The unfortunate reality is that if you lead a church long enough, you’ll encounter some sort of crisis—technological or financial, internal or external, human-made or natural disaster. Church crises need leaders to take action, lead their staff, and shepherd their congregation. So, it’s crucial to prepare for these inevitable events. You can prepare by understanding the stages of crisis management, developing a church crisis management plan, and turning to the Bible for the ultimate wisdom.
Defining Church Crisis Management
Let’s start by reviewing the definition of church crisis management. Church crisis management is a process to prevent or decrease damage from a crisis. Sounds like a good thing to have in place, right? Let’s dive deeper into the stages of crisis management and practical tips for responding to a profound crisis within your church.
What Are the 5 Stages of Crisis Management?
Prevention, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery are the five stages of crisis management.
The first step of crisis management is preventing any potential crises. This step is full of research and asking questions
- How clear are our processes for a crisis?
- What crises can we keep from happening?
- What systems or processes do we need to create?
- What infrastructure needs to be established to bring stability?
- What should we be monitoring to make sure we’re preventing incidents?
If those questions aren’t enough to get the ball rolling, just ask “What if …?” for every possible incident and scenario. When you hear of another local church’s current crisis, ask yourself, “Could that happen here?” You should use those moments as opportunities to learn and improve. “What policies do we have in place to keep us from that?”
Just take yourself to the worst-case scenario and ask if you have processes and safeguards in place. Asking “What if?” now will help keep you from asking, “How did this happen?” later.
Once you’ve asked “What if?” a million times, it’s time to take those responses and put them into action. Mitigation involves taking steps to prevent or reduce the chance of an emergency or damage caused by one.
This phase is where you focus on the planning. You’re taking the research you’ve done and creating a well-laid-out plan to reduce risks. Creating a plan beforehand will help your team respond quickly and, more importantly, effectively.
A crisis plan isn’t as effective if you create it in the eye of the storm. So it should already be in place long before any hint of a potential emergency. That’s what this stage of crisis management is for! You’ll want various topics included in your church crisis plan, from finances to communication.
Not sure where to get started? Read our guide on how to manage church finances so you’re financially secure before a crisis comes.
Preparedness is a mix of training, presenting information, and updating processes. It requires intentionality and proactiveness from church leaders.
In the mitigation stage, the crisis management plan you created should be reviewed and updated as part of your preparation steps. By checking your plan regularly, you’ll reduce the impact of a crisis on your ministry. And when you review your plan, review your emergency kits as well! These check-ins will ensure the right emergency equipment and kits are on hand when you need them most.
You may also need to have your team practice. Think of it like a fire drill. By scheduling regular drills or practice crises, your ministry will be ready to act quickly in a church crisis. This also gives your team a chance to correct anything wrong or missing in the plan and empowers them to feel confident, prepared, and organized.
This phase of managing a church crisis contains, just like its name implies, a response from you! For your church, the response stage of crisis management is made up of the actions taken immediately before, during, and immediately after a crisis. These actions—word and deed—usually aim to save lives, reduce losses, and ease suffering.
Our instinct is to fight, flee, or freeze in a crisis. Your specific response as a church will be tied to the crisis you’re facing.
Start by assessing the needs of your congregation or your community. Find out what they need and how you can meet those needs. When responding, you’ll want to be honest, clear, and concise in your communication and actions.
For your verbal response, use your words to share the hope of the gospel and the love of God. Remember the three E’s when preparing your crisis communications:
- Energy: Your demeanor and perspective can set the tone for how your parishioners respond and behave during this crisis. Keep your energy hopeful and calm, yet serious about the situation.
- Empathy: You’re probably a pro at this. But don’t forget that many people are anxious and uncertain during a crisis. Your voice and your message can bring calm and confidence.
- Expectations: Set clear expectations about when and how you’ll communicate. Let your people know the plans for services and any critical decisions, and give them some guidance.
Your response doesn’t have to be perfect. It’s probably not going to be. If your response isn’t exactly how you want, if there are still important decisions to be made, don’t worry! As they say, “publish, don’t polish.” Let your community hear from you early and often during your church crisis.
Whew, you’re through the worst of the storm. Now it’s time to recover and return your community to normal or as near-normal as possible. But crisis management doesn’t end when the crisis is over.
The recovery process looks different depending on what the church crisis is. For example, recovering from the physical disruption of a hurricane is not the same as recovering from an internal theological conflict. Whatever profound crisis your church experienced, when it’s over, your focus will shift to rebuilding and repairing in this phase.
As you enter this new phase, remember that recovery will take time. Give yourself and your church the time you need to heal and remember that God is in control.
Keep talking to your team and congregation about your return to normal and preparing for another crisis. You can even celebrate God’s goodness in bringing you through the crisis. Then gather together to discuss, pray, and decide what needs to happen differently in the next crisis. Here are some questions you can ask yourself and your team:
Can your church make any changes to prevent the situation from happening again?
What are some blind spots that might have led to the crisis?
Are there processes in place to maintain the health and safety of your church staff?
Are there new policies or tools needed to prevent the next crisis?
In times of uncertainty and instability, leaders need clarity and agility. Pushpay’s all-in-one church software exists to help your church minister effectively before, during, and after the (literal and figurative) storms of life. With tools to increase engagement, create connections, and inspire generosity, we’re here to help you further build your mission and be proactive against decline in church attendance.
How to Deal With Crisis in the Church
As a leader, dealing with a church crisis means navigating challenges like conflict, fear, stress, and change, all with limited time to react. So you’ll want to align your team’s focus, communicate clearly, and resolve the crisis as quickly as possible.
