Communicating in a Crisis

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Church consultant Mike Bonem says leaders need to step up their communication in this season of anxiety and uncertainty. It is important to be transparent, hopeful, and focused on the mission.


Communication is one of a leader’s most important responsibilities and most powerful tools. Even though effective communication is known to be vital, it is frequently overlooked or poorly executed. Patrick Lencioni likes the term CRO — Chief Reminding Officer — instead of CEO. It’s a nod to the necessity of regularly reminding people of purpose and priorities.

Especially in this season of anxiety and uncertainty, leaders need to step up their communication. In “normal” times, communication in a church or ministry may be little more than a listing of upcoming events with an inspirational or thought-provoking message thrown in. But this is certainly not a normal time, and the standard communication pattern doesn’t fit today’s needs (and probably wasn’t adequate back then). Your communication should:

1. Clearly state what you do know.

You don’t have all your plans worked out yet, and that’s OK. You can and should communicate what you do know. It may be a “no sooner than” date for regathering. Or it may be a set of criteria that will guide your decision or the listing of people who are making key decisions.

2. Be honest about what you don’t know.

Leaders who claim to have all the answers quickly lose credibility. Be willing to say that you don’t know when you’ll be able to regather or what the protocol will be when you do. This message can be particularly effective when coupled with what you do know. For example, “We don’t know when we’ll gather again for worship, but we know it won’t be any earlier than mid-June and that we’ll follow the guidance of governmental and medical experts when we do.”

3. Remember how little your audience knows.

You are probably absorbing a lot of content to inform your decisions. But most of your audience is not. They aren’t thinking about all the complexities involved in reopening. They may assume that most people’s attitudes toward regathering are the same as theirs. Your messages need to be crafted with this level of innocent ignorance in mind.

4. Offer hopeful glimpses of the present and the future.

I continue to hear encouraging stories about the creative ministry that is occurring in this season. Are your people hearing those stories? You don’t want them to have the impression that God’s work through your church or ministry has shut down. But if you are not sharing stories about what is happening, that’s exactly the impression they will be left with.

5. Keep the mission in focus.

When everything is changing, how do we decide what to do or not do, what is important and what isn’t? The answer should be that the organization’s mission is the guiding light through which all decisions are filtered. Make sure to keep the mission at the forefront in all of your communication.

I am not suggesting that one leader is responsible for all communication. But you can begin the conversation about how to maximize the impact of your outgoing messages.


The article originally appeared on mikebonem.com. Used by permission.

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About Author

Mike Bonem is a facilitator and consultant with Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF). Previously, he was Executive Pastor of West University Baptist Church in Houston. He recently wrote Thriving in the Second Chair: Ten Practices for Robust Ministry (When You're Not in Charge) (Abingdon Press, 2016), available at Cokesbury and Amazon. He blogs at mikebonem.com.


The Premier Doctor of Ministry in Church Leadership Excellence from Wesley Theological Seminary and the Lewis Center