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Crisis Communication for Churches

Prepare. Predict. Prevent.



It is not a matter of “if” a crisis will happen, just a matter of when it will happen. Churches and Ministries across the country are becoming targets for many of the movements you see in the media. Unfortunately, only a small percentage of them are prepared.

The 3 main areas of focus for a crisis are:  

  • Legal
  • Operational
  • Communications


The next crisis that could threaten your organization may already be taking shape, putting your reputation and business at risk. For example, the recent #metoo movement has brought many executives under the spotlight in recent months, for both just and unjust reasons. What if someone on your staff is brings a claim to the media? How will you respond? What are the legal ramifications? Do you have measures in place to “isolate” incidents? Can you go back and reference procedures to the public?

Harmer Wunstel’s crisis communications and management solutions provide communication management to public and private sector clients, helping them from the media backlash and community perception. We help organizations go into any crisis prepared and come out stronger.

Crisis often have unforeseen impacts that can jeopardize the critical assets, reputation, and financial standing of an organization. 



Although each crisis or emergency will require a unique public response, a crisis communication plan provides policies and procedures for the coordination of internal and external communications for your organization. The first thing to do is understand and control how information flows in your into and out of your organization.
No one wants to be at the center of a scandal, but scrambling around because you’re not prepared to handle it takes things from bad to worse. Anticipate potential crisis scenarios and establish internal protocols for handling them. Before a crisis hits, outline who needs to be notified, your internal review process and the individuals who are authorized to speak publicly on your behalf. This may seem like a simple process, but many times organizations fall short publicly.

Are you legally buttoned up? Preparing can come on the front-end by assuring you’re covered legally. We’re not saying you “legalize” every aspect of your ministry, we’re saying there are measures you can take to prepare for most scenarios so you can be prepared to protect yourself from lawsuits, disgruntled employees and even outside relationships that take a bad turn. 

Have you been assessed operationally? Do you have the right procedures in place to prepare for any crisis situation? There are a number of operational processes that can be done to prepare your organization. Example: Do you have a diversity program? Do you have accountability measures in place? Are you able measure performance and return from staff and technologies? These are regular questions you should be asking your team!



Crisis communication planning tools and systems can predict reputation threats, provide guidance for stakeholder outreach, and control messaging by navigating both social and traditional media. Harmer Wunstel utilizes around-the-clock tracking and analysis of multiple sources of data, which can be integrated with a client’s proprietary data, to provide real-time situational awareness alerts and systemic reporting focused on your risk.

With proper preparation and predictive analytics, you can produce a successful real-time response to the next natural disaster or public outburst. We have experienced crisis leaders that are ready to deploy within hours of a crisis to support a client’s communication crisis command center when in need.



Whether you are in the middle of a crisis and need to prevent further damage, or you believe there may be a future perceived risk, our ultimate goal is to prevent further damage from happening. Proper preparation and planning sets you up for success.  If you have checks and balances in place, along with a proper measurement systems in place, your organization has the ability to react BEFORE the event occurs.


Here are our top ten list of how to handle a communication crisis when it happens.


Own it
Never try to cover up the PR crisis, it will only worsen the damage. Instead, manage the situation by taking responsibility, reacting immediately with empathy, and responding to feedback from the outside. Never argue publicly, always acknowledge people’s concerns and questions and respond to the right conversations. There are ample opportunities to share your story.  For example, a well-written press release and post on social media to control the situation and get the message visible is a viable option. It is imperative your public information response to a communication emergency is quick, accurate, sensitive and responsible.

Be Real
In today’s real-time world of social media and instant news, reputation management matters more than ever and it can be lost in an instant. The core competencies of any crisis communication are to be proactive, be transparent, and be accountable. When put into action it looks like this: acknowledge the incident, accept responsibility, apologize, then let the world know how you are making it right!


Be Sincere
Saying “I will look into it” doesn’t make anyone feel better. Saying, “I am deeply saddened by what happened and we commit to work around the clock until we fix it” starts creating a positive channel of communication. Extending a heartfelt apology is required before you can move forward. Not doing so adds fuel to the fire and delays any chance of changing the narrative. After showing empathy and stating your heartfelt apology, you must do something substantial to show that they are changing your ways moving forward.

Next, show how policies and procedures will be put in place so it doesn’t happen again. Act fast before people lose faith in your brand.


Get Ahead Of The Story

Your strategy should start with getting ahead of the story is the strategy. Figuring out the fine points of the strategy — do that over the weekend. But start communicating, apologizing, refunding, or whatever needs to be done as soon as possible. The more you wait, the more you will pay in the long-term.


Prepare for Hell and Furry on Social Media
In this day and age, companies that reply slowly on social media invite the storm. Just because a company is not marketing on social does not mean their customers will not expose them on those platforms when something goes wrong. Always be prepared with a governance plan and action plan on ALL of your social media channels. This goes for larger companies AND smaller nonprofits.  

Measure, Monitor, & Communicate
Have your social team and marketing team on high alert, with monitoring daily activity on the web at the forefront. If they start noticing spikes of negativity with sentiment analysis, or increased activity, utilize an already well-versed crisis communication plan to proactively respond on social with prepared, sincere statements. Never let your executive team go rogue and potentially make matters worse,, but do encourage them to apologize immediately with predetermined and approved key message points.

To Do’s

If the media ask for your comment, never reply with “no comment.” Even if you’re still assessing a situation, simply say that. Remember, people immediately assume guilt or make their own inference. Always recognize when operational improvements are necessary and be transparent about how you’re solving the situation at hand. Be prepared to always communicate all relevant details to key stakeholders internally and externally.

Culture is Your Key to Prevention
An organizational culture that treats customers or donors badly likely treats its employees poorly too. Embrace your new culture ideal and commit from the top down to make things right. True change management comes from within. Organizations that are truly inclusive and diverse embrace diversification and make it a part of who they are…..BEFORE a claim gets leaked to the media.

Empathy/Emotional Intelligence

Always put yourself in the opposing parties shoes.

Looking in the mirror is the best PR advice there is when dealing with a communication crisis situation.

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