Illustration by Pep Montserrat
There unfortunately has been no shortage of high-profile scandals within faith-based organizations in North America over the past decade, including ministry failures and issues threatening to split denominations. Having served in the media and as a communication officer for a Christian university, I’m deeply concerned about how well-prepared theological schools are for the types of crises we’re seeing play out on social media and across the Internet.
It’s easy for a school to think that it will never suffer the type of high-profile crises like the ones in the news, but it doesn’t take big headlines or viral posts to undercut an institution.
Crises are like floods, and they can come in any number of ways – from quickly and unexpectedly, like a shocking allegation, to slow and predictable, like a layoff or the firing of a favorite professor.
Considering how quickly things can move, particularly on social media, it would be wise for schools to build a crisis communication plan and a team. Start by defining a crisis as something that takes you out of your routine and threatens the health, vitality, and future of your institution and/or its mission. And then identify what your crises could be.
Although we’ve all read about shocking crises with stunning revelations, in most places, the crises are far less dramatic. For theological schools, it may sound more mundane but it’s no less serious when questions arise about enrollment declines, denominational infighting consumes leadership, or the sudden loss of key faculty or donors threatens an institution’s stability and culture.
Other than initiating a planning process and identifying a crisis communication team, it’s vital that boards and senior leadership consider the institution’s values. Everything an institution does, particularly in a crisis, should be related to the institution’s values; boards and senior leaders need to get those right. What’s the essence of the school and what does it speak to? More than speaking to values, have you been living them? In a crisis, would that be evident?
The institutions that survive crises are typically those who have a strong identity and can not only articulate what they believe, but also live it.
For access to the recent ATS seminar, contact Matt Hufman at: firstname.lastname@example.org.