Little did we know that by the time the pandemic lashed at our shores in 2020, the steps taken to broaden the communication channels and speed up the delivery of information would prove critical to the mission of telling the stories of what God is doing in the lives of His people.
Our May 2020 issue gave the definitive accounts of how the coronavirus skuttled normal plans for our churches, schools (K–20) and hospital system. In the June/July issue, we reported on the miraculous COVID-19 recovery of a prominent Berrien Springs physician. His experience was one of several back-from-the-brink-of-death stories highlighting that our God is still in the business of answering prayers.
As the pandemic reached one of its worst moments in the late spring, we found ourselves facing the overlapping crisis of racial tensions after the killing of George Floyd. We were forced to grapple with racism as it relates to the church for our August issue.
Many Herald stories take three or more months to report, write, edit and produce. However, with each subsequent crisis, we found ourselves pivoting, figuratively ripping up issues to provide fresh perspective on what we were confronting at the moment.
On Sabbath, April 4, 2020, just three weeks after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the world began a lockdown, our PARL director, Nicholas Miller, hosted a livestream program addressing the topic of “Theology, Church History and the Coronavirus.”
It was a program on the pulse of what was going on and one that opened the door for a partnership with the Communication Department. For the next 10 weeks, we collaborated with our PARL, Health Ministries and Education departments on programs addressing physical and emotional health during quarantine.
In similar fashion to the Herald magazine, when the racial reckoning came to the fore after the murder of George Floyd, we hosted a panel discussion examining worship and protest during the pandemic, as well as the church bearing witness against racism and ministry in a conflict zone, in response to the Kenosha protests. These programs had a combined viewing of over 60,000 views.
As if launching a weekly news and information livestream during the pandemic wasn’t enough, the Communication Department spearheaded yet another program, one tied to what’s inside the Herald. Every episode, which runs an average of 15 minutes, gives viewers a taste of what to expect when they open the magazine each month.
We launched the first Sabbath in August 2020 and introduced viewers to our conferences’ Communication directors. This monthly show is yet another opportunity to promote the Herald to a whole new audience.
We keep hearing of the need for Communication training. Another initiative was to go live on social media with a six-part training session geared toward training the field how to be better communicators. We had topics such as: Photo and Video Basics, Building Community with a Newsletter, Crisis Communication, The Church’s Branding and Design Guidelines, Livestream Best Practices, Showcasing Good Church Websites.
Who could have predicted that when we decided to launch our survey in the March 2020 issue of the Herald, everything, including mail service, would be disrupted? We fully expected it would impact our survey. Six months later we collected almost 500 responses and have come to learn this is a pretty good statistical sampling.
These are some of the highlights:
The most popular content:
Some suggestions for improvement:
On a scale of 1-10, the overall content was valued at 7.55
Newsletters have become invaluable for getting information out quickly, something we saw during the early days of the pandemic.
With a database of about 1,000 email addresses that we built organically since launching almost four years ago, the articles published go well beyond the Lake Union. Almost weekly, our stories are shared globally by the Adventist Review, Adventist News Network and NAD NewsPoints. This certainly didn’t happen when we only published a print magazine.
We are proud to tell these stories of what God is doing and are happy to report that the average open rate is 30 percent, above the industry standard of 15 to 25 percent. If you don’t receive the newsletter, we invite you to sign up. Just go to our website (lakeunionherald.org/).
In closing, our team has changed personnel during this quinquennium. We wished Gary Burns, our Union Communication director, and Judi Doty, our administrative assistant, a happy retirement, and welcomed Katie Fellows as assistant Communication specialist. We believe God is doing a new thing (Isaiah 43:19) and will continue to be on the lookout for His will.
Debbie Michel is the Lake Union Conference Communication director and Lake Union Herald editor.