Church's reputation is 'under threat' from negative media coverage

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A "plethora" of negative news stories is threatening to undermine the good being done by churches across the country.

The warning comes after research by PR agency Jersey Road found that an average of 150 pieces of negative media coverage are being published each month about the Church.

Kantar monitored media coverage of the Church over a period of three months starting from September 2021.

During this time, it found 460 separate pieces of negative coverage across online and print media. 

More than half of these (271) related to historic child abuse. Others covered bullying, controversial comments, and the Liverpool suicide bomber's church connections.

Jersey Road PR warned that the scale of negative media coverage is leaving the Church's reputation "under threat". 

Jersey Road founder and former church pastor Gareth Russell said: "The sheer volume of negative media coverage about churches in the UK is sad but not surprising."

Jersey Road's crisis communications lead, 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."

In response to the findings, Jersey Road has launched a crisis communications course for churches that offers practical guidance on how to prepare for, prevent and respond to a PR crisis. 

Russell said, "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."

Buckby added, "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."