Today we launch a new series of interviews with the board members of our nonprofit parent, the Center for Church Communication (CFCC). There’s a wealth of knowledge there and we thought we should tap into that and share it with everyone.
We start with the man Christianity Today calls a media guru. Phil Cooke is a writer, filmmaker and media consultant. He advises churches and ministries through Cooke Pictures and produces national ad campaigns through TWC Films, including a few Super Bowl spots. You can get more from Phil on his blog or Twitter stream.
You work on a lot of big time ad campaigns. Can the local church really compete with corporate America and Hollywood?
Phil Cooke: I don’t think our job is to “compete” with corporate America and Hollywood, but I do think we have the tools and techniques to get our message heard. Our commercial company, TWC Films, recently produced the new national advertising campaign for Starbucks—I think it may be the first national spots they’ve ever done. But selling coffee is a dramatically different message than sharing the gospel. The one area both religious and secular media have to fight is for the audience’s attention. Today we live in the most cluttered, hyper-competitive culture in the history of the world. We’re literally being bombarded with media messages all day long. So there’s never been a more important time to create platforms where a local church can speak into the culture.
What’s something churches can learn from Hollywood and the ad world?
Phil: We have a saying out here in Los Angeles that “Hollywood is great at making fake things look real, and the church is great at making real things look fake.” Hollywood understands the power of quality. For instance, most cable or satellite systems today have as many as 500 channels. In that world, it takes about two to three seconds to decide what program to watch. As a result, for a Christian program, it doesn’t matter how powerful your message is—because if they don’t watch long enough to hear it, we’ve failed. It’s not much different with local advertising or marketing. There’s a lot of choices out there, so we need to be intentional, strategic, honest and authentic if we’re going to get their attention.
What shouldn’t we borrow from Hollywood?
Phil: I don’t think we have the time…
What’s the most exciting thing you’ve seen churches do to communicate in the past year?
Phil: In a digital age, we often forget the simple but amazing power of people-to-people networking. Facebook and Twitter are fascinating, and I’m encouraged that more and more churches are using social media tools. But if something is really happening at your church, then people will tell their friends, or better yet, bring their friends. The simple power of face-to-face buzz is a lost tool. I encourage pastors to deliver messages that are so provocative (and maybe even controversial) that it starts people talking. Give people a reason to show up, and not only will they do it, but they’ll bring their friends.
What’s the single greatest thing you think churches can do to communicate better?
Phil: Stop chasing relevance. In my book The Last TV Evangelist I talk about the fact that “chasing relevance” only makes you hopelessly irrelevant. I worry that we’ve tried too hard to fit in with the culture, we’ve lost our ability to be distinct. If we’re not offering the world something they can’t find anywhere else, why should they come? But too many churches are trying too hard to be “hip,” that they’ve lost what it means to be unique. Worry less about preaching in jeans with your shirttails out, and more about changing people’s lives.
What do you see down the road for the Center for Church Communication specifically and church communication in general?
Phil: I’ve worked with churches and ministries for the last 30 years, and it’s amazing the difference I’ve seen in those three decades. Early in my career, I often felt like a pioneer fighting in hostile territory. Pastors didn’t understand how to connect with the congregation, there were “hymns versus worship music” wars, and for most, “quality” wasn’t even on the radar. In those days, they didn’t realize the incredible importance of packaging a message in a way that would connect with an audience. But the difference today is enormous. Now we have a generation of pastors and media leaders who understand the power of social media, broadcast media and even movies. They understand that “everything communicates,” as Brad Abare often reminds us. Who knows? Maybe I’ve worked myself out of a job. Either way, I often wonder if the next generation of worship leaders will be filmmakers. Maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing…