I probably won’t answer if you call my office phone number.
And, I probably won’t answer if you call my cell phone unless I already have your name in my contacts list.
However, I will call you back within minutes if you leave a message (unless I am legitimately at a place I can’t immediately respond).
Well, that doesn’t sound very customer-service oriented, does it? But there truly is a reason for my guarded response. I have no idea who is on the other end of that phone, and the last thing I want is to be ambushed. Let me explain.
I was the media relations manager at Lifeway Christian Resources for seven years, and it was my job to respond to media calls. I fielded calls on any number of issues, from the most mundane to the pointedly serious.
There is nothing worse than hearing bad news first from a reporter and being completely unprepared to deal with it. So, I began letting all calls go to voice mail to create space so I could gather information, formulate a reasonable response and speak well on behalf of the organization.
I employ the same practice here at the TBMB in my role as communications director. I get calls from media on a variety of issues, and let’s face it, the Southern Baptist Convention currently generates fodder for which media, especially secular media, want a response.
Proverbs 18:13 tells us, “The one who gives an answer before he listens — this is foolishness and disgrace for him.” I intend to be as prepared as possible to speak to issues that have significant consequences for our organization, for Tennessee Baptists and for the cause of Christ. And you need to be as well.
Over the past eight years I have helped several churches manage crises. The person calling me, most often a pastor, is usually overwhelmed and feels the entire ministry of the church is about to collapse. Not to be dramatic, but it actually could. Seriously. And it could happen in a matter of minutes.
So, what do you do?
First, assume you’ll have a crisis. I tell people every time I talk to a group about crisis planning that there are two types of organizations: those that have had a crisis and those whose crisis hasn’t yet hit. If your organization believes it’s exempt, I’d classify it as highly naïve and at high risk.
Think about the variety of crises your church faces.
Someone who trips over the crack in the sidewalk and falls, a sexual abuse issue, youth bus crash heading to camp, embezzlement by financial administrator, theological positions considered controversial in the community you’re trying to reach for Christ, a tornado destroying your church building, a child receiving red dye punch at VBS when a parent explicitly said to make sure they didn’t receive any, and many more.
A crisis is any event, whether man-made or by natural disaster, that occurs suddenly or over a period of time that adversely affects the ability of your organization to accomplish its mission.
Working under the assumption that your church will face a crisis –– here are some preliminary steps you can take to prepare.
1. Identify key people. Who from your organization needs to be a part of a crisis response team? Obviously, this would include church leadership, but it may also include a summer intern responsible for social media, or the church receptionist who is the first point of phone contact for people calling the church.
The response team lineup will be different for every organization, but it’s important to identify potential team members, what their responsibilities will be during a crisis and who will speak on behalf of the organization. Having this in place in advance saves invaluable time when a crisis hits because when it hits, every second is critical to the success of managing a crisis.
2. Identify key audiences. Who are the people who would be affected by a crisis? I like to think in terms of concentric circles. Generally, the first circle would be the congregation/church members, the next circle would be the community in which the church is located, and the third circle would be everybody else. Those circles change depending on the crisis, but it is important to understand who is impacted by the events.
3. Identify the response process. How will you respond when the crisis hits? Who will call the team together? Where will the team convene? How do you identify the root of the crisis? What steps will you take to address the cause while communicating to your key audiences? Knowing in advance how you’ll manage a crisis is as important as knowing who will manage the crisis and to whom you’ll communicate.
Churches have high risk exposures, and all of those invite crises. However, crises need not be feared or be terminal. In fact, they can become opportunities if well managed. Preparation is the key to a successful response and starting with the above three steps is a great place to start.
And if you’d like to talk more about developing a crisis response process or need help managing a crisis, feel free to give me a call.
Just be sure to leave me a message. B&R