Is Your Church Ready for a Communication Crisis?

Is Your Church Ready for a Communication Crisis?

August 9, 2018 by

“Did you hear the latest out of Willow Creek?”

When I received that message from a long-time, church-staff friend of mine, my muscles clenched and my stomach rolled. I suspected it wasn’t happy news, and it’s definitely not. (If you’re not in-the-know about what’s up at Willow, this Christianity Today piece offers the latest updates and some helpful context from the last five months.)

I’ve followed Bill Hybels and many of the Willow leaders forever. I quoted him at the start of my book, for crying out loud—and got called out for it on Twitter.  Still, I’m not a part of the Willow Creek Community Church family, and I don’t know Hybels, his accusers, or any of the Willow staff personally. For that reason, I’m not going to comment on what’s happening except to say this: It’s heartbreaking. There’s no way anyone’s walking away from this mess unscathed. I can hardly imagine what it would be like to process this news on a personal and spiritual level.

As church communicators, it’s unlikely many of us have thought about how we’d work through such an experience on a professional level. Who wants to think about something like this happening in our church? Beloved friends and coworkers coming forward about being the victims of sexual harassment and abuses of power? Our revered senior leader being accused as the perpetrator? His accusers then being publicly shamed and discredited? His resignation and, eventually, the resignation of every one of our senior leaders? Massive media coverage? I can’t imagine Willow’s communications team was fully prepared for something like this. It’s unfathomably horrible, friends.

Our prayers are with everyone involved.

Are You Ready?

And now a tough question: Do you have any idea what you’d do tomorrow if something like this went down at your church? I know what I’d do: Ball up in the fetal position, have myself an ugly cry, and hide from the media. And then I’d consult my crisis communication guidelines.

Except when I was in a local church position, I didn’t have crisis communication guidelines. Why would I? We were a dream team! We had God’s favor! Our leadership was rock solid! Why would I ever need such a document?

Thank God I never did. But you might at some point, and although it’s difficult work, it’s important to have your crisis communication plans figured out before you need them.

We Can Help

We want to get you started on that. This month, our Courageous Storytellers members have access to a full pack of resources specifically about crisis comm and public relations. We’d love it if you became a member, but—more importantly—we want you to be as prepared for crisis situations as you possibly can be. So, we’re giving away one of our top resources: Crisis Communication: 6 Tips You Won’t Want to Read.

It’s free—all we ask for is your email. We just want your church to be prepared.

This resource covers six steps for navigating a crisis, and goes into detail on each one:

  1. Determine if you have a crisis.
  2. Determine your team and your bat signal.
  3. Who needs to know what?
  4. Determine what to say and who should say it.
  5. Decide what to do if you get questions.
  6. Debrief.


We talked about how churches can respond to issues like this late last year: “Jesus calls us to head into the hurt and bear the burden so that people know how loved and precious they are.”

Post By:

Kelley Hartnett

Kelley Hartnett spent more than a decade working in established churches and helping to launch new ones. She recently launched Tall Tree Collective, which helps nonprofits craft messages that inspire people to get behind their cause. Kelley formerly served as the membership director for our Courageous Storytellers Membership Site and is the author of You've Got This: A Pep Talk for Church Communicators.
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