WHY THE SDA CHURCH IN ZAMBIA NEEDS A PROFESSIONAL COMMUNICATIONS DEPARTMENT
By Paul Shalala
From the outset, I want to say I love the Seventh-Day Church (SDA) to the core, iam who iam today because the church instilled it’s values of love, good behavior and discipline in me.
I was born to SDA parents and I have lived according to the SDA ideals having passed through the Adventurer, Pathfinder, Senior Youth and Master Guide Clubs.
When I tell people that I have never tasted beer in my 37 years on earth, most laugh at me but my justification is the SDA values which I treasure the most.
In this article, I want to explain why a professional communication department is essential to help the SDA Church overcome some of these problems we have communicating our positions to the nation.
A day ago, Elder Charles Chisala a seasoned News Editor who has managed newsrooms at the Times of Zambia and Daily Nation newspapers wrote on why the SDA Church needs a Corporate Communications Person to handle all communication issues.
I wish to agree with the ordained Elder and I want to add more flesh to his suggestion.
The New Apostolic Church has a fully fledged Communication and Public Relations Team which is Headed by my good friend Nimon Muleya who was my junior at Evelyn Hone College.
Over the past 10 years, Nimon has managed the Communication Department which is in charge of Zambia, Malawi and Zimbabwe and as a team, they have handled all communication, managing several crisis and averting possible ones.
The New Apostolic Church has given these professionals the leverage to handle media related issues while the clergy concentrate on handling the spiritual part of the church.
Nimon holds a Diploma in Journalism from Evelyn Hone College, a Bachelor in Development Studies from the Zambia Open University and a Master in International Relations and Development from Mulungushi University.
This is what the SDA Church can do, employ a professional communicator and enhance the image of the church.
Over the years, our church has mishandled many cases which would have been well covered by a journalist or public relations person.
For example, the recent drowning of our six youths from Lusaka Conference in Lake Kariba was one such public relations blunder we had.
The story was all over social media and media organisations but our church only issued a vague statement after 24 hours.
The statement failed to justify why we as SDAs believe in camps which are vital in the development of our youths in their path to adulthood.
The statement went further to condemn the camp as if it was not sanctioned when our own Youth Director for Lusaka Conference Pastor Billy Mukombo graced it.
If a trained Public Relations person was to issue that statement, it would have come out a few minutes after the accident, it would have even acknowledged the role played by the Police, the community and other stakeholders who helped retrieved the body.
The statement would have explained why we need Youth Alive Camps, it would have explained how the deceased youths sneaked out of camp without permission, it would have also shown the steps the church will take to help the bereaved families in this crisis.
The Public Relations person would have been the authority in that crisis, he or she would have been issuing timely and authoritative statements.
Secondly, when COVID-19 hit Zambia in 2020, the Church took long to made a decision on the mode of worship and what regulations to be followed.
I remember the media relied on a Facebook posting by Lusaka Central SDA Church which banned physical worship and announced virtual worship.
Newspapers and online media carried that story at the expense of an official statement from the Union Conference.
That single posting became the face of the SDA Church in th absence of an official statement and that was because our Communication is handled by Pastors, men who have no formal training in communication,.public relations or journalism.
These Pastors are theologians, their speciality is the Bible and they should be left to handle that area.
Another example I can give is the fire which broke out at the Emmanuel Adventist School in Chisamba.
When the fire broke, there was no one from the Church who issued a statement on the matter on time but when the statement came, it blamed the pupils for negligence.
The church did not talk about safety measures it had put in place to prevent such occurances.
This was another public relations blunder which would have been avoided by a Public Relations person handling the matter.
Look our Pastors, a press statement is not just a message to communicate, it should contain specially designed words to say what is truthful and what should console the grieving parties.
The SDA Church today runs a very successful tertiary institution in Monze called Rusangu University which graduates hundreds of professionals per year but nothing much is known about it because the church does not have a deliberate policy to communicate it’s services.
The SDA Church has one of the best eye hospitals in Chawama area of Lusaka but Zambians dont know about it because our Communication people do not explain to people how cheap the services are and how accessible it is to everyone.
We have Mwami Hospital in Chipata, Yuka and Lyumba Missions in Kalabo, Mupapa Mission in Masaiti and Chimpempe Mission in Kawwmbwa, but no one knows about all these because our communication department isn’t doing its job.
Zambians don’t even know why Adventists in the Bemba-speaking areas are called ba Chimpempe, because we as a church have not explained our history to the nation and where we come from, it all goes back to the communication department.
There are many things the SDA Church does but because we have a disfunctional communication department, the public has no idea of what our church is doing in communities.
We are only in the news for bad reasons, this narrative must change.
The Catholics and New Apostolic Church beat us to the game because they have invested heavily in communication and they involve the main stream media in all their community efforts.
Yes our Church is slow to change and we have had too many public relations blunders, let’s allow professions to handle these matters.
Look, Chief Financial Officers at the Field, Conference, Union, Division and General Conference are Accountants, why then can’t we have Communication Directors coming from the Journalism or Public Relations sectors?
We love this church and when we speak we mean well, we want the best for our church however there are no platforms were these matters can be discussed.
Today if I was to ask what communication platforms the church has, it’s only Facebook and email addresses, Hope Channel and Radio Maranatha in Kabwe.
But if the church was to open a professional communication department, we were going to have YouTube channels, Twitter and Instagram accounts where sermons, lessons and many other resources can be accessed any time.
But all these things can’t be done by Pastors who are Communication Directors because they are not skilled in communication, these people are theologians.
Let’s spare them the communication part, let them concentrate on preaching the word of God, not handling communication.
God bless you all brethren.