Pastor Kenn Dixon is a Texas church leader who knows a thing or two about crisis management. At WFX conference in Dallas last year, Dixon led an informational session, "Crisis Management: How to Prepare Before It Happens (and How to Rebuild Afterward)." Session attendees were asked to re-evaluate their plans and re-commit to preparedness.
What Is a Crisis?
According to Dixon, a church crisis can be defined as "an occurrence that puts the organization's reputation at stake." He explains that a crisis is an event that potentially changes the way people look at an organization.
"Media plays a great role here," Dixon says. "The media today has the power to shape the minds of people in such a way that reputations can be changed for years." He points churches still suffering from child abuse scandals as one example. (See 10 Media Relations Tips for Churches in Crisis.")
Are You Prepared?
To help church leaders assess the readiness of their organization to effectively manage a crisis situation, Dixon offers a series of eight questions, which he calls "The Crisis Quiz." He asks:
Does your church have an established written crisis plan? (If so, when was it last updated?)
- Do you have a pre-determined crisis management team?
- Is your crisis team accessible and readily available at any hour on any day?
- Are you prepared to answer media inquiries?
- How long will it take your team to release an official statement? What is your process for this?
- How (and how long after the crisis) will you inform staff, volunteers, or congregants of a crisis? What is the process for this?
- Has your crisis management team studied and learned from crises faced by other churches?
- What are all the possible crises that could affect your church
"This crisis quiz revolves around basic crisis prevention measures," Dixon explains. "Answering this quiz can help church authorities prepare better for a crisis and to avoid facing problems later."
Create a Crisis Plan
As Dixon points out, "The first step in crisis management is prevention, achieved with thorough background checks of all church leaders, employees, and volunteers." But, of course, crisis management doesn't stop there. Churches must compile a detailed, fully documented action plan that can be relied upon in times of trouble.
"Crises are unpredictable, but not unexpected," Dixon says. "A plan should always be there to counter such situations."
A crisis plan will establish the crisis team as well as the point-of-contact for media relations. The plan will not only include the steps the crisis team will take in responding to a crisis, but also templates and workflow diagrams. For example, press release templates can be pre-written, with carefully thought-out verbiage (perhaps even consult an expert when drafting these templates). Communication networks can also be listed. Which editors or reporters will be most fair?
Responding to a Crisis
Once faced with a crisis, it's too late for planning. At this point, your church will hopefully be able to "follow an established guide," Dixon says.
In the heat of a crisis, Dixon says "it's important to know when to speak and when to be silent." Your crisis team should help its media liaison establish a game plan.
"Determine the level of the crisis and the action that need to be taken in response," Dixon says.
Recovering from a Crisis
After a crisis boils overs, organizations must evaluate and update their crisis prevention and crisis management plans. "What worked well for the type of crisis faced?" Dixon asks. "What can be learned."
Be sure to update your crisis kits with any useful detail. Distribute the new crisis plans (and destroy the old ones).
"Healing and getting back to normal after facing a crisis is not an easy job," Dixon says. "It is time that heals the reputation of the church and any damages done."
GEOFFREY OLDMIXON (www.oldmixon.net) is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and editor.