Churches aren't immune to facing a PR crisis. (image: Shutterstock)
The Church’s reputation is under threat, with an average of 150 pieces of negative media coverage published each month in the UK towards the end of last year, a PR agency has found.
Jersey Road PR – the UK and Australia’s only agency specialising in PR for churches and Christian charities – monitored print and online media coverage reporting on churches in the three months from the start of September 2021, as research for a crisis communications course for churches launched today (25 Jan 2022).
The research, conducted by Kantar, found 460 separate negative pieces of print or online media coverage in the UK about churches or church leaders published during this time, with stories ranging from historic child abuse to bullying, controversial comments to the Liverpool suicide bomber who had previously attended church.
Gareth Russell, Jersey Road PR’s Founder and Managing Director, who also led a church in Milton Keynes with his wife Andi for eight years, said: “The sheer volume of negative media coverage about churches in the UK is sad but not surprising.
“The number one reason church leaders come to us for help is that they’re facing a media crisis, which can cause untold damage both to those involved and to the mission of the church. But there is hope, if they prepare for and respond to the crisis well — or better yet take preventative steps to stop it escalating into a crisis.”
More than half of the negative pieces of coverage during the monitoring period (271 of 460) related to historic child abuse.
Jersey Road PR’s Account Director for Crisis Communications Sarann Buckby said: “It’s important that the Church recognises and owns its mistakes and it’s terrible that this is one of the biggest stories about the Church in the news today – the plethora of negative stories undermines the myriad of good news stories we have to tell.
“From politics to high profile public figures, the headlines today are dominated by crisis, and the public want leaders who have the courage to be accountable. Too often in the past churches have failed to act and respond well to allegations of abuse, with devastating impact on both the lives of survivors and the reputation of the Church.
“We have seen encouraging signs in some of the recent stories, with churches apologising for failures and taking restorative action.
“It’s crucial for the future mission of the Church that leaders proactively do the right thing and respond to a media crisis with transparency, integrity and compassion – both in public and behind closed doors.”
The five module e-learning crisis communications course, Calm in the Storm, offers practical guidance for church leaders, helping them prepare for, prevent and respond to a PR crisis – whether it relates to an allegation of abuse or misconduct, an unwarranted attack against the church or a culture clash.
The course, including video content, a workbook and editable crisis plan, is available to download for £49 per church at jerseyroadpr.com/crisiscourse.
Notes to editors
A spokesperson from Jersey Road PR is available for comment – contact Sarann Buckby at +44 (0)7593 438739 or [email protected].
About Jersey Road PR
Jersey Road PR brings voice, profile and influence to faith-based organisations who want to change the world. Based in the UK and Australia, the PR agency specialises in supporting churches and Christian organisations, with services including media relations, crisis communications, influencer engagement, content, social media, media training and events.
Jersey Road PR monitored negative online and print media coverage in the UK involving churches between Sept-Nov 2021. There were a total of 460 negative pieces of negative news coverage, which came from a total of 32 stories, including 271 pieces of coverage relating to sex abuse.
The stories with the overall highest amounts of coverage for this period were the French Catholic church paedophile scandal, the taxi bomber who attended church in Liverpool, and the Archbishop of Canterbury's Bishop Bell (sex abuse) apology.
Other stories included subjects such as bullying, misconduct, NDAs and cults.
If a negative story about your charity or church is published by the media or shared online, it could be seen by thousands or even millions of people, causing great damage. That’s why it’s so important to be prepared. Download our free 3-step guide to responding well to a public crisis here: