United Methodist Communications shares church’s story with the world

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Part of a series on how the church works

A General Conference year is always a busy one for the denomination’s communications agency and 2016 was no different, as the agency’s role expanded beyond event coverage and technical support to include strategic planning and message development. It also continued to focus on partnerships with other general agencies, conferences and local churches while maintaining its focus in supporting the denomination’s mission of making disciples.

In response to questions from United Methodist News Service, executive staff of the commission discussed the agency’s role and accomplishments in the past year.

What were the top three to five goals of your agency in 2016?

In 2016, United Methodist Communications continued with its three overarching goals for the 2013-2016 quadrennium:

  • Create and align integrated marketing campaigns, unified messaging and branding to boost positive awareness and understanding of what it means to be United Methodist, and deepen understanding of our faith, beliefs, ministries and priorities
  • Establish United Methodist Communications as the recognized leader in communications globally through preparing leaders to meet communication challenges
  • Conceive, develop and implement bold new programs to solve unique global challenges

Were you able to fully or partly accomplish these goals? How was that done?

United Methodist Communications uses digital media, storytelling and strategic messaging to support the denomination’s mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

United Methodist Communications continues to use research and measurement to build and strengthen the foundation of its communications and program development.

For example, UMC.org has seen more than 10.4 million page views. Our social media channels have approximately 600,000 followers. More than 37,000 church leaders receive communication tips via the MyCom e-newsletter, a 13 percent increase in subscribers over last year. Further in-depth learning takes place in online and face-to-face training courses, which have welcomed more than 3,300 people this year. Globally, United Methodist Communications has equipped and trained 27 new African communicators this year.

What was your budget for 2016? How much of that budget was put toward each of these goals?

United Methodist Communications’ 2016 budget was approximately $22.6 million, with the funds allocated over five budgeting priorities:

1. General Conference — 3 percent of budget

During its 75-year history, United Methodist Communications’ role in General Conference has expanded to include strategic planning and unified message development in addition to technical functions, such as managing the General Conference website, logo creation, media relations, news reporting, technology, logistical support, production and more. Three communications objectives were identified for the 2016 General Conference: to use the event as a platform to create positive perceptions of the church’s accomplishments; to define the voice of the church; and to work collaboratively to create coordination around key messages.

We also worked with the Commission on the General Conference on training delegates to use tablets, as well as conducting Pre-General Conference briefings in Central Conferences.

“United Methodist Communications was our principal partner in the Pre-General Conference briefings in the Central Conferences,” said the Rev. L. Fitzgerald “Gere” Reist II, secretary of the Commission on the General Conference. “Without the planning, strategizing and technical support from United Methodist Communications, we couldn’t have done it.”

2. Church-wide Communications Strategy 48 percent of budget

United Methodist Communications is working to create a more holistic churchwide communication strategy. As part of this, we are working to align the denomination’s communications efforts in support of the Four Areas of Focus, the emphasis on creating vital congregations and an increasing awareness of what it means to be United Methodist. We conduct worldwide research to gain understanding of audience attitudes, beliefs and needs. We also work to encourage and assist local churches, annual conferences, general agencies and other denominational entities in adopting consistent branding.

3. Alignment with annual conferences and local churches 38 percent of budget

United Methodist Communications is working to form stronger relationships with annual conferences and local churches and provide them with accessible resources to shape their communication strategies and reach people around the world with the good news of Jesus Christ. We provide tools, services, training and resources that equip church leaders and help local churches to grow into inviting and inspiring places to worship and engage congregations in mission and outreach. We’re also using new technologies to strengthen the denomination’s communications network in underserved areas.

4. Interagency partnerships 10 percent of budget

We are working in partnership with other general agencies to further align our efforts and to advance the Areas of Focus. We continue to work with various agencies to promote awareness of multiple initiatives.

5. Imagine No Malaria 1 percent of budget

Imagine No Malaria has been a primary focus at United Methodist Communications. As the campaign ends its targeted fundraising in 2016, we maximized publicity and marketing opportunities in an effort to drive toward the campaign’s $75 million goal.

Please give a specific example of how one of your programs benefited a United Methodist, a church or a specific community.

Internet access can be limited in much of the world, making inclusive connectivity a challenge in a global denomination like The United Methodist Church. News often is slow to travel. But it wasn’t slow during the 2016 General Conference, when 80,000 text messages were sent to individuals in 12 countries, providing real time updates throughout the two-week period.

“Gone are the days when General Conference outcomes will only be heard at the end of the year during the annual conference,” said the Rev. Allen Gurupira, Zimbabwe Episcopal Area administrative assistant to the bishop.

United Methodist Communications launched the program, which sends bulk messages to groups of contacts. The text messaging system has remained in place, allowing annual conferences to continue to share connectional news. The Rev. Daniel Mhone, superintendent for the Malawi missionary conference, said, “Thanks for connecting us in this special way to the global church.”

What particular challenges did the agency face in accomplishing these goals?

As we strive to effectively reach and serve our audiences, we face the challenge of how to meet the communication needs of a diverse and global church in an ever-changing technological environment and in light of reduced funding.

If the goals are ongoing, what do you plan to accomplish in 2017?

The year 2016 brought a change in direction as Imagine No Malaria comes to an end. We intently focused on streamlining communication going forward, while rethinking our resources for local churches. We have set these objectives to guide our work and align our efforts over the next four years:

  1. Engage people with the story of God’s work in the world through The United Methodist Church.
  2. Equip The United Methodist Church at all levels to become effective communicators, as together we seek to grow the church in the 21st century.
  3. Claim our role as the strategic communications and marketing agency for the global United Methodist Church.
  4. Nurture our people and demonstrate good stewardship of our resources.

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