Let’s unpack how to deal with an internal and external crisis in your church so you and your ministry team can be best prepared.
Most issues that happen internally your congregation might never even hear about. Internal crises can range from smaller problems, like a job loss or struggling marriage, to crises with broader impact, like mismanagement, misallocation of resources, decline in church attendance, or moral failures. Each situation requires a unique response. For example, you wouldn’t handle a struggling marriage in your congregation like you would handle misconduct by a church staff member.
However, no matter the scale of the crisis in your church, you’ll face many internal crises as a pastor. Whatever the situation, your goals should be addressing the issue head-on with grace and transparency and finding a clear path to resolution. That may look like encouraging your community to pray over a family. It could also look like connecting people to counselors. And it could even include terminating a staff or church member and updating your congregation on what changes are coming to your church leadership team.
One truth to cling to during an internal crisis is that you’re not alone. Other churches have faced seasons of change. And churches after you will also experience crises. Pastors have stood where you now stand, and they survived. You’ll survive, too.
One church that faced and survived a crisis is New Life Church. They went through a difficult stretch—between church leadership changes and tragedies, New Life Church experienced a lot of pain and internal crises in a short period. But in that challenging season, they rediscovered the hope of the gospel. For Dr. Glenn Packiam, the Associate Senior Pastor, what helped as they navigated the crisis was digging into their first love and returning to worship and prayer. You can listen to more of Glenn’s words on loving well and leading faithfully in the middle of a church crisis in this episode of Pushpay’s Moving Mountains podcast.
An external crisis comes from outside the walls of your church. Usually, it’s unforeseen and hits home hard. For your church, an external crisis could be a natural disaster, fire, car accident, or an act of violence. You can’t control these external events. All you can control is how you respond to the situation.
When you go to respond, start by following your crisis plan, and use the stages of crisis management we described above. Your crisis plan may not cover everything you need (it’s a permanent work in progress!). So whenever you take action, make it prayerfully and share it publicly.
In the face of a crisis, your community will look to local leaders for guidance, assurance, and recommendations. You’ll likely see opportunities to lead your community, offer fresh ideas for church growth, and support those who need it most.
This is a chance for your church to model God’s love, compassion, and generosity.
If there is a void in your community, your ministry can fill it. Here are just a few of the ways your church can be a light to your community during an external crisis:
- Open your physical building to provide shelter to those in need
- Connect people with services that provide physical or emotional support
- Partner or volunteer with local organizations
- Collect food donations and hand out or deliver them
- Provide childcare for first responders or people in need
- Collect an offering to support local organizations or small businesses
Whether you’re facing an internal or external crisis at your church, organization and communication are crucial. At Pushpay, we want to help you minister and engage your community before, during, and after a crisis. The fastest and easiest way to do that is with our apps for churches.
Ebenezer Baptist Church said, “These tools allowed us to be the hands and feet of Jesus, as scripture has commanded us to be. We were able to meet the physical needs, as well as being able to meet the spiritual needs.” In the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, Ebenezer Baptist Church served their community by distributing over 1400 boxes of food each week, sharing God’s love one box at a time.
What Does the Bible Say About Crisis?
Crisis can cause those who experience it to doubt God’s goodness, His will for their lives, or His love for them. But God often uses hard times to refine character, draw people closer to Him, and, ultimately, glorify Himself. The Bible contains wisdom about crises and how leaders and believers should respond. Below are a few words of wisdom on how to handle conflict in the church biblically.
As a leader, the Bible offers guidance for a crisis or conflict:
- Remember the ultimate goal is peace – Hebrews 12:14 “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”
- Self-reflect on our collective failures – Romans 3:23 “for all have sinned.”
- Go to the other person – Matthew 18:15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone.”
- Focus on the truth in every situation – John 8:32 “And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
- Use your words to de-escalate – Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
- Listen first, and get advice from others around you – Proverbs 12:15 “A fool’s way is right in his own eyes, but whoever listens to counsel is wise.”
- Get assistance from others when you need it – Ecclesiastes 4:12 “One can be overpowered, but two together can put up resistance. A three-ply cord doesn’t easily snap.”
And when you need encouragement or hope as you navigate a crisis, these Bible verses are a great reminder:
- John 16:33 “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
- Psalm 34:4 “I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
- Psalm 34:17 “When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
When believers read His word and follow His guidance, they can find peace throughout a crisis and be an example of God’s goodness and love to others.
Build Your Church Crisis Management Plan with Pushpay
It’s challenging to develop a plan of action during a crisis. It can feel impossible to get and give direction in all the panic. That’s why creating a plan beforehand will help your team respond quickly and, more importantly, effectively. The more prepared you are, the better you can lead through the tough times that come.
These times are tough, but you don’t have to navigate a crisis alone. At Pushpay, we want you to have what you need to lead effectively, engage efficiently, and minister wisely. We hope this blog (and these other resources) help your church manage emergencies and establish a digital strategy to engage your community:
- Checklist: How to Pivot to a Digital Strategy in Times of Crisis
- 211 Ready-to-Send Push Notifications That Will Grow Your Church
- Power up Your App: Stay Connected If In-person Services Are Reduced
- Essentials for Great Emergency Communication
- Leading Through Crisis
One crucial part of your crisis management plan is updating systems and processes. Your ministry deserves systems and tools that make it easy to run efficiently, organize data, and communicate with your staff and congregants. ChurchStaq’s all-in-one software solution streamlines your ministry, combining ChMS, giving, and app tools under one umbrella. A quick call with one of our church software experts can bring you up to speed on all the options that might fit your ministry’s needs and budget. Schedule a chat with one of our experts now.