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Crisis communication for churches is focus of Southwestern conference

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–When crisis strikes a church, the media’s spotlight often comes next.

Pastors and church spokespersons can be “just as credible to the news media as any high-profile media personality if they are composed and provide the critical information needed in a crisis,” said Shannon Martin of Martin Marketing Communications. “Clergy are often afraid to address the news media, thinking they are adversarial, when in reality the media could be their best friend in a crisis.”

To help in such situations, Martin and others in the media — as well as those who have been in the media spotlight — will address a Church Crisis Communications Conference Sept. 19 at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas.

The conference seeks to prepare ministers for questions media outlets ask in the wake of church crises or tragedies. The minister of the Gospel also takes on the role of the minister of information in times of crisis, those scheduled to speak at the conference said in recent interviews.

Shaun Rabb, a bivocational minister and television reporter with FOX 4 News in Dallas, said pastors should be aware that news reporters do not desire to harm the reputations of churches and pastors, a common fear among ministers.

“We simply have a job to do, and desire very much to work with the church staff to get their message out to the public. So it is to the church’s advantage to see us their best avenue to get information out to the public very quickly,” Rabb said.

Other conference speakers will include Roy Parker, pastor of Memorial Baptist Church in Temple, Texas, who lost several members of his congregation in a bus crash in February 2003; David Porter, former director of public relations at Southwestern Seminary, who coordinated media coverage of the Wedgwood Baptist Church shootings in September 1999; and Joe Correge, a National Football League union negotiator and elder of Metro Church in Garland, Texas, which lost several members of its youth group in a bus crash in June 2002.

“My experience with the news media enabled me to communicate the information I knew they needed in those critical hours immediately following our tragic bus crash,” Correge said. “This made it easier for me to allow the Holy Spirit to take over and guide my decisions and speech at a time when hundreds of family members were hungering for information.”

Conference participants will participate in media training sessions and a panel discussion with local news media personalities, such as Berta Delgado, religion writer for the Dallas Morning News, and Jim Douglas, a news reporter with ABC-affiliate WFAA in Dallas.

The cost of the conference is $150. Seminary students may attend for $75. For more information on the Church Crisis Communications Conference, contact conference coordinator Gary Morey at (817) 923-1921 ext. 2444, or at [email protected].

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