If a fire or major storm destroyed your church facilities, how would you notify your congregation? If the news media appeared at your door with questions on a controversial topic, do you know how you would respond?
Disaster or controversy can put the church at the center of a communications firestorm. A crisis communications plan will keep your congregation and the public informed. The key is to be prepared for a crisis before a crisis ever hits.
How to Inform Your Congregation When Disaster or Tragedy Strikes:
- Form a crisis committee that coordinates emergency response.
- Designate a communications specialist who is a good writer, savvy with social media, and experienced in reaching mass audiences. The communicator must work closely with church staff.
- Update contact information for all members quarterly.
- Determine the best way to reach your congregation (social media, email, phone tree, or newsletter).
- Keep your messages short and to the point. If necessary, include a call to action such as a request for volunteers, prayer support, or other assistance.
- Provide updates during the crisis.
- If the crisis generates media attention, have the specialist work with the pastor or designated staff to develop talking points and to coordinate interviews.
Tips for Communicating with the Public When Dealing with a Controversy:
- Form a committee to develop appropriate responses to specific issues.
- Have the committee develop talking points for various issues, including same-sex marriage, climate change, social justice, and scandal involving staff or a church member.
- Select one spokesperson to speak for the church on all media-related matters to ensure clear, concise messages.
- Have the designated spokesperson participate in recorded mock interviews.
- When contacted by the media:
- Always respond. Ignoring media calls will only generate more questions.
- When talking with reporters, find out what they’re looking for as well as their deadlines.
- Never say, “No comment.” If you cannot discuss the issues, give a short explanation.
- Keep your answers concise. Broadcast reporters will be looking for that 10-second clip for their story. Don’t ramble; otherwise, your message will get lost.
- Always remain calm in an interview; don’t let your emotions take control.
- If you’re unable to go on the record, get the reporter’s contact information and follow up at the appropriate time.
- Once a crisis has passed, review your responses and adjust the communications plan and talking points accordingly.
- Review your communications plan annually.