Crisis Communication: Death of a Pastor

Crisis Communication: Death of a Pastor

January 30, 2017 by

On November 18, 2014, David Landrith, the senior pastor of Long Hollow Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., died of a rare form of cancer at the age of 51.

This obviously would be a difficult situation for any congregation and church staff. Long Hollow is probably still dealing with the lingering grief from this tremendous loss.

However, the communications team did an outstanding job of keeping the congregation informed during this tough time. Their actions stand as an example of crisis communications at its finest, representing some outstanding courage and fortitude.

Long Hollow Baptist Church graphic

A web graphic from Long Hollow Baptist Church in November 2014.

Clarity Despite Crisis

Long Hollow used transparency and sympathy to communicate to their congregation before and after the loss of their senior pastor. Here are some examples of how these methods effectively unified this church in an otherwise harrowing circumstance.

Splash page

Long Hollow created a landing page on their website that memorialized the man they lovingly called Pastor David. It contains important links to a press release, funeral information, questions you may have, ways to support his family, and a form for church members to share their stories.

This simple website served as a reliable hub of information on the situation. More than two years later, this landing page is live, serving as a continuing reference to a tough time and a digital legacy to a great man.

Long Hollow Baptist Church splash page

Long Hollow Baptist Church splash page in November 2014.


Website Blog

Immediately following his passing, the first graphic on the website homepage was dedicated to David Landrith’s memory. The graphic linked to a blog with updates on his health.

This blog dates back to April 2013, when David’s cancer was originally discovered. Not only does it contain personal updates from the senior pastor, it also has an explanation of the disease itself, in the form of a letter to the church from the executive team.

Similar to the landing page, this blog can still be found on their website for church members continuing to seek guidance and peace.

Long Hollow Baptist Church blog

A blog post announcing Pastor David’s passing from Nov. 18, 2014.

Press Release

Communications Director Eric Murrell wrote a direct and honest press release, which included a number of quotes from staff and church members. These informational releases can be good ways to be transparent and get all of the facts out in the open.

This course of action proved to be prudent as his loss was widely covered in the media; from local to national news. In both cases, the press took content directly from the release to provide the same unified message.

Questions Videos

On the splash page, the staff included a Questions You May Have section containing three videos that seek to answer ‘why would God allow this to happen?’ and ‘what does the future of our church look like?

These videos further improve clear communications and establish trust with the congregation. And they do so in a visual medium that’s easily accessible and shareable on a wide scale.

Long Hollow Baptist Church video

Spiritual questions and video content addressing the many questions surrounding a pastor’s death.

Social Media

The church added memorial graphics as cover photos on all of their social media accounts. They shared information from the website on the social space as well.

Long Hollow Baptist Church Twitter

The Twitter account of Long Hollow Baptist Church shortly following Pastor David’s passing.

Long Hollow Baptist Church Facebook

The Facebook presence of Long Hollow Baptist Church from November 2014.

Most importantly, they used the hashtag #PrayForDavid to gather stories and prayers from church members. This gave the church an opportunity to openly express their emotions and rally around those in need of help and healing.

Long Hollow Baptist Church #PrayForDavid hashtag

Examples of the #PrayForDavid hashtag.


Long Hollow used this simple online form to collect stories and memories about their senior pastor from church members. This helped to demonstrate his impact from the people who knew him best.

Many of these testimonials have been added at the bottom of the splash page. These quotes serve to show a tremendous outpouring of love and no doubt helped in the healing process.

Long Hollow Baptist Church form

A form that Long Hollow Baptist Church used to collect memories about Pastor David.

Not If, But When

Dealing with a crisis, especially the death of a senior pastor is never easy. Hopefully, it’s something that most of us never even have to consider. However, it something that we should always be fully prepared to handle with grace and patience.

For those rare instances when we face a crisis, Long Hollow has shown a tremendous example of how preparation and transparency go a long way to easing the grieving process.

One Year Later

In October 2015, Longhollow introduced their new pastor, Robby Gallanty.

In a similar fashion, they created a new website introducing the congregation to their new senior pastor. They even created a comprehensive press packet announcing the hire, along with testimonials from the pastoral search committee.

The acquisition of their new senior pastor was just as transparent as the loss of their former one. This only further shows the value and impact on clarity and transparency of church communication.

Post By:

Robert Carnes

Robert Carnes is the managing editor at the Orange Group and also serves as an assistant editor here at Church Marketing Sucks. He's the author of The Original Storyteller: Become a Better Storyteller in 30 Days. Previously, he worked in communications at two United Methodist churches in Metro Atlanta.
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