Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Faith-Based Organizations Must Deal With Crises Same as Everyone Else Does

I had the pleasure yesterday to have lunch in Dayton, Ohio, with a high school friend and his wife. We caught up on memories and where some of our classmates have landed. He even brought a perfectly preserved copy of The Highlander, our junior high school newspaper in which my column, Hicks Humor, ran. On the back page was my article about a Highland Scotties football game. Highland Scotties -- sound tough?

The conversation turned somehow to abducted children and human trafficking. I asked if his church had a security system. He said it did, but it's currently down until the new custodian begins work and fixes it. (Robbers, notice I'm not mentioning any names of people or church.) We discussed the risk of firing staffers who may be a bit eccentric. Ahh, forget the euphemisms. I mean people who aren't "all there" all the time; mentally disturbed. A disgruntled ex-employee or church member knows that at a certain hour every Sunday morning, the object of his sick mind will be standing in the pulpit.

That's why so many acts of domestic violence become workplace shootings. Husband knows wife works every day for XYZ company and he knows he'll find her there.

My friend recognized this smoldering crisis. One former employee whose deck is missing a few cards could be a threat, so he wisely and quietly alerted some people to keep an eye on the doors and the outside of the building and report any sightings of this person.

What about the children Sunday mornings? I asked. He said he has a member who is a police detective keep an eye open for any unfamiliar faces roaming the halls during Sunday school and church services. In addition, no one works with kids without a background check and a short training class.

Except for the absence of a written crisis operations plan and crisis communications plan, my friend is taking proper precautions. I hope he gets the alarm fixed soon.

Our discussion came just a week or so after Larry Smith of the Institute for Crisis Management, where I serve as senior consultant, told me his church was broken into. Someone entered through a window in the back and got away (so far) with some fairly expensive equipment. Larry is helping by looking into security cameras and safety glass for accessible windows.

I'm personally familiar with a church and its former pastor. This man of God was skimming money from the collection plate. He was asked to move on, but I don't think any charges were filed. Instead, the good reverend was free to accept the call at another unsuspecting church he could rip off. The mistake was not to prosecute. Any news coverage probably wouldn't have hurt the church because it was the victim, not the cause, of the crisis.

I found an interesting website for people of the cloth and others who think crises only happen to others. "The best security plan is one developed with good and relevant information. The data on this page is only that associated with deadly force incidents and suspicious deaths at churches and ministries in the U.S.. The data is dynamic...."  (

 I want to share Carl Chinn's statistics from the website referenced above to make my point: Churches need to be as vigilant when it comes to crises as an investment firm or a chemical manufacturer.

Deadly Force Incidents (DFI's) at Faith-Based Organizations in the United States (includes abductions, attacks, suspicious deaths, suicides and deadly force intervention / protection)
DATA CURRENT for time period 1/1/1999 through 10/24/12
TOTAL DFI's (Deadly Force Incidents)
Total known (generally accepted as known) attack triggers
Domestic Spillover (Domestic relationship violence that found it's way onto ministry property and resulted in a DFI)
Personal Conflict (disagreement between 2 or more un-domestic-related people that erupted into a deadly force incident)
Gang related (Gang or potential gang related that included drugs are in drugs category)
Confirmed drug related
Confirmed mental illness
Religious Bias (against any form of religion, some previously considered as "Personal Conflict" moved into this category starting 2012)
Random and other (including rare triggers)
Number of DFI's occurring based upon the TOP 3 known single issue triggers -- Domestic Violence, Personal conflict and robbery)
Chinn has other interesting statistics that just might scare the devil out of you. Check out his website.

In the same way that daycares, museums, zoos, theaters, and many more public destinations can combine anti-crisis forces, churches would be well-served to band together and develop a crisis operations plan and crisis communications plan.  Such plans would be largely one-size-fits-all. Bringing in outside help would be a small cost, depending on how many churches are splitting the fee.
Don't be like the female preacher who chose not to be prepared and suffered a horrible crisis. The opportunity to develop a crisis plan pastor by.

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