“What hope do you think that faith brings to people?
It’s normally a question you’d expect on Christian radio, or maybe your local BBC Sunday morning faith show. But in the middle of a pandemic that has turned our world upside down, the General Director of Christians in Sport was invited to talk about how his faith can help people – on Sky Sports News.
And it’s not the only piece of positive media coverage Christianity has received in unusual places over the past few weeks. Take the Guardian headline: “British public turn to prayer as one in four tune into religious services”, or the clip of churchgoers from around the country singing ancient Bible verses from their homes on BBC News at Ten. This past weekend, the church was even cited as the possible reason for the mysterious crash of Zoom.
It’s a far cry from normality; Christianity usually finds it easiest to get national coverage when there’s controversy and often receives a hefty dose of cynicism in media debate.
Unprecedented coverage for unprecedented times, I hear you say – and yes, so much is changing right now. But at the heart of it, it is also journalists doing what journalists have always done: telling the stories they know people care about.
Back in the days before COVID-19, if you’d asked me what stories national news editors are looking for, I’d have answered something like this: shock, surprise, conflict, tragedy, celebrity, and issues of huge national importance.
These all still apply - but now something else has been elevated up the news agenda, because in the middle of all the fear, confusion and exhaustion, it’s what all of us so desperately want.
It’s what the Sky Sports News interviewer was angling for: hope.
That’s why people are tuning into church services in their droves. It’s why at the time of writing the UK Blessing – a song recorded by Christians in lockdown – has been watched almost 2.5 million times on YouTube. It’s why national newspapers are sending out newsletters filled with good news stories to cheer us up and reignite our faith in humanity.
And it’s why there’s a small, but perceptible, shift in the tone of these news stories about Christianity. Because the Church at its best specialises in hope: whether it’s reaching out to people to make sure they have food to eat, speaking up for the vulnerable, or letting people know that no matter how lonely or unloveable they might think they are, they are loved and known.
These things don’t usually get media coverage because they’re not surprising, shocking or controversial – after all, they’re examples of the Church doing what the Church is supposed to do. In a time where the news agenda and the journalists who produce it are more frenetic than ever, they will still have to compete with other stories to make it onto our airwaves and they will still need to stand out to make the cut.
But now journalists are looking for purveyors of hope, and they’re turning to the Church to find them. That’s good news.
Charis Gibson, Account Development Director, Jersey Road PR
Generating positive word-of-mouth communication often feels as elusive as creating the next “viral” video. It’s not something that can be created, it has to be organic. Wrong. Here are three simple steps to encouraging people to start talking about your organisation.