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