Choosing the church media representative

We all watched in horror when the shooting happened at Sutherland Springs Baptist Church. Much like waiting for a train wreck, many of us were glued to the television.  I found myself desperately hoping a spokesperson for the church would come forward and tell the media that God was still in power, and to not give glory or recognition to the evil person who committed this crime.  Perhaps this was not the perfect train of thought, but they were my thoughts nonetheless.

As I mentioned yesterday, a media relations person can help send the churches message, rather than the media’s message. In the public safety world, we call this person a Public Information Officer, or PIO.  This term and acronym can also be attached to the church. When choosing a PIO, you want to carefully choose the person (or persons) who will best represent the church.  Let me plainly state, you should avoid using the Pastor as the PIO for multiple reasons! One key reason is that in the event of a disaster, whether natural or man-made, they will have their hands full dealing with those that were affected by the incident. They will likely be needed elsewhere, rather than standing in front of microphones, appeasing the general public. They will probably be busy providing compassion, solace, and direction to those in the church. Depending on the circumstances, they may even be accompanying law enforcement to the homes of family members to provide notification of death. As I said, there are numerous reasons the Pastor should not be the PIO, and I have just touched the tip of the iceberg. This is not to say that they cannot give a statement (eventually), but their first priority is taking care of the flock!

When looking for a PIO, some attributes that you may want to look for include:

  • Someone who speaks well
  • Someone who dresses appropriately
  • Someone who can stay calm under pressure
  • Someone who is familiar with the congregants
  • Some who can speak with authority
  • Someone familiar with the Bible

While most of these are common sense, I still want to discuss the reasoning behind each. When you choose someone who speaks well and dresses appropriately, you are making sure that you portray your church in a positive light. If it is going to be a national news story, this is extremely important that we represent God in a positive light! In choosing someone who stays calm under pressure, it will be important that the person representing your church is not hysterical or babbling nonsense. They should in all likelihood be able to remain calm and focused even in the worst of situations. In knowing the congregants, you want someone who can give effectively generalizations (e.g. three people of a family of four, the parents of two children, the only child), but they can also provide specific details without releasing names or violating privacy. You also want someone who speaks with authority because you do not want the message being given to sound wishy-washy or weak; you want the information being given to sound like the person, and the church, stand firm on Gods healing, love, and promises. Finally, you want someone who knows the Bible so they can provide scripture that meets the situation.

Imagine a church PIO on national television that gave a press release that started like this:

“Hello, my name is Joe Davies, and I am the public relations representative for ABC Church. Let me start by quoting scripture: In  Matthew 10:28, Jesus told his disciples “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. ” Today, several bodies were destroyed in this act of violence, but we are sure their souls are in heaven! …” Another fine example is this YouTube video of the Pastor and his wife speaking in Sutherland Springs.

Let me close today’s blog by saying the information I shared with you today is basic information. I will get more in-depth in the coming days. Of course, I will discuss what happens if the PIO is not capable of doing their job, where to learn how to be an effective PIO, and a whole host of other issues, as I said, in the coming days. Until then, please make sure that you keep Gods flock safe, … Mark

Ya’ll shoulda see’d it!

Please forgive my title, but how many times have you seen the news reporter interviewing someone, and thought to yourself “Couldn’t they find anyone better to talk to?”. Think of the person standing in front of the camera that has a (not so nice) saying, or someone that swears when they get excited. Well, that is something that the church needs to consider as well. No matter what the size of the church, an incident can happen at any time, and you need to consider what image you want your church to have prior to an incident ever happening.

A media relations person is a positive for any church, and should not only be considered useful for times of crisis. If they can develop media contacts, they can l help the church to share God’s message and to create a positive message for your house of worship. After developing relationships with individuals in the media, they have an inside source that can help the church for in outreach for a special event. By simply asking, they may be able to advertise for the event, or even get the news agency to possibly cover it. How encouraging would it be when the church is having a revival, for it to be standing room only? How wonderful would it be to have Vacation Bible school so packed that you had to ask for more help? How exciting would it be to have hundreds, or even thousands (depending on the market), of people show up for your next fundraiser or food drive? A media relations person, if they are good, may be able to help your church do this, and it can help provide you with direct contact to people that need the Lord!

