Getting the Word Out

Published on: September 1, 2014

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When Bad Things Happen to Great Communities

Murder. Suicide. Arson. Flood. Fire. Tornado. These are events we don’t typically associate with our spiritual communities, but they do happen. In January 2010, Rev Karen Johnson of Abilene, Texas’s Unity Spiritual Living Center was murdered by a congregant. In February 2011, Unity of Oroville, Calif. was heavily damaged by a fire, later determined to be arson. In May 2011, Unity Church of Joplin, Mo., was leveled by an F-5 tornado that also destroyed much of the city. In September 2013, Unity of Boulder, Colo., along with most of the surrounding area, sustained significant flood damage. These and other devastating events are the “facts” of life, and we must prepare for them even as we hold to the Truth.

One way to prepare is to have a crisis communications plan in place. A crisis communications plan identifies potential areas of crisis (natural disasters, scandals, injuries or deaths at church, for example) and establishes a team responsible for communicating to various audiences, such as the congregation and the media. The plan also outlines the methods of communication. The best time to develop a crisis communications plan, of course, is before a crisis.

The following links provide valuable resources to help your spiritual community on its way to being calm, clear, and prepared.


Overview & General Tips

A Church Crisis Requires a Communication Plan
United Methodist Reporter staff writer Liz Applegate provides 10 tips for crisis communication.

Crisis Communications Plans “Vital”
Rob Phillips of Baptist Press describes types of crises to expect, along with tips for communications planning.

Effective Communication After a Crisis
Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company provides tips for pre-, current, and post-incident communication.


Checklists & Templates

Crisis Communications
Fishhook is an Indianapolis-based organization that works with churches on a variety of communications and other issues. They have an excellent downloadable checklist, Your Church’s Crisis Communications Plan: What to Include.

Crisis Communications
The Desert Southwest Conference of The United Methodist Church has two resources available for download: Crisis Communication Scenarios and Local Church Crisis Plan Template. While they are denomination-specific in some ways, there is plenty of useful information that is applicable to Unity centers.

Crisis Management Guide
The Atlantic Union Conference of Seventh Day Adventists has produced a clear, useful guide for crisis communications.

Crisis Communication Plan: Media Procedures for Church, District and Conference Staff
The Susquehanna Conference of The United Methodist Church provides specific tips on how to handle the media.

Lisa Colburn

Lisa Colburn is a writer, writing workshop leader, and former editor of the Alban Institute’s Congregations magazine. She is an active member of Unity of Fairfax in Oakton, Va.

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