Posted in Executive Pastor

Church Crisis And The Media


Photo courtesy of iStockphoto®

I’ve been involved in many training sessions, but one of the most valuable was a one-day learning experience I had with a communications consulting firm. Our topic: dealing with the media.

I’d seen enough churches make mistakes in the media that reflected poorly on their church and on God, and often made matters worse. This made me think that developing my skills in this area would be a wise use of my time.

Here are a few practical takeaways from my training that should your church finds itself in a difficult situation (accusation of wrong doing, tragedy involving a child, protesters, etc.), will help you to communicate and represent your church well in the media.

Dealing with media during crisis:

  • Assume you’re always being recorded (even if told otherwise)
    Many prominent public figures have embarrassed themselves and others by making comments  they thought were “off the record.”
  • Provide the headline (or they will)
    Your comments need to start with a concise message that incorporates positive words. A headline is what you want the listener to remember and pass along to others.  It can be followed by stats, an anecdotal example, or a quote from someone meaningful to the target audience. (Examples of headlines are later in the post.)
  • Don’t use negative expressions
    Negative expressions crowd out positive expressions. Begin with key words you wish to be identified with as a church. Words such as “caring, opportunity, community-minded, Biblical, etc.” In an interview, the interviewer will often use negative words that will solicit a response. Resist the urge to repeat their negative word.
    Bad example
    Q: “Aren’t you misleading your church’s members?”
    A: “No, we are not misleading members.”
    Good example

    Q:  “Aren’t you misleading your church’s members?”
    A: “Absolutely not. We work diligently to communicate often and openly to our members about…”
  • Don’t say “no comment”
    You need to acknowledge the question. Many times “no comment” equates to guilt in the public eye. Instead, keep it short, truthful, and in a way that conveys you heard their question. Here are some phrases you can use to respond to questions you can’t or shouldn’t answer: “not necessarily“, “actually, I disagree”, “there are pros and cons”, or “it would not be fair or appropriate to discuss at this time”.
  • Don’t say what you don’t know
    Speculation will go a long way in the media, so don’t contribute. Less information is better than questionable information.
  • Have a point-person for the media and a spokesperson for the church (they can be different people, but if possible, have only 1-2 church spokespeople)
    This person(s) should make themselves available to media by providing easy access and ways in which to be reached.
  • Speak in short, concise sentences, making your point quickly
    Specifically on camera, long, drawn-out responses will likely not be used or will risk being edited into something that’s not your complete or intended thought. Also, the longer you take to make your point the less informed and authoritative you will appear to be.
  • Don’t treat the media as the enemy
    Despite their reputation for twisting the facts, generally speaking, members of the local media are people of integrity who are not out to get the church. Sure, they’re looking for a “juicy” story, but if you approach them with a defensive attitude, you’ll more likely get negative treatment. Speaking to the media is an opportunity to be a witness for Christ.

Here are some examples of headline statements that are both memorable and authentic, yet mitigate negativism. These examples involve the scenario of a bus tragedy involving your church’s children:

  • “Our primary concern as a church is for those impacted by the accident.”
  • “While we are still being provided information from first responders, we are already mobilizing our resources for those affected. This will include both spiritual and physical resources.”
  • “We’re being diligent to communicate what we know to the family members of those affected.”
  • “Our church is committed to safety. We rent busses often, but vetting is in place for each rental company that includes performing background checks, safety certificate checks, standard compliance…”
  • “We’re organizing digital and phone communication, prayer groups, and local counselors to help those involved, and their families.”
  • “As we know more information that we can pass along, we’ll do so promptly. Our church believes in prayer, and we ask for you to join us in praying for those involved.”

I’m thankful to Spaeth Communications for their training and also expertise from @brentwoodbc Communications Minister, @SteveSmith1969.

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Who Owns Your Content? The Church or You?

IP snip it

When a church employee writes a song, who owns it?

When a church employee creates a video for the church, can they sell it to another church?

When a church employee writes curriculum for a regional literature company, who gets paid?

