Even as we celebrate longevity here in the infancy of our third centennial, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church faces what may be some of the most significant challenges to that longevity we have ever encountered. In the United States, our membership metrics have mimicked those of the mainline Protestant denominations for the last several decades, and a decline in financial support for the ministries of the denomination has followed that downward trend. We minister on a frontier of significant shifts in the religious landscape in both the U.S. and the world, and the ways we adapt and respond to these shifts may well determine our viability as a 21st century global denomination.
To be sure, these trends and their resultant challenges are not peculiar to the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, but as a small denomination, we are more susceptible to even slight deviations—for good or ill—in the trajectory of those trends. While we are certainly not “numbers-driven” in our intent to share the good news, membership is nevertheless one useful indicator of the effectiveness of our ministries. The ability to state clearly who we are and what we believe, to embrace inclusiveness through open and honest discussion of the issues of concern to those currently fleeing mainline Christianity and to support the connectional nature of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church will become increasingly important as we seek to reverse any negative trends.
The Communications Ministry Team understands its role in general to be one of facilitation as the church seeks to focus and strengthen its abilities in these areas. We understand the importance of articulating clearly who we are as Cumberland Presbyterians—what it means to be a Cumberland Presbyterian—and why we choose to be Cumberland Presbyterians. We understand the importance of well-defined communication strategies in strengthening our connectional nature. We recognize that the world into which the Church is being called to minister is clearly and profoundly changing—to extents not seen for several centuries.
Within this context, it is incumbent upon the Church in general—and the Cumberland Presbyterian Church specifically—to adapt quickly and resolutely to the cultural, sociological, political and technological changes that are evolving daily, whether we like them or not. “Adaptation” need not be a negative concept for the Church. It need not and should not mean abandoning our faith or our values. But it should imply our willingness to be witnesses to the good news in the language(s) being spoken in the cultural, sociological, and political communities around us—to communicate in a way that first and foremost is consistent with our faith, but which also clearly articulates for those interested in what we are about the doctrines that define us, and which reinforces our connectional nature.
In order to effectively communicate to both our own membership and to the global community in ways that keep our message relevant, we must consciously and intentionally nurture our Identity, our Consistency and our Stewardship.
- Identity: One of the signature organizational trends of the decade is “branding”. Branding is not the same as “marketing”, and need not carry the negative associations that word often carries. Work around developing a Cumberland Presbyterian “brand” will be work that aims to:
- Improve clarity around and understanding of our mission;
- promote a disciplined approach to ensuring that the myriad activities of the Ministry Council align with that mission; and
- Establish a clear rallying point and a source of inspiration and information for Cumberland Presbyterians around the globe. It is an established principle of organizational dynamics that a clear vision can help motivate members of the organization to action. If Christianity is a verb, then having “motivation to action” as a goal of the Communications Ministry will be a good thing.
- Consistency: Now that the internet—and specifically, the worldwide web—has become a ubiquitous and primary source of information, uniformity, or consistency in “look and feel”, has become one of the most important principles in effective communications. A sad but inescapable by-product of the digital age has been a shortened attention span in human beings. It is important that we work to condense and “standardize” our communications—in all their various forms—to the greatest extent possible and practical, to insure that we are delivering our message in ways that either satisfy needs quickly, or encourage “persistence” in further study, thought or action.
- Stewardship: The call to be good stewards of the gifts we’ve been given is neither new nor old-fashioned. In fact, perhaps more than ever before, effective stewardship of our resources emerges not only as a Christian imperative, but as an absolute economic necessity as well. The Cumberland Presbyterian Church has become a denomination of many faces. To many, we are The Cumberland Presbyterian magazine. To others, we are the Missionary Messenger. And to still others, the Cumberland Presbyterian “face” may comprise our presence on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, the denominational website, News of the Church, or any of several other electronic or print media. To be good stewards, we must find ways of avoiding redundancies and taking advantage of opportunities for consolidation.