What’s in a Picture?

This week a friend shared an article with me about university marketing. It told the story from 2000 when the University of Wisconsin wanted to portray itself as racially diverse in its recruiting material. Somebody had the bright idea that Photoshop would help them out. So the front cover of the 2001-02 application booklet features a scene from a football game with the photoshopped head of a African-American student who never attended a football game!

This illustrates the difficulty institutions such as colleges and churches have when portraying themselves. Unless a church is targeting a particular demographic sector such as young professionals, or a specific immigrant community, churches want to portray themselves as welcoming to everyone. As a consequence our websites and promotional material often emphasises diversity. However, these pictures don’t always tell the truth.

The difficult question to answer is “Should we portray the church accurately, or aspirationally?” How does a 98% white church communicate that black and Hispanic members are welcome? Does a picture of a room full of white faces communicate that message? But if a church posts a stock photo of great racial and generational diversity that’s not a current reality will guests feel deceived when they walk in the door?

Did we miss anyone?

Look at this picture I found in some search results for “church diversity”. It’s obviously staged, but they’ve managed to include quite a few demographic groups: Children, Men, (mostly) Women, African-Americans, 50+, and they’re all so happy!!

One suggestion I like is that if congregational is more aspirational than real, “Start making it real!” Obviously churches can’t drag ethnic diversity in off the street, but they can develop an attitude of diversity by deliberately including diversity in everything we do. If we begin with intentionally including generational and gender diversity on committees and ministry teams, we’ll develop an attitude toward inclusiveness that will prove invaluable when connecting with those of other ethnic backgrounds. Don’t let pictures be the only expression of the church’s aspirations for diversity.

This is a topic I’m sure we’ll explore further in later posts. Churches that are racially integrated really should get that message out. Remember, 93% of churches are not! But what’s the best way of letting our communities know who we are?

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your experiences. Do you think the picture above is positive or negative? You might also like to read these related articles:

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