Similarly, should there be an active shooting in your church, the media relations person will already have a relationship with the media, and in most instances by simply asking, they may be able to convince the media not to show certain things. Some of those “things”  could be body bags being removed, people being loaded into an ambulance, talking with already stunned parishioners, or showing children. They may also be able to reduce false rumors just by having a working relationship with the media person. The media relations person can do more for your church than you can imagine.

Active shootings are not the only crisis that a church could face. They could face a fire, a flood, sexual misconduct, theft or armed robbery, or other types of violence in the church. Your media relations person will be there to guide the way the church is presented and viewed. This can be very important! There are some (albeit few), media outlets that will spread rumors that are not verified, and in some instances, they may even make up stories. While these instances are rare, they do happen.

Over the next few days, I will provide guidance of on how to choose a media relations person, who should be the media relations person (hint, normally not the Pastor), when there should be an assistant for the media relations person, where to get training (some of it free) and much more. Until then, may God bless you, … Mark

First steps in planning to prevent an active shooter.

As I mentioned yesterday, preparedness is an important aspect of preventing an active shooter or bomber. It is also an important way to survive one. The shooter that has come into your church or business has prepared. They know EXACTLY what they are going to do, and how they will do it. The way to overcome their preparedness plans is to have plans of your own. In some instances, churches have done one or two things to addresses security, and then they forget about it. Throwing a plan together haphazardly can give you a false sense of security, so I encourage you to take your time and do it properly. This is why I am discussing the planning and preparedness aspect in such detail.

In order to create a plan, you should first create a Safety and Security Committee.  It is critical that you form a committee rather than use one or two people to plan for disasters and emergencies. When you use one or two people, you have a perspective from only one or two people rather, than 5 or more individuals. In most instances, using a mix of individuals will provide a 360 degree view of potential risks, vulnerabilities, mitigation measures, evaluating mitigation measure as well as other issues.

Think of it this way, if you only had a young able bodied person creating the plan, they may forget about elderly individuals and those with disabilities. If you use only older individuals, they may forget about children, or even the capabilities of young and middle age adults. Additionally, if only one or two people are responsible for all aspects of planning, they may miss something, while the likelihood of a group of people missing something is substantially less. In this instance, five (or more heads) are better than one.

When asking for, or appointing, committee members, try to get a good cross-section of individuals. Even if there is a large contingency of police officers in the congregation, you should never put more than one or two on this committee. Why? Because they will in most instances be led by their police training. Again, a cross-section gives you a 360 degree view from every aspect of your church (or business).

Once a committee is formed,  it is important to let everyone in your congregation know who these committee members are, and that they are available to listen to any concerns. Being available to listen to congregant concerns can be extremely helpful, and they may help guide the committee to identify other risks that the committee may have not thought of. The input of other congregants should at least be considered, but the committee is not required to take any other action, unless of course they think it is a viable risk.

In the initial meeting of the Safety and Security Committee, the members should choose the leadership of the committee. They should decide who should be appointed or elected as the committee leader, the alternate leader, and they should choose a secretary who will be required to keep good notes. After determining the leadership, then the committee will need to discuss the risks that the church may be vulnerable to. It is important to note that I did not say only the risk of an active shooter, but rather all risks.

For the Safety and Security of the congregants, every potential risk should be evaluated. This should include if the risk listed could happen to your specific church, and if it is possible, how it could affect the church. This holds especially true if the incident happened during a time when people will be in church. Disasters that should be considered might include:

  • Attacker(s) with knife, bat, etc.
  • Active Shooter(s)
  • Avalanche
  • Car Bombs
  • Dam Failure
  • Drought
  • Earthquake
  • Erosion
  • Expansive Soils
  • Extreme Cold
  • Extreme Heat
  • Flood
  • Hail
  • Hurricane
  • Landslide
  • Lightning strikes
  • Medical Emergencies
  • Sea Level Rise
  • Severe Winds
  • Severe Winter Weather
  • Storm Surge
  • Subsidence/Sink holes
  • Suicide Bomber(s)
  • Tornados
  • Tsunamis
  • Wildfires

This list is only a starting point. The list provided may not include everything that might affect your church. Upon briefly discussing the risks that might affect your church, you should adjourn the meeting to allow everyone time to think and contemplate on all the potential risks. When thinking about these risks, those on the committee should consider any risks that were missed, and which risks are most likely to occur in your specific situation.

Tomorrow, I will discuss the committees role in prioritizing these risks and how to come up with mitigation measures for your specific circumstance. Until then, may God keep you safe, … Mark