We received a couple of emails recently from the church we attend. The first was a statement about how the church was responding and handling the coronavirus outbreak. Among other things, they suspended greeting one another as part of the service, just as a precautionary measure. They encouraged people to stay home and watch online if they are feeling sick. And they encouraged good hygiene. They also said they added extra hand sanitizing stations throughout all their campuses.
The next email addressed a possible exposure of a congregation member at one of the church campuses. The remainder of the email explained what they were doing at the campus, even though the congregant wasn't experiencing any symptoms. We felt informed, and it appeared the church 's response was balanced and appropriate.
The coronavirus is on everyone's mind. If your church hasn't made a statement yet, it may be time. Whenever there's national — or, in this case, global — news, your church family and your community are wondering what you're going to say or what you're doing about the crisis. If you wait too long, you may leave them to wonder why you haven't said (or done) anything.
Here are four tips I'd recommend when it comes to addressing this crisis with your church.
1. Communicate in the Positive Zone
Make a statement when everyone is in the positive zone ("what will they say") versus the negative zone ("why haven't they said anything"). It is always better to be proactive than reactive.
When possible, don't wait until you have to say something. Late communication puts you in a position of reacting to a situation rather than leading with clear direction or instruction. I say "when possible" because sometimes communication is in response to an incident. But in the case of the coronavirus, you definitely want to be out in front. A wise person once said to "prepare for the worst but hope for the best." Being prepared is not doubt or unbelief. It's using wisdom.
2. Avoid Surprises
Do your best to communicate what you know, as well as being up front about what you don't know. Let your congregation know what you've been doing and how you have prepared. Make them aware of the things you are working on even if they aren't complete. Communication makes insiders outsiders, but lack of communication isolates and alienates, leaving people to wonder. Avoid statements like, "How come we didn't know?" or "Why are they just telling us now?" No surprises.
You also want to avoid a scenario where you have to play catch-up. Avoid the appearance of withholding information, which erodes trust. Remember, there's always a story. Either you will tell it, or others will. It's much better when you tell the story.
By sharing often, you will avoid your congregation feeling misinformed or in the dark.
3. Repeat Often
Especially in a crisis, redundancy is essential. You want to ensure as many people as possible gets the same, consistent message. Include new information as it becomes available. You can't assume that everyone caught it the first time. What you have to say during a time of crisis bears repeating.
Also, rely on your most broad communication channels. Email is usually the surest way to get a message to the most members. Consider using email through your church management system rather than your email newsletter list, especially if your mailing list is an opt-in approach. If you have an app with push notifications, this is especially useful. Be sure to use several channels and not just one.
4. Be Prepared
In the event a case or connection to the virus comes to your congregation, what will you say? What actions are you prepared to take? It's not a bad idea to prepare at least the framework of your statements. Often times, newspapers contact local churches to get their take on what their plans are. Prepare your statement for the press ahead of time so you can articulate what your position is and how you are prepared.
These are just a few tips. In the midst of a crisis, your church family wants to hear from you. Their church brings them comfort. Large and small gatherings are being postponed and rescheduled or canceled. Your congregants may be wondering what you plan to do and whether or not they will attend service. Include a healthy balance of wisdom and faith-filled encouragement, and you will inevitably lead them through it.
If you need help creating a communication plan during this time, contact us. We can set up a coaching call via phone or video conference at no charge.
Don Wambolt has over 25 years' experience in leading church communications. More