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How to deal with the media if your church is in crisis

Since starting on the launch team of this magazine in 2001, I’ve met and interviewed many church leaders who granted me generous grace and support. I swear my spirit got born again many times over because of their kind and professional attitude toward a journalist who was just trying to do her job.

But then there were a few who didn’t quite know how to deal with an inquiring writer — especially if their church was in crisis.

Because church controversies can turn into media frenzies very quickly, I think many church leaders ask the question, “If a scandal erupts at our church, how are we going to respond to the media?” They know it’s important to have some guidelines written down even if they think messy things aren’t likely to happen at their church.

One church leader who knows a thing or two about leading through some messy stuff is Ross Parsley. He’s the lead pastor of ONEchapel in Austin, TX, which he planted in 2010; but, for 18 years, he served as worship leader at New Life Church in Colorado Springs, CO. In late 2006, New Life’s senior pastor stepped down due to a moral failure. The media feasted on his story.

In this issue of Church Executive, I had the opportunity to interview Parsley, who stepped in as interim pastor during the crisis, and ask him how a church can create a positive relationship with the media in the midst of a stressful event. Following are his wise advice:

  • Be relational to the media, not hostile;
  • Be as accurate as possible, not sloppy with facts or generous with numbers;
  • Realize that during a crisis, every communication is a press release of some kind;
  • Make every effort to communicate to the congregation first before they hear it elsewhere.

I also asked Dave Patchin, executive pastor at Lifepointe Church in Raleigh, NC, and a trusted voice at xpastor.org forum. Patchin says although Lifepointe hasn’t had any negative media, the leadership is prepared.

When dealing with the press, it’s still all about building God’s kingdom, according to Patchin. “In general, it’s wise to build relationships with media.

Often they need stories, so send press releases. If you offer them positive stories that highlight the church, your ministry partners or other ministries, they tend to value you … that’s helping them do their job. We try to be truthful, helpful, encouraging and engaged. When asked for comments, we pray about if we can serve the reporter’s needs and build the kingdom.”

The church, in general, has gotten a lot of bad press in recent years. But, I believe many people, reporters included, still root for the church as the light and hope it’s meant to be. And when church leaders respond to
the media in truth, grace and humility — especially during a crisis when perhaps because of anger, shame or fear it’s more convenient or “understandable” to ignore requests for comments or be hostile to reporters — then members of the media may just see the church as a trusted community partner. And, who knows, we may just win a soul or two for the kingdom.

— Rez Gopez-Sindac

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