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Guide To Church Conflict And Crisis Management

The other day my husband and I were chatting with a pastor friend, asking him how his past year went in their church. He had just started his new role as an associate pastor. It was his first time in that role; prior to that he was a youth pastor. 

He told us that he was exhausted. He began to share how it was a discouraging year for him. There was a lot of conflict in the church. There wasn’t any church growth. There seemed to be issues between members and ministry leaders continually. 

There were disagreements on how the church should respond to the global pandemic. There were disagreements on theological issues. There seemed to be a continual theme of disagreement. Their community had also been hit with a major storm and many families in their church community had lost their homes and loved ones.

Unfortunately, our friend’s experience is not an isolated experience. Sadly, conflict and crisis in the church is inevitable. The church is made up of redeemed sinners. No one is perfect, and conflict will come, no matter how hard we try to avoid it. 

In this article I will talk about: 

What Is Church Crisis Management?

In layman’s terms, church crisis management involves answering the questions of who, what, where, when, and how to get your church running as smoothly as possible following a crisis or conflict. This often means creating a living document that all church staff and members have access to. 

Internal Crisis In The Church

Sometimes, a crisis occurs amongst the members of your congregation. Whether it’s a marriage falling apart, a job loss, a death, sickness, or something else, you and your church family must be ready to meet the painful needs of those in your church family who are in crisis. 

When a crisis situation hits your church members it’s important that someone from the church leadership reaches out to them. You should go beyond just making a call or sending a text. When a church member is going through a crisis, someone from the church needs to show up. 

People learn quickly the difference between acquaintances, friends, and their church family during a crisis. Meet with them, pray with them, and do all you can to meet their needs. This might include organizing meal rotations or providing help around the home. If the family has children, have your children’s ministry leaders surround the children as well, bringing gifts or activities if needed. You could also offer childcare to help the parents. Do all you can to speak words of life and hope to them. 

Recently my own family went through some challenging times with our child in the hospital for an extended stay, and each life group within the church pooled their money together and sent a gift card for a meal delivery service. It was such a blessing to my family, and it really made us feel seen and cared for. 

Lastly, as a pastor, managing conflict and managing crises should not fall entirely on your shoulders. Your church will not grow if you are doing all the work yourself. As a pastor, your job is to train your congregation to be the church!

How To Deal With Conflict In The Church

Here are a couple of tips for dealing with conflict in your church or amongst your congregation. 

Confronting The Conflict 

If there is conflict, division, or fighting within the church, church leaders must take up the issue with that church member or members. The first interaction with them should be private, or in a one-on-one situation, if it’s appropriate. If that doesn’t work, take at least one or two other church leaders with you and discuss this with them in private. If the conflict still cannot be resolved, perhaps the question needs to be asked if the person or persons involved should still be part of the church. 

If you do not enjoy conflict, you are not alone. But confronting conflict head-on is the best way to handle conflict in the church. The longer a conflict simmers, the less likely it is that there will be a positive outcome at the end. This is why it’s so important to deal with church conflicts as soon as possible.

When conflicts arise amongst church members, some of the involved church members may begin to share their discontent with other members. This gossip cycle can be very damaging and cancerous in a church. Gossip can run wild though a church congregation. If you know of conflict happening in the church, don’t make the mistake of ignoring it.

Communication 

Communication is a huge aspect of Church life. I truly believe that communication is the absolute key to avoiding conflict. 

My friend, the pastor I mentioned earlier, told us that they had a few people leave the church after a rather large purchase was made. The church members were upset with how money was being spent and felt that the leadership was being irresponsible with the church money. They felt that there was no communication to the congregation prior to the purchase. 

Members may disagree with why church leadership makes certain decisions or spends money, but when they understand why the church does what it does, they are more apt to support decisions. When your leadership has decided on something big, it’s vital to have a process in place to share that information with staff, volunteers, and church members. 

Make sure to share the news before it hits the rumor mill and spreads like wildfire. It is much easier to control what is communicated on the front end than trying to clear the mess and rumors from the back end.

Crisis Outside The Church, And How The Church Should Respond

Natural disasters are becoming more frequent due to the effects of climate change. More and more we are hearing about fires and floods, hurricanes and tornadoes, blizzards, and drought. Natural disasters are another area of crisis that the local church can get involved with. So how does a church come up with a plan to respond to natural disasters?

Put Your Own Oxygen Mask On First!

You can’t help those in your community if your church is not thriving. If your building is falling apart, or the culture of your church is struggling, you need to resolve those issues first before you can help the broader community. 

Make sure your church is prepared to handle natural disasters. This means thinking and planning. Figure out what disasters are common in your church area. Once you’ve figured out what you’ll need in a disaster, it will be training time! Prepare and train your volunteers as needed. 

Inspire your congregation and explain how your church will respond to natural disasters. Start fundraisers to raise money to purchase extra supplies or resources. If you’re near a disaster zone, visit government shelters and learn what they’re doing. 

Open Your Doors

If you have a church building, you are incredibly blessed! What a resource you have, and what an amazing resource to bless others. Use it as much as you can to bless your community. 

For example, if many people in your community have lost their homes or are unable to stay in them, you can turn the sanctuary into a dormitory. You might purchase some sleeping bags or blankets to put on the pews or the floor. You can create privacy by getting curtains or dividers.

You can use classroom space to put up families with babies, people with disabilities, or others who need their own space. If you anticipate people will be there for a long time, you can create space for people to wash and dry their clothes.

