Staying calm in the storm – how your church can respond well in a public crisis
Jersey Road PR, an agency which specialises in supporting churches and Christian organisations, has created a course to help churches prepare for the crisis stories they may face
What would you do if you answered the phone to a hostile journalist, or got a ping on your social media with a serious allegation about your church?
Hopefully it’s never happened to you or the church you belong to – but the chances are, it will.
Jersey Road PR, an agency which specialises in supporting churches and Christian organisations, monitored the UK news media towards the end of last year and found an average of 150 negative stories were published about churches each month: including allegations of historic child abuse, terrorist activity, bullying, misconduct and more.
The agency’s account director for crisis communications, Sarann Buckby, explains the impact stories like these can have on your church’s mission – and how you could limit the long-term damage a public crisis could do to your church.
“We’ve been helping Christian organisations communicate with the media for 11 years, and during that time we’ve been approached by several churches who’ve found themselves thrust into the media spotlight for all the wrong reasons.
It’s usually a very distressing experience both for the church leaders and for their congregations. Not only that, but when the media run a critical story about your church, it can cause significant damage to your reputation and your mission in the community you serve. Once public trust is lost, it’s hard to win back and can be very damaging to your relationships and your ability to reach people.
The instinct to protect ourselves and our witness can mean we act and respond to a crisis in a way that can hurt people in the process. It’s easy to respond out of fear or anger, but a wise, considered response to a crisis can actually be an opportunity to actively demonstrate your Christian values when the world’s attention is focused on you.
Being prepared can make all the difference to how well you respond: so we’ve produced an e-learning course to help church leaders do all they can to prevent a crisis in their church and be ready to respond well if one does hit, using Biblical principles of justice and integrity, grace and truth.
In the course, we examine some of the most common PR crisis stories that churches face – from the horrors of child abuse revelations to criticism involving clashes with the prevailing culture – and give guidance to help church leaders act and prepare them for how to respond in a healthy way.
We explore how church leaders can show accountability, humility and take action to repair the damage when the allegations turn out to be true – and how they can speak truth graciously in cases where they are being unfairly targeted or facing criticism for their faith.
Of course, the best PR crisis is one which never happens at all – so our crisis course not only explains how to respond if you are caught in a crisis, but also helps you identify where you might be at risk of a crisis and how you can take action to prevent it from happening.
The course takes your leadership team through an audit, giving you the chance to take a step back and assess the health of your church so that you can spot areas where you might be at risk and take steps now to prevent any issues or concerns from turning into a crisis.
We know churches have a lot of demands on your time and budget, so we’ve made the course affordable and flexible, with 90 minutes of bite-sized videos to watch along with a workbook to help you apply the knowledge to your own church.
Responding well in a crisis matters - because our message matters. The message that Jesus offers salvation, hope and purpose is the most important message there is and one that needs protecting.
The Revd Mike Lowe, National Communications Manager for the Baptist Union, has endorsed the course. He said, 'Providing crisis media support across Baptists Together is a key part of my role. In my time I’ve dealt with everything from comical experiences all the way to murder enquiries and world headline news.
'In nearly all instances a media crisis develops very quickly and without warning. This often causes significant stress and a draw on resources.
'Considering, planning and reflecting on crisis media before an incident happens is a very good idea and the crisis media course created by Jersey Road PR is excellent. I particularly like the way it helps a church reflect on their mission and ministry, helping to identify where there may be areas of concern or potential for reputational damage.
'This can then conversely highlight positive stories to communicate. So the course not only provides the resources to prepare for a crisis, but helps churches develop positive public relations now.'
Jersey Road PR’s “Calm in the Storm” course for churches, including video content, a workbook and editable crisis plan, is available to download for £49 per church at jerseyroadpr.com/crisiscourse