When crisis comes to the church you serve the congregation’s trust has been breached, leading many to distrust the entire staff: What did you know? Were you part of it? Did you help cover something up? And less specific to the case at hand, things like: If one leader can do this to me, whose to say others won’t? See, you can’t trust anyone in the church? These are understandable defensive responses from people who have been wounded by one in authority.Â To regain trust there are at least two things you can help make happen.
The first you can do immediately: become more transparent. Make every effort to keep the congregation informed about everything – the crisis and how it is proceeding, other church business, even minor stuff you would have never thought to talk about before. The culture of secrecy has to end.
More than likely secrets allowed the crisis to occur on some level. Do all that you can to show everyone that secrets will no longer be tolerated. Tell the congregation everything the leadership is doing every step of the way. Bring both the decisions and the processes through which decisions were made out into the light. Make every process of church leadership as transparent as possible right away.
In one case, an associate was told by her denominational leaders not inform the congregation of the specifics of why their pastor was relieved of his position. While that associate could not talk about specifics, she decided to be as transparent as possible. While she needed to keep confidence, she could say that she could not say. Congregation members understood and respected that amount of disclosure. It showed care for them, and integrity on her part.
The second step is for further down the road, but you can lay the groundwork for immediately: advocate for policies to keep the crisis from happening again. Bring before your church board proposed changes to how you count money, how visitations are done, how counseling occurs – whatever needs to change. Be mindful of areas of vulnerability and offer creative solutions.
Be diligent in protecting the congregation from a recurrence of a breach. Remember, your goal is to work for the health of the congregation going forward. One crisis can make all involved aware of many other areas of negligence. Work to close those holes.