Controlling the narrative when it comes to church perception

Sam Rainer, pastor of West Bradenton Baptist Church in BradentonFor those of you who still need motivation to keep your church’s lawn nicely mowed, the facilities painted and not in need of repair, and encouraging words on your church sign, read on.

“People perceive things about your church—one way or the other,” says Sam Rainer, pastor at West Bradenton Baptist Church in Bradenton. Later, he added: “As a pastor as you’re out in the community you should ask people: Hey, what do you think about my church? Do you know anything about my church?”

This dialogue was part of our recent conversation for our ongoing interview series “Behind the Pulpit,” where we are talking to a variety of Florida Baptist pastors about a variety of topics making headlines today.

“I fear that a lot of churches are unknown in their community,” Pastor Sam said. “I’ve talked to people here, and there’s many people that know our church and many that don’t. And, often, the ones who don’t really know our church I’ll tell them, ‘We’re off of 43rd, and we’re south of the elementary school.’ ‘Oh, you’re the church with the white columns.’ And that’s all they know.”

Instead of getting frustrated that these people have such limited knowledge of his church, Pastor Sam takes these encounters as listening opportunities: “I’m thinking: Hey, we need to do a better job of getting our message out, because this is a great church, this is a great place. West Bradenton is a wonderful place to be part of God’s family.”

Church leaders don’t have the luxury of thinking “It’s their loss” when someone says something snarky about their pastor, facilities or programming.

“You always are casting some perception of yourself, and people are always perceiving something of you. I would rather control that narrative than just let it just float out there,” Pastor Sam says. “Hopefully, even if they disagree with you, they know who you are and they know what you’re about.”

This is the second blog coming from my conversation with Pastor Sam. Here’s the link to the first——which focused on how pastors can build their reputations within their communities. I’ll be posting more content in this space between now and the April 27th release of our May print edition, which will include an edited version of our conversation.

A video of our conversation also will appear on later this month. You can go now to the Witness’ YouTube channel at and watch videos of Ted Traylor, pastor of Olive Baptist Church in Pensacola; Willy Rice, pastor of Calvary Church in Clearwater; Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist Church outside of Tampa; and, Mac Brunson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Jacksonville.

Kevin Bumgarner is executive editor of the Florida Baptist Witness. He can be reached via email at, and followed on Twitter @FBW_editor

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