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Communicate effectively in a crisis

What to do before, during and after a crisis

If there was a shooting on your church's campus, would your leadership know how to communicate about it? Would you know how to lead them? Could you help keep people safe and avoid danger? Effective crisis communication can mean the difference between fear and confusion or hope and direction for your church – and your community.

What to do before a crisis

  • Establish a leader. During crises, everyone has the best of intentions, but not always the right information. You'll need to have your leadership agree on who is the point person for all information in a crisis. It may be your executive pastor or someone else in leadership, but one person should be responsible for approving and verifying information before it's distributed. Assign a backup, in case that person is injured or unavailable. Make sure everyone knows that all communication, unless otherwise specified in your plan, must be approved by your designated leader.

  • Figure out who you want to communicate, and how they’ll do it. Beyond the leader, it's crucial to have designated people responsible for communicating in a crisis. This helps make sure the communication happens and also helps control misinformation. Some ministries choose to use a phone tree, while others update their website. Your decision should be based on how your congregation and community receive information best. To set up a phone tree, recruit volunteers as designated callers and assign a list of contacts to each caller. Consider writing a script for them. If communicating via your website, make sure your web point person is on call and has access to change the site as needed.

  • Check your local news and weather stations regularly. Keep a pulse on what's happening in your community and weather that's headed your way.

  • Consider making your church a safe haven. If you want to provide temporary shelter in your church, prepare by using this checklist. It's important to make sure you're ready for the community to come to you. Ask volunteers to welcome people and empathize with their situation. Consider writing talking points for your volunteers beforehand based on the situation (where to go, where the bathrooms are, etc.).

What to do during a crisis

  • Keep calm, set the plan in motion and stay connected. Now is the opportunity to be a great leader by remaining calm. Panic is contagious. Rally your team and set your plan in motion. Check back with your volunteers to make sure the plan is going smoothly. You may choose to select a person to watch the news or weather and give you updates.

  • Open your doors as temporary shelter. If you have chosen to make your church a safe place, distribute guidelines and post rules around the church to keep people from harm.

  • Make announcements in the building. If your church has an intercom or public address system, make an announcement about what to do next. A speaker system can be very beneficial, particularly if you need to evacuate or lock down the building quickly.

What to do after a crisis

  • Summarize the events and the plan's execution. Praise your volunteers for stepping up in a crisis. Evaluate what worked well about the plan and lessons learned. Communicate the plan's changes before the next crisis. Inform your leadership committee and congregation of how your ministry served the community.

  • Consider offering counseling services to those who were affected. If you have counselors on staff, let them know about the crisis. Refer people affected to your counselors for continued care.

Communication can put courage in your volunteers' hearts, provide peace to the afflicted and keep chaos under control. Planning in advance can make your communication plan effective.


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