menu-bar
May 2024 Blog - Crisis Communication

Crisis Communication

Jenn Clauser

May 2024 Blog - Crisis Communication

Crisis Communication

Jenn Clauser

Imagine sitting at your desk, and the phone rings; the volunteer receptionist at your church shares that there is a representative from your local news station asking to speak with you. Immediately, your mind starts racing about what could be newsworthy. Perhaps it was the recent food pantry distribution or the family fun festival. As you get up to meet them, your text message notification goes off. You get a knot in the pit of your stomach as you read, “Heads up, our co-worker was traveling out of state for a family wedding and was arrested in the airport. Apparently, a case that was closed 10 years ago was reopened because of some new witnesses coming forward.”

 

Questions immediately surface; “A case was closed? What was the case? I had no idea that person was ever in trouble,” “I hired that person,” “I love that person,” “How was I so naive?” “Maybe it’s not true,” “Did my pastors know and not tell me due to pastoral confidence? Did they assume I would post something about it online? Why do they assume I post everything online for the masses?” “I really dislike surprises.” As thoughts continue to rush in, you realize you have to put those thoughts in a box because news cameras are waiting.

 

What do you do?

 

Pause.

Media cameras, texts, emails, and replies to social posts can wait. Anything released in a public venue  cannot be retracted. Take a minute to pray, gather the facts, gather your thoughts, and consult with your leaders. To make space for that pause, let the media know you are in prayer for all involved, you will release a statement, and give an interview. But because this is new to you, you need a few hours to get the information together. Ideally, you have already established relationships with your local media, and they will be willing to wait for a story, knowing that you all will be transparent and cooperative. If comments or messages are coming in on social media, go ahead and post that your church is aware of the situation, you are in prayer for all involved, and you will post something in the next few hours.

 

Talk with your crisis response team.

If you do not have a crisis response team, put one together. A crisis response team can be made up of you, your senior pastor, your human resource representative, and someone from your church’s lay leadership team (like a member of the Church Council or board of elders, for example). It is also good to have legal counsel as part of that team. 

When stress levels are high, as humans, we default to fight, flight, or freeze. Some people are intuitive, while others look to the facts. It is good to have a diverse group of people who can make fast decisions—but it is also important to discern those decisions as a team.

 

Create a clear message.

Stick to and only share the facts. Begin the message with compassion for all involved and mention that you will be in prayer, but do not be overly holy. Report on just the facts in the most unbiased way possible. Conclude by giving people contacts to reach out to if they have more questions. If there is a next step, share what that will be and when it will be communicated. There are a lot of loving people in a church who want to deliver meals, make donations, or jump in to help—if you sense that you can say, “We will have opportunities to help, and we will share those needs in the coming weeks. For now, please be in prayer.”

 

Communicate to the egg.

Some call this “Stakeholder Mapping”; I call this the Communication egg. When you are frying an egg in the pan, you have the yolk, egg white, the pan, the stove, the counter, the kitchen. Those closest to the subject (also those who are high stakeholders and have high influence) need to know first, then you move outward from there. When you share your message, encourage everyone to share the same message. Rumors spread like wildfire, and people tend to add their own experiences or feelings when retelling information, so ask that everyone stick to the facts when retelling. When communicating, I recommend you have a list of email addresses handy and keep it current so you can communicate in this order:

 

Egg Yolk

– Pastoral Staff

– Church Staff

– Church Lay Leaders (Example: Board of Elders, Church Council, etc.)

 

Egg White

– Key Church People (volunteers and group leaders also feel called to their positions within the church, and some spend as much time at the church as staff; identify those folks and make a list of them).

 

Frying Pan

Then you can determine the other areas that are appropriate for communication, which may include: your internal mass email list and your website.

 

Counter and the Kitchen

If necessary, you can also include: social media, Google Business Profile, and your local media.

Use discernment on which channels should have the communication.

 

Respond and follow up.

Be ready to gracefully respond to questions and comments. If people seem concerned, rather than enter into a lengthy online conversation, you can invite them into a conversation with your church team. If you have stated a next step, be sure to follow up when you said you would.

 

Practice pastoral care.

Remember the thoughts in a box that were mentioned in the second paragraph of this blog post? Once the dust settles, open that box back up. Do not remain on an island. It is okay to heal together as a staff. If you are a pastor reading this, please be sure to provide care for your staff. If you are a communications director, request that a mental health professional come in to talk with the staff and help walk you all through this.

 

As the church, it is also important to remember that all are affected by crisis (this may include the person who is being accused and their victims). Make a list of local ministries that can support anyone in crisis. This may include prison ministries, recovery groups, family therapy, abortion care, disaster relief, care ministries, grief support, and more. When crisis hits, that sometimes means that someone is cut off from their entire church community, and we do not want people to experience loneliness in their most vulnerable times. Have a list of other churches and ministries who can walk with them in their time of healing if that can no longer be your church.

 

Crisis comes in all shapes and sizes. Crisis can be a viral accusation that is not true, a natural disaster, a worldwide pandemic, violence, sickness, death, infidelity, porn, grooming, inappropriate interactions with a minor, true accusations, false accusations, a former employee’s online outrage, denominational unrest, and more. Ephesians 6:12 reminds us that the struggle is not against flesh and blood but is against spiritual forces. So, as Communicators, we can remember to pause, pray, communicate clearly, and care compassionately.

 

Meet the Writer:

Jenn is an experienced Church Communications professional who is passionate about curating content that calls hearts (Jeremiah 1:4-10). She coaches on strategically prioritizing content to reinforce the vision of the church and on how to  creatively extend the Gospel. Jenn consults one-on-one with Communications Directors, and also leads learning sessions for Communications departments and our Church Communications Group Roadshow. Jenn has a B.A. in Communications and is pursuing advanced degrees in Theological Studies. Jenn works within “She Leads Church,” is passionate in prayer, is a second generation Texan, and calls Coker Methodist her Church home. If you want to see Jenn’s eyes light up, ask her about adventures, being outdoors, her husband, her daughters, their Australian shepherd, or their newest addition- a French bulldog.

Share:

Facebook
Twitter
Pinterest
LinkedIn

Responses

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

On Key

Related Posts