After a pandemic-driven hiatus, United Methodist Communications (UMCom) relaunched global communications training initiatives in the central conferences to support ministries through education and empowerment.
In early July 2022, six staff representatives from the agency’s UM News and Global Communication Technology teams led training for communicators from the South Africa Provisional Conference in Cape Town. Sixteen participants were taught the essential concepts of storytelling, how to conduct interviews and take powerful photos. They also learned about using social media for ministry.
The trainees had the opportunity to go into the field to practice what they learned at a United Methodist-supported ministry and then worked in teams to write a story for UMNews.org. They also learned about social media platforms, mapping and using United Methodist Communications’ UMConnect messaging platform.
The training experience also allowed the group to meet and ask questions of Bishop Joaquina Nhanala of the Mozambique Episcopal Area, which includes the South Africa Conference.
“The trainees included many young people eager to learn and form relationships across the church. They vary in levels of experience and technical skills, but they have the passion to grow and succeed,” noted Julie Dwyer, editor of UM News. “We can’t wait to see how these energetic communicators put their training into action.”
Some members of the team then went on to Harare, Zimbabwe, to lead similar training for communicators in the Zimbabwe West Conference. United Methodist Communications trained about 20 district and conference communicators and leaders.
This training covered a similar curriculum as the workshop in Cape Town, with one difference being an emphasis on web development.
Two groups of trainees made field trips to schools in the Harare area to report on an urban education initiative. The United Methodist Communications team also held a press conference with Bishop Eben K. Nhiwatiwa, who answered questions on a wide range of topics. Later, Bishop Nhiwatiwa spoke at a cultural dinner on the importance of communications and the relationship with United Methodist Communications.
“From both trainings, I was impressed by the number of youths that were picked from their annual conferences to come and learn new skills on how they can help share stories and news, not only to their local members but also around the world,” shared Chilima Karima, senior project specialist on UMCom’s Global Communications Technology team.
“On a personal note, working with the participants helped me learn how to better convey ideas and create courses to be easily understood. However, my biggest takeaway was how they can tell stories with limited resources and how I can take their skills and combine them with the latest technology.”
“The team did excellent work, and we established a strong rapport with the communicators,” added Tim Tanton, chief news officer. “The training also provided good momentum for a workshop that is being planned for December for communicators in the Zimbabwe East Conference. As with the other trainings, this one is being organized and led by the local conference, and we are providing expertise and other support.”
More than 7,000 air miles away, communications training also has taken place in the Philippines.
The training was initially intended to resume United Methodist Communications’ previously launched website development initiative. The project was designed to assist the 2,000-plus local churches in the Philippines Central Conference.
After evaluating focus group and clergy feedback, the efforts were paused as the churches found websites difficult to maintain. Always listening to meet the needs of the church at large, the agency developed new training to help equip churches in the Philippines to sustain online activity for ministry.
“I went back to the drawing board and looked closely, reviewing the role of a website to a local church, factoring in the latest developments in information technology, particularly social media,” shared Sid Balatan, who has been contracted by UMCom’s Local Church Services team to assist in their support of churches in the Manila Episcopal Area in the Philippines.
To ease the burden of technical maintenance and content updating, a move was made for Filipino local church websites to be redesigned or repurposed as online brochures.
Balatan adds, “Like its printed counterpart, it will contain the basic information about the local church: address, contact info, name of the pastor and the like. The online brochure/website will only be updated when the phone number is changed, or there is a new pastor, etc. In short, the contents of the website need not be time-bound.”
During a three-day training, 10 participating Manila Episcopal Area churches developed a working website, a Facebook page and a Messenger group chat. The training also included best practices for collecting online offerings and tithes.
“The three churches that I reached out to recently reported an average of 38% increase in their online footprint,” celebrated Balatan. “Online offering shot up to 150% due to giving from relatives or family members of church members who are overseas. The online platforms gave a way for overseas Filipinos to once again get in touch with their church in the Philippines.”
Global and domestic training programs mixed with on-demand and online facilitation courses are important parts of how United Methodist Communications carries out its mission. As an agency of truth-seekers and storytellers, UMCom leads the global church in using the power of communication to enhance ministry and reflect the church to the world.
*Brenda Smotherman is a Senior Public Relations Manager at United Methodist Communications.
For 80+ years, United Methodist Communications has been leading the church in telling inspirational stories of God’s work in the world through The United Methodist Church, reaching new people, supporting local churches in vibrant communications ministry, equipping leaders and delivering messages of hope and healing.
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