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Writing church press releases

Press releases are an under-utilized method of presenting the life of your church fellowship to the local community. These useful guidelines have been written for us by a professional writing lecturer also involved in web evangelism.

Wouldn’t you love to have free advertising for your next event that doesn’t look like advertising? Well, that’s what a well-written press release can provide. Of course, the key here is “well-written”. Many people send out press releases only to have them discarded by the local media. This isn’t because the editor didn’t like the organization or didn’t want to print the release. Rather it was because in order to fix the release enough for publication would just take too much time.

Editors actually like press releases. They have all this white space to fill each day or every week and they have just a few hours in which to fill it. Press releases provide them with valuable leads for in-house features as well as community-oriented stories providing basic information about local events.

Unfortunately, too many non-profit publicists write poor press releases. And this is sad, because a good basic press release is easy to write. In this article we will look at some tips for writing an editor-friendly press release.

Is it news?

Before writing a release ask yourself,“Is this really news?” Your pastor’s weekly sermon title or the annual business meeting are probably not news. News for church groups generally falls into four categories: Milestones, Events, Programs and People.

Every church experiences milestone events. These would include dedicating a new sanctuary, opening a day-care center, or celebrating an anniversary. These events have news value. In fact, if the milestone is significant enough, the editor may send over a reporter to prepare a feature.

Special events are the easiest to publicize. Concerts, outreach events, Christmas and Easter programs are the meat and potatoes of a newspaper’s church page. These announcements are why people most people read that part of the newspaper. Every time you have a special event, you need to send out a press release. If you meet the deadline, it will probably be printed.

Special programs, especially humanitarian programs serving the local community, can be easily turned into news features. Our own church web-site offers a CyberChurch section where people can hear the Sunday sermon and take part in an online Bible study. It has been featured on our local television station and in the local newspaper. Our outreach diet site has been mentioned in numerous publications and e-zines. All of this coverage began with a press release.

People make the news. That’s a truism of journalism. Are there interesting people in your church congregation? Is your pastor retiring after 30 years of service in your church? Do you have a member who is celebrating her 100th birthday? Did one of your congregation members paint a mural on the side of the church? These human interest stories make great reading.

Send an editor something with news value and your press release has a much better chance of being published.

Your basic press release

When writing your basic press release, remember to be objective, stick to the facts and remember it’s purpose is to report the news and not to evangelize. That’s what a good news story is – just the facts. Any opinions need to be expressed through quotes from a church spokesperson and not stated as a fact in the article. And, from an editor’s point of view, scripture is not a fact. So, placing a scripture verse at the top of your article won’t get it any better reading and will likely be deleted in editing.

Your basic press release is written in what is called “inverted pyramid” style. This means you begin with the most important information and then present information of less importance further down in the article. This allows the editor to“cut from the bottom”if the article needs to be shortened.

Use short, snappy sentences, with no passive tenses. Edit and re-edit to cut out extra words or duplications. Remember, you are writing in the ‘third person’ about your church or group: ‘they’ not ‘we’.

Your first paragraph should summarize the story and present all of the essential information. Remember journalism’s five“W’s”– Who, What, When, Where, Why. Try to answer as many of those questions as possible in the lead (first) paragraph.

"First Church will host a neighborhood Block Party at Frankwood Community Center from 9 a.m. till sunset on Saturday June 27.”
This should then be followed by a very short summary of what to expect:
“The party, called Frankwood Alive, will feature music, free food, games, children’s programs, a mini carnival, crafts fair and informational booths for local businesses and civic organizations.”
Then a quote from someone in authority can come next:
“We have been in this community for 5 years now and have had wonderful response from the residents,” says Rev. Jay Smith, pastor of First Church. “This is just our way of giving something back to the community.”
Now, you can follow with either more details about the event or a few details about the church. I usually like to do the latter:
“According to Smith, First Church was established in 1998 with 15 members and has grown to over 150 in attendance on Sunday. Other outreaches of the church include a nursing home ministry, a food bank for the poor, traveling musical groups, and Bible classes taught both on Sunday morning and Saturday afternoon.
Then I like to put in a “fluffy” quote which will likely be cut out, but sometimes it makes it in:
“We really love this community,” says Smith. “We hope that this party will be a big thank-you hug for the whole neighborhood.”
Then finish with contact information.
“For more information about the Block Party or any of the other First Church programs phone... or visit their web-site at www.firstchurch.com.”

Layout

Find out what means of delivery, layout, and style your local news outlet prefers. Most papers will expect a single sheet on your headed paper, of professional appearance. Double-spacing is essential as it allows a copy-editor to mark up changes easily.

Above the main text of the press release, include the date of release, and any embargo date before which the item must not be published. Also provide phone/email contact details of the sender so that so that clarifications or extra information can quickly be obtained by the newspaper if they need to.

Don’t forget your church site

Always include your church web-site URL (or if appropriate, a direct internal page-link) within any press release, as an integral part of the story: “Read more online...” Your church website can be a ‘shop window’ for the community.

Build contacts

Take time to find the name(s) of the appropriate contacts in your local newspaper or radio. Address press releases to them personally. If possible, try to meet up with them occasionally and without being pushy, establish a relationship which will give credibility to your materials – and maybe give you a new friend too. Journalists usually have open and inquiring minds with an interest in people.

Best advertising around

A well-written press release provides you with the type of advertising money can’t buy. Since it is a news story, more people will read it than even a full-page ad. And best of all, it’s free!

Your church website

Remember that your church web-site is a first point of contact for many people in your community. Sadly, the majority of church sites seem to be written purely for their members! Very few place a priority on being understandable and welcoming to non-Christians. Yet churches which make this radical switch find that they can really reach into the community! Read more.

More helpful resources

Read more Firefox iconrelated pages within the Writing well menu links
book graphicrecommended books on writing, including free downloads
WMPlayer iconvaluable online videos about web ministry
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