Church Protest Called Off: Lessons in Public Relations

December 4, 2006 by

So Mark Driscoll, pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, narrowly avoided a protest yesterday from the People Against Fundamentalism. I won’t get into all the gory details (sorry, poor Monday morning journalism at work), but they basically considered Driscoll’s comments in reaction to the Ted Haggard scandal to be misogynistic and planned to protest Mars Hill Church yesterday. Driscoll tried to clarify what he said the first time around, but his critics considered it a non-apology.

After some soul searching and looking to others for wisdom, Driscoll met face to face with some of the organizers of the protest and hashed out some of their issues. Some changes were made and the protest was called off. The organizers even showed up at Mars Hill on Sunday anyway, just to make sure everyone heard that the protest had been called off (20-25 people did show up to protest, so it’s a good thing they came to turn people away).

You can debate Driscoll’s comments and the reaction of the People Against Fundamentalism all you want, but what I think is interesting is the public relations lessons. Driscoll mentioned three things that brought him joy throughout this trial:

  • First, Driscoll learned from the example of Billy Graham and Charles Spurgeon and how they dealt with criticism. Graham especially had the habit of turning his critics into coaches and learning from them.
  • Second, Driscoll talked with Carolyn Haggard, the neice of Ted Haggard, and learned a few things about media relations, which Carolyn handles for Ted’s former church. Because of her, Driscoll decided his church needs someone to handle media relations.
  • Third, Driscoll was contacted by the organizers of the protest to sit down and talk. Their tone was kind so he accepted (there’s a lesson for protestors), and the open and honest discussion defused the situation.

Nobody wants to come to church on Sunday morning (or whenever you have church) and find a line of protestors. A church of all places should find a way to dialogue with their critics and avoid that kind of attack. You may not convince the protestors to put down their signs and come into church, but perhaps you can come closer to understanding one another and agree not to attack each other.

Update: For the full-blown journalism angle you can check out the Seattle Times or the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. You can check out Travis Johnson’s post if you want to talk about why Driscoll’s critics acted improperly, but we’re more interested in how a church should respond, regardless of how proper or improper the critics are.

Post By:

Kevin D. Hendricks

When Kevin isn't busy as the editor of Church Marketing Sucks, he runs his own writing and editing company, Monkey Outta Nowhere. Kevin has been blogging since 1998, runs the hyperlocal site West St. Paul Reader, and has published several books, including 137 Books in One Year: How to Fall in Love With Reading, The Stephanies and all of our church communication books.
Read more posts by | Want to write for us?

2 Responses to “Church Protest Called Off: Lessons in Public Relations”

  • jasond
    December 5, 2006

    The first thing that comes to mind is one of the laws of marketing. I forget what it’s called (maybe the law of hype, i loaned out the book) but it basically says to not apologize too loudly. For example, when the Firestone tire/rollover thing happened, they took out full page ads and TV commercials to apologize and say they would make amends. Basically they were informing even more people that they have an inferior product and possibly encouraging more criticism. How does this apply to the church? Well, we know we don’t have an “inferior product” but the more we publicly talk about, apologize or attempt to make amends for a misinterpreted statement or slip of the tongue, the more people we inform of it and the more misinformed criticism we invite. It seems people love to grab hold of a 2 second sound bite and turn it into an issue.
    I think Mark did right by attempting to clarifying his statement and then speaking personally with the offended party. There was no spin or rebuttal involved and it seemed to have worked out for now. Although it seems this guy has it out for him.
    The most unfortunate thing about this is the P.C. this may bring into some churches. Every Christian needs to remember that the Bible is offensive to people. When they get poked in the heart with the Sword, they are likely to complain about it.

     | Permalink
  • Brit Windel
    December 2, 2008

    just for laughs…
    i tried going to the hyperlinks you have for what he said… they have been removed and restricted on their website

     | Permalink

Public Relations