org.uk, www.dundeeforchrist.com, www.tellitincolour.com. Recently, Network Norwich was named the best regional church website in the UK. Keith Morris, who edits the website, said: “I find that if material is written and presented properly then it is well received in mainstream papers, radio, websites and TV” (www.networknorwich.co.uk).
In his book, Disciples and Citizens, Bishop Graham Cray writes: "Jesus was a story teller. He taught in parables. Many of the parables retold Israel's story in ways that seemed familiar when they began, but brought the listener to a conclusion they did not expect. In this way, he gave his listeners the opportunity to see their assumptions and worldviews differently and to respond accordingly. The purpose of parables was 'to convey a fresh possibility to the hearer, otherwise unknown to this world or his language’. … This was subversive engagement with Israel's understanding of its story. We need to find similar, imaginative ways to retell, subvert and challenge our nation's stories".
Too often the church has been hesitant to engage with media, hiding its light under a bushel. Or, a section of the church has engaged on a narrow range of moral issues, distorting the bredth of what our faith is about. We need a church that is noticed by the wider culture. And the wider culture needs the church to tell the story of Christ well. As the late bishop of Liverpool David Sheppard once said, if we don’t engage in the public debate, that debate will go on without us. We have got a good story to tell and we need to tell it with grace. In this way, we can fill the city with the testimony of Christ. The Christian community is rich in vision, hope, passion, conviction and creativity. It is the salt of the earth and light of the world. His words, not mine.