The work of the World Association for Christian Communication (WACC) is becoming even more important at a time when communication is increasingly reduced to technique at the service of partisan interests and profit, the organization’s president told its board of directors on the opening day of their Oct. 9-14 meeting here.

“Many communication and journalism faculties now place far more emphasis on marketing than on communication history and theory,” WACC president Dennis Smith noted in his opening address. Smith, a longtime Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) mission worker, is currently based in Argentina.

WACC is a Toronto-headquartered global organization that promotes communication for social change. The board of directors, WACC’s main governing body, meets once every three years. A key item on the agenda of the 2011 meeting is to agree a five-year strategic plan for 2012 to 2016.

The meeting will also initiate a training program to strengthen global and regional leadership within WACC.

Key concerns identified by Smith included the need for WACC to increase its networking capacity, and to strengthen its governance structures and a sense of common identity and purpose.

“WACC needs to increase our visibility and credibility as the world’s leading faith-based association of communication professionals,” said Smith. “How can we leverage our broad and compelling experience into the capacity to impact public policy and even the communication strategies of ecumenical institutions and of our own churches?”

In his report, Smith had noted how many churches and ecumenical agencies are cutting or eliminating communication budgets.  

“Those programs that remain must justify their continued existence in terms of their contribution to fund-raising and public relations,” the WACC president stated.

“Of course, in today’s market-driven world, religious institutions must learn to package their message in a way that can be heard and understood,” said Smith. “But WACC has always understood that communication is not limited to technique.  Communication is building meaning in common.”

WACC has corporate and personal members in over 100 countries.  Members are organized in eight regional associations in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, North America and the Pacific.

The history of WACC dates back to 1950 but the organization was more formally established in the UK with a Board of Trustees in 1968. The global headquarters moved to Toronto in 2006.

Smith referred in his report to the WACC’s identity as a faith-based organization, one of the issues dealt with in the strategic planning process.

“I have found that some of us do what we do quite explicitly rooted in our faith experience,” said Smith. “Others of us do what we do because of our ethical and ideological commitments.  Faith talk makes some of us nervous, and some of us have had very painful experiences with the church as institution.”

Some people are part of WACC because of its historic stand on communication rights and social justice, recalled Smith, while for others it is because its mission coincides with their personal faith commitments.

“What, then, is the glue that holds us together?” he asked. The consultations related to the strategic plan made clear the consensus with WACC, said Smith: “We affirm and celebrate our rootedness in the Christian faith while proclaiming our commitment to working respectfully and in humility with all people of good will, especially those on the margins of society.” 

Stephen G. Brown is former co-editor of Ecumenical News International and is vice-president for WACC-Europe.