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Is the ‘Redheaded Stepchild’ in Your Crisis Planning?

By Palmer Holt.

It’s what I call the overlooked “redheaded stepchild” of crisis management.

It’s also possibly the biggest blind spot for many ministry leaders, producing a loyal flock of proverbial ostriches, with their heads stuck in the sand of denial.

What is this redheaded stepchild?

Failure to have a crisis communications plan in place BEFORE a crisis hits.

Unfortunately, many ministries, churches, and mission agencies suffer from a total lack of acceptance that they could plunge any moment into a crisis — resulting in potentially disastrous fallout.

A crisis can take many forms. Allegations of financial mismanagement, a moral failure, a rogue employee, a toxic firestorm on social media, a kidnapping, the sudden death of a leader, a socio-political emergency, a natural disaster… the list is inexhaustible.

Yet, faced with this avalanche of possible calamities, what do most ministries choose to do when it comes to planning in advance how they’ll communicate with their stakeholders during a sudden crisis?

Absolutely nothing.

After four decades in media and crisis management — I see lack of crisis communications readiness among ministries all the time. Their reasoning follows a familiar pattern: “It won’t happen to usbut if it does happen, we can handle it.

When a crisis hits — and, at some unexpected hour, it will — these ministries are totally unprepared to respond to a media tsunami, uncontrollable chatter on social media, stakeholder misunderstandings, and rapid fallout.

Instead of having a crisis communications plan already in place to confront a crisis situation head-on, their reaction is driven by fear and panic. They clam up. Go into hiding. Do the ostrich thing. And the result can be catastrophic.

Shredded Reputations

In this era of social media, it takes just a few hours for your ministry’s reputation to be shredded. The respect and trust you’ve built up over years — even decades — can be dismantled overnight. Once lost, it could take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars to rebuild.

I’m not trying to scare you into “crisis mode,” but consider this: when you’re in the throes of a fast-moving crisis that threatens your ministry, that’s not the time to start planning your communications strategy!

Now is the time to get ready for the crisis that will inevitably turn up on your doorstep — with the overlooked, under-resourced redheaded stepchild — when you least expect it.

It’s All About Preparing in Advance

Any crisis will sting. But the sting can be greatly alleviated if you’ve planned ahead to communicate with your various stakeholders, including donors, members, staff, community partners, and others in addition to the media.

The 3 core things in any comprehensive crisis communications plan are:

  • Know your ministry
  • Know your media
  • Know your stakeholders

A crisis communications plan focused on these fundamentals can make the difference between your ministry’s reputation being saved… or savaged.

Today’s media environment is highly volatile and fluid — especially on social media platforms where allegations spread like wildfire. Social media can be a vicious gossip chain — but, harnessed properly, it can also be your best ally in a crisis. It all comes down to this: who’s controlling the conversation? You — or forces outside your organization?

During the deadly Ebola crisis in Africa, one of InChrist Communications’ ministry clients risked backlash. We helped them redirect the conversation and position their frontline workers as heroes. One of them was featured on the cover of TIME under the banner: Person of the Year: The Ebola Fighters.

You can’t buy that kind of publicity!

Don’t let your ministry’s well-earned reputation go down the drain because of a crisis that spirals out of your control. A well-designed, comprehensive crisis communications plan in advance will save you and your ministry untold heartache and stress when the day comes. At InChrist Communications (ICC, www.inchristcommunications.com), we’ll guide you through the entire process — and your initial consultation is free.

Don’t neglect the “redheaded stepchild” and put your ministry’s reputation at risk! Plan ahead now to communicate well in a crisis.Learn more about developing a crisis communications plan in Palmer’s Missio Nexus webinar on this topic.


Palmer Holt is founder & CEO of InChrist Communications (ICC, www.inchristcommunications.com), an integrated communications agency that has helped dozens of local, national, and international faith-based organizations and ministries successfully navigate crises and tell their story.


This article is submitted by Palmer Holt of InChrist Communications.   InChrist Communications is a Missio Nexus member.  Member organizations can provide content to the Missio Nexus website. See how by clicking here.

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