The kitchen is another obvious place that can offer help. You might want to have a stock of non-perishable goods to whip up in an emergency. 

Both before and during natural disasters, let the community know that your building can be a muster point for separated families. In case of the loss of cell phone service and/or Wi-Fi, connect good old-fashioned landlines so that people can check in with their friends & family. 

Church buildings are often equipped with lots of space that they don’t use anymore. Here is your chance to use it for good!

Be The Church

Here is where we as a church provide a unique service. The emotional toll of a natural disaster can hit just as hard as the physical toll. If you have made your building a muster point, make sure your pastoral staff and/or your volunteer team arrive soon after an emergency happens. Invite other pastors in the area as well. Prayer is such a powerful tool in the face of crisis. 

Take advantage of social media. If your church has a Facebook group, use it to post alerts, warnings, and other helpful information that is relevant to your area. You can also use it to post encouraging scripture and prayers. 

World Vision gives some tips on how the local church can “be the church” during a crisis, and Samaritan’s Purse is a great organization for churches to partner with.

What Does The Bible Say About Conflict?

If conflict is unresolved it can begin to fester and grow. It can become cancerous in a church body and then eventually it can end with the church being in crisis mode. Offense and hurt that is not addressed can damage a church body, and cause division or even church splits. If the conflict is resolved quickly and handled correctly, it will lead to repentance, growth, and a new understanding of grace and forgiveness.

Obviously as church leaders, we want to have some biblical grounding in what we do about conflict. Here are some quick tips and scripture references. 

Don’t Make It Public Right Away

Matthew 18:15-17: “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.”

Be Careful What You Say

Proverbs 15:18: “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.”

Proverbs 21:33: “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues keep themselves from calamity.”

Colossians 4:6: “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Be Quick To Resolve 

Proverbs 17:14: “Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out.”

Ephesians 4:26: “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.”

Matthew 5:25-26: “Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.”

Be Quick To Forgive

Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Colossians 3:13: “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”

No matter the crisis or conflict, it’s important to not stay silent. When you choose to stay silent or not address it, whether you meant to or not, you are communicating something quite loudly. You are saying that you’re not bold enough to make decisions, that you don’t care enough to change, or that you are too proud to hear others out. Be sure you and your team count the cost of saying and doing nothing in those times of crisis and conflict. 

The 4 Phases Of Crisis Management

Unfortunately, we can not predict when a crisis is going to happen, but we can be prepared! Preparing for a disaster is one of those things that is difficult to put at the top of the list when it comes to church priorities.

However, effective crisis management can save you time when every moment counts and can lay a good foundation for a quick response to an emergency or disaster.

Mitigate

Mitigation involves minimizing the amount of loss or harm caused by a risk or issue. This phase is where you want to do a lot of the planning and prevention. A well-laid-out plan should help minimize any challenges you will foresee. Think ahead to what crisis may arrive and what you can do to reduce these risks. Maybe you need to create a risk management team. Discuss strategies for supporting and communicating to church members or the local community when a crisis happens.

Prepare

Once you have created a crisis management plan, it should be reviewed and updated on an annual basis. Perhaps you want to test the crisis management team by creating mock crises or drills to practice effectively. This gives the team an idea of any important aspects you may have missed and provides a chance to correct them. Also, make sure the church is equipped with the right emergency equipment and emergency kits.

Respond

This is the phase where the crisis actually happens.This is the time where you figure out the best response. How is the communication being delivered? Who needs to be addressed? Is there conflict or crisis that needs to be confronted head-on? Remember to avoid the silence.

Recover

The recovery process can differ depending on what the crisis is. When the crisis is over, it’s time to shift the focus to rebuilding, which can be time-consuming and expensive. Having an effective crisis management plan will hopefully help the church get back to normal, but of course, it depends on the crisis. 

If it’s something that horrific that affects families or results in loss of life, it may take a long time to heal and for the church to move on. When the crisis is over, it is very important to review the crisis management plan to see if it was effective and take note of any flaws or things that should be done differently. 

Examples Of Church Crisis Plans 

Here are some resources related to creating an emergency plan or crisis plan for your church: 

  • US Disaster Preparedness: This is a quick easy read that can help you get some ideas going when creating a crisis plan. This is a good place to start if your church currently does not have a crisis plan in place. 
  • United Methodist Crisis Template: I love how this crisis plan even gives tips on what to say when dealing with the media. This is a brilliant idea as sometimes there are unfortunate circumstances that may happen when the media might want statements or updates for “boots on the ground’ situations. 
  • Sample Crisis Plan: This is actually a crisis plan from a Christian School but it has some great details and covers everything from natural disasters to simple accidents to deaths. 

Preparedness Is Key

As a church leader, you already have so much to be thinking about. Preparing for conflict or crisis is not enjoyable, but the more prepared you are, the better you can pastor and lead your people through the tough times that may come.

For more on how you can best manage your church, start here: Complete Guide To Church Management For Lead Pastors.

Related Read:

Check This Out: How To Mentor & Build Devoted Youth Leaders: Youth Discipleship

By Ashley Vaughan

Since she began leading worship at the age of 15, Ashley has always been passionate about supporting the local church and leading others into worship. For the past 10 years she has been leading worship teams and finds much joy and fulfillment in empowering and raising up other leaders. Ashley is a song writer with Worship Central Canada and has had the incredible opportunity to travel and lead worship, while collaborating with other worship leaders.

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