When a church employee writes a book, who owns the content?

And if you have answers to all those questions, what if in all those cases the employee used church resources to create those things (computer, time, and other staff)?

If your church and its leadership don’t have answers to these questions, you‘re potentially setting yourself up for tenuous personnel situations, such as: employees abusing the church’s resources, your church abusing the employee’s talent, and perhaps even litigation.

As I did above, I could provide countless examples of intellectual property occurrences, but the point is your church needs to have a policy that deals effectively with intellectual property rights as situations occur.

“Music City,” the city I live in has a lot of talented people. And this means the church I serve has a lot of talented people, including its employees. This means there’s a lot of intellectual property (IP) being developed around me. And whether your church is in a “music city” or not, you no doubt have talented people. Talented enough they get paid to create content in their talent-field.

In my church’s case, it means we need a policy to clarify IP ownership. Our church leadership had the foresight to create a policy years ago. It clearly delineated which IP was the church’s and which was the employee’s. Over time, as more of our church staff created IP, we found that our policy only addressed a portion of the various styles of IP. It dealt greatly with book writing, but not as much with other areas.

In developing a revised policy, we collaborated and learned from some experts in the field. As a team, we had four goals in revising our IP rights policy:

  1. Protect Brentwood Baptist Church
  2. Protect Brentwood Baptist employees
  3. Inspire and allow for creativity among employees
  4. Clearly state to all impacted how we handle IP

After several drafts, we were able to accomplish those goals and develop a policy. The policy itself is lengthy and goes into quite a bit of detail. We also created examples of IP types that are produced and how we handle each one. I’ve included an abridged version of this policy here.

We determined that all IP will be allocated into one of three buckets: 1) “Employee Created – assigned to Church,” 2) Work for Hire—owned by Church,” 3) Employee Creation – not owned by Church. For each bucket, we have supporting material to deal with the various nuances of each.

If you would like to view our full policy or the other supporting documents, you can link to my website’s free resources.

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Requiring Ministers To Take A Spiritual Renewal Day

In the one-page employment agreement our Church provides its ministers upon being hired, one sentence stands out from the rest:

“Once a month, you are to take one day away from the office for a spiritual renewal day.”

It’s not a suggestion. It’s not just another important task to prioritize.

It’s a job requirement.

In the document that outlines what the employer is going to provide the employee, the employee is asked for something too. A wise church knows this one requirement pays both physical and spiritual dividends back to the church.

Our church lay leadership teams place a high value on our ministers’ spiritual development. They realize they must make it a requirement for our ministers to set aside time for renewal.  They realize the rapid pace of our church’s work, and know that unless the ministers are purposely setting aside a day for renewal, it’s likely to largely ignored.

They’ve seen highly capable ministers experience significant ministry productivity, while maintaining an idle relationship with God, and they know that’s not sustainable.

A once a month renewal day doesn’t mean ministers are to solely rely on that for their connection to Jesus. Our ministers are asked about their spiritual lives often – both overtly in quarterly meetings with their supervisor, and also in everyday staff relationships and conversations.  However, we’ve also found that a day away can be very catalytic.

For their renewal days, ministers are encouraged to try different things. They’re encouraged to leave technology out of their plans. Amongst the ministers, we share best practices and locations for the renewal days. Some ministers travel. Some find a quiet coffee shop. I tend to use local libraries (we have really nice libraries here). You can find a free PDF of best practices we provide to our ministers as they prepare for their spiritual retreat days on my resource page.

Whether or not you have lay teams proposing spiritual renewal days, as a church staff leader, you could encourage and allow for renewal days. You can model it. Even if it requires using one of your personal days, a once a month spiritual renewal day is a healthy practice.

If you’re in a position to make this an expectation of the employment agreement, I suggest you do it. In a fast-paced work environment, requests are often ignored. Requirements are not.

Practical Takeaways:

  • Take the idea to your church leadership.
  • Be creative with how you spend a spiritual renewal day.
  • Model the discipline of substantial and systematic time away to be with God.
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