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5 steps for creating a crisis communication plan for a church

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In times of church crisis, clear and effective communication can make a crucial difference in maintaining trust and ensuring the safety and well-being of your congregation. For pastors of congregations of all sizes, having an effective crisis communication plan isn’t just a necessity; it’s a responsibility. Here are five simple steps for creating a crisis communication plan you can adapt based on your church.

1. Identify potential crises and create scenarios

Start by identifying potential crises that could impact your church (e.g., natural disasters, health emergencies, leadership scandals, or security threats). For each potential crisis, consider detailed scenarios outlining possible developments and impacts. Here are practical tips to get started:

  • Risk assessment: Evaluate the likelihood and potential impact of each crisis (e.g., ranked 1 to 10).
  • Engage a team: Involve other ministry leaders in a brainstorming session to ensure a diversity of perspectives. You’ll be surprised how helpful their input will be—plus it builds trust.
  • Write simple scenarios: Including a potential timeline for events in the anticipated challenges. What will the response time be?
2. Establish a crisis communication team

A dedicated crisis communication team ensures roles are clear and responses are swift and organized. This team should include key church leaders, communication people, and volunteers who can handle various aspects of crisis management. Tips for doing this (adapt to the size of your congregation):

  • Assign roles: Clearly define roles (e.g., spokesperson, media liaison, internal communication coordinator) in case of each potential scenario. Will it be the same each time?
  • Provide training: Ask the team how comfortable they are with their roles. Offer training sessions to ensure each person understands their responsibilities. This is a huge responsibility, treat it seriously.
  • Create a contact list: Maintain an updated list of your team members with contact information and backup contacts. Ensure that several people have access to this list (e.g., private Google document).
3. Develop a communication strategy

Your communication strategy should outline how information will be disseminated during a crisis. This includes deciding on the platforms, channels, and tools you’ll use to reach your congregation and the broader community (if needed). Tips for doing this:

  • Choose communication channels: Identify the best, trusted channels for your members (e.g., email, social media, church website, text messaging, stage, etc.).
  • Craft key messages: Prepare short (but adequate) key messages that can be quickly adapted to different situations. These should be clear, biblical, compassionate, and truthful.
  • Set up templates: Create basic templates for emails, social media posts, and press releases to speed up the communication process. Consider a simple (and branded) graphic template too.
4. Establish a timeline for communication

During a crisis, it’s important to maintain consistent communication with your members. For some scenarios, you’ll want to inform the public too. Establish timelines to ensure everyone receives accurate and timely information. Tips for doing this (when a crisis happens):

  • Unified messaging: Ensure all communications are consistent across all channels to avoid confusion.
  • Internal briefings: Establish a schedule for briefings with your crisis communication team and church staff to keep everyone informed. 
  • Media engagement: Develop a plan for engaging with the media, including who will speak on behalf of the church and how to handle interviews. Create a list of media contacts for future needs. Reserve this step for a clearly defined crisis that warrants it (define what that means). 
5. Review your plan and conduct drills

Regularly review your crisis communication plan. For some churches, you should conduct drills to test the plan. These reviews help identify weaknesses and will improve response. It also ensures your team remains prepared and confident in their roles. Tips for doing this effectively:

  • Simulate crises: Conduct test drills simulating different crisis scenarios to check your plan’s effectiveness. These can be a “fun” run-through, but your team must understand the importance of a potentially serious crisis.
  • Debrief and improve: After the drill, hold a debriefing session to discuss what went well and what needs improvement. Should something change? Do it. 
  • Review annually: Review and update your crisis communication plan annually to account for changes in people, technology, and potential risks. 

By following these five simple steps, pastors can build robust and effective crisis communication plans for their churches. This proactive approach not only protects your congregation but also reinforces trust and unity within your church community. It’s truly for peace of mind as you pray for your church to never have to use your plan.

This article first appeared at Lifeway Research.

    About the Author

  • Mark MacDonald