A Survival Guide for Church Communicators
Lessons learned from Justin Dean, former Communications Director at Mars Hill Church
Presented for the time being without comment.
The title is interesting. It's a survival guide for church communicators. This title does not imply that the church itself will necessarily survive. But it telegraphs that it can be a survival guide for church communicators. Justin Dean's tenure at Mars Hill Church may truly be an instructive case study because during his stint as the person handling PR Mars Hill went from its soaring heights to complete institutional death.
If anyone has come across reviews of the book it'd be interesting to see what the reviewers had to say about the book. Given how high profile the implosion of Mars Hill Church was, Dean's book might be something would-be future historians of the movement might be curious about.
How Justin Dean fielded the discipline of Andrew Lamb in 2012 did chart a course for the public reputation of the church. For those who don't remember what he said, he explained that due to unclear communication what was meant to be conveyed about Andrew's discipline within a small group context was made known to the larger MH community, which was not intended. At the time we noted that this was about as direct an explanation of an action being caused by organizational incompetence as was likely to be seen in contemporary American discourse.
Recall, too, that MH was laboring to state that they were interested in protecting the privacy of the parties involved regarding the church discipline situation.
If you should want to read about thirty-five thousand words of analysis referring to social media use by former MH leaders and attenders showing how easily it was possible to connect all the dots between Matthew Paul Turner's blogging about Andrew's discipline and the identities of Andrew (Lamb) and the Noriega family) you can trawl through these tagged posts:
Mars Hill was in many respects a case study of early adoption of social media use. It was a church culture that tried to be cutting edge about media use and branding. The upside of that culture was that they had a meteoric rise. The downside of that culture, to keep things brief for a post such as this, is that we had a culture in which people had not thought through all the implications of social media as mass media, or social media as a means through which all varied uses came with the voluntary sacrifice of privacy. As this blog documented in at times mind-numbing detail, MH leaders and attenders did not seem to always grasp just how huge were the streams of information left out there on the net for reference. When I started to document how it was possible for a convicted felon on his second marriage to get fast-tracked into a high mid-level leadership position in the culture of MH after he played an instrumental role in getting a piece of prime real estate Mark Driscoll admitted he'd been wanting for Mars Hill for a decade, this was possible to blog about precisely because Mars Hill was a culture where all sorts of stuff was blogged and tweet from sermons and information was easy to look up. I would not say that, per a tweet by Justin Dean, that "bloggers won". Mars Hill was the kind of information culture in which revealing what was going on became easy to investigate because Mars Hill was a culture that couldn't help publishing stuff to prove how technically engaged it was.
Now's s good a time as any to ask whether we Americans throw around the word "survivor" too much, not least in days where people actually get shot and killed. I've gone on record here saying I don't particularly like the term "survivor" blog. I'm not saying something like PTSD can't be experienced by people who have been through emotionally traumatic experiences at church--but two years after the shooting at Emanuel AME there are people who aren't with us because they were murdered. The men and women and children who were there and were not also murdered can certainly be regarded as survivors. About a year ago the Pulse shooting occurred. The people who didn't die in that incident who were present can also be described as survivors. Dean's book may have tips on how to "survive" in a church communicator role but the word "survivor" seems over-used in American Christian social media and media use.
Still, if you happen to know of any reviews of Dean's book, feel free to post a comment (comments are still moderated so they may not show up, or show up right away).
And now Mars Hill is no more. A normal person on the street might wonder whether or not the PR approach of the top level leaders wouldn't have been responsible in a crucial way for the decline of a church's reputation. But the book title says it's a survival guide for church communicators, so if we judge a book by its cover, Justin Dean's book doesn't have to be about whether or not the church survives, just the person who has the job of handling it's PR.