Understanding Attack Blogs

April 2, 2007 by

There’s a new and unfortunate trend in church disputes that you’ve likely heard of by now: the attack blog. Attack blogs are most commonly established by members within the church who take issue with some aspect of the church leadership or direction. In some cases, the attacks come from outside the church, like in Mark Driscoll’s case last fall, but the majority of cases seem to be from within.

I personally know of four churches that are dealing with this to some degree right now. Here are two examples from Bellevue Baptist in Memphis, Tenn. (these are not blogs in the purest sense of the word but are text-only web sites that serve the same purpose).

The issues that prompt the attacks vary, but in each case the church is under fire from a small group of individuals who disagree with the leadership (either the pastor himself or the leadership as a whole). Also, in every case the churches had no idea what hit them.


At first, an attack blog might not seem like a big deal. After all, it’s just one or two people, right? These churches could have very well thought that or may have said, “Who really reads this stuff?” or “nobody will find this and if they do, they won’t believe it.”

If that was their first thought, I know it’s not any longer. Most churches have at least a vague idea of what they would do if a local TV station showed up with a camera and reporter asking a bunch of questions about concerns within the church. At the very least, the church would feel a sense of pressure to formulate a plan of response to whatever the question is. Attack blogs should be treated with the same sense of urgency as a TV crew and reporter in the church lobby. Both can create a public relations nightmare and both need a response sooner rather than later.

Whether you find yourself currently under attack or want to take some preventative measures, here are five things to consider:

1. Start a Blog ASAP
If you start a blog now, before a crisis, you will have more credibility when/if an issue pops up. I think it’s a good idea to be blogging anyway just for communication and feedback purposes, but now more than ever I’m convinced that it’s necessary for such a case as this. An attack blog takes a private matter public, and that’s a scary thing for many churches. By starting a blog now you’ll already have the forum for a public response and will be better prepared if you need to respond to an attack or address a sensitive public issue. You can have a blog up and going in 15 minutes or less. Check out Blogger, WordPress, Typepad or your favorite blog platform. And the aptly named The Blogging Church can give you some direction on getting your church blog started.

2. Get Notifications
There are two great places to easily find out what bloggers are saying about you and your church. Technorati.com is the hub of the blogging universe and allows you to search on words and phrases to see if any blogs mention the words. Go to Technorati.com and do a search on your church name, your pastor and any other staff person or leader’s name you want to keep an eye on. You can even subscribe to the RSS feed of each search you do so you don’t have to visit the site every time. You should also set up Google Alerts for all of the same names. You’ll get e-mailed when there’s something new for you to see.

3. Be Open and Honest
Here’s the thing about blogging, it’s a great medium that facilitates conversation and understanding, but if you’re not telling the whole truth, you’re going to wish you never said anything at all. Whether you get busted in your own blog’s comments or on someone else’s blog, I can almost guarantee you’ll be caught (probably by another blogger) if you give half truths, misleading statements or outright lies. As long as you respond openly, honestly and candidly, people will see that you don’t have anything to hide and that you’re willing to address the concerns of the attack blog. Just remember that when you’re silent or avoid questions people will assume there’s some truth to the matter. When you address the issue head-on and quickly you won’t give it enough time to get a full surge of momentum. You might even be able to squelch the issue all together with your response. At the very least you will have bought time to deal with the matter offline and have shown a willingness to address the issue publicly.

4. Everyone Reads Attack Blogs
Recent studies show that only about 30% of Americans read blogs, but that number will increase dramatically if there’s an attack blog targeting your church. Attack blogs are both easily accessible and raise curiosity once discovered–people love to watch a fight. The ingredients of accessibility and curiosity form the attack blog’s recipe for rapid awareness. Whether or not people believe what they read is another matter, but just know the attack blog will be read even by people who may have never heard of a blog before. This is where having your own blog to address the issue comes into play because people will naturally look to see what the other side has to say which gives you the perfect opportunity to respond appropriately on your own blog.

5. Ask for Help
If you don’t understand how to get a blog started or how to respond (if you find yourself in a crisis situation) find someone to help you. From a technical side, any blogger you can find will be useful to you regardless of what their own blog is about. They can help you get your blog established and also provide insight into blogging culture. For response help make sure your church leaders are on the same page with whatever you say and consider bringing in a trusted member who has good writing skills and can help you articulate what you need to say if you’re not comfortable with that yourself. Someone with news or public relations experience is a bonus.

Bottom Line
The amazing quality of the Internet to give everyone a voice and make communication cheap and easy for the church also does the same for your church’s critics.

Post By:

Bill Seaver


Bill consults in the development of new media strategies for churches and ministries as the vice president of White Post Media in Nashville, Tenn. He's an active member of Long Hollow Baptist Church and is also an avid blogger on his personal blog, MicroExplosion.com.
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15 Responses to “Understanding Attack Blogs”

  • Mean Dean
    April 3, 2007

    Oh have I got a story for you!
    One where the story ends that those whom were early victims of a new pastor’s spirtually abusive tactics were democratized by going online.
    And though vilified had they been listened to, a national newspaper would have not walked in the door and revealed some interesting issues regarding said pastor’s financial past – can you say SEC investigation?!
    That was only the tip of the iceberg, and said website wound up providing useful information to more and more members whom were also compelled to wander in the spirtitual wilderness.
    As for said pastor, seven years later he was dismissed – something about unaccounted funds, and lots of them – mostly involving foreign students attending the associated Christian school.
    Your advice is good, a little transparency and open dialog would have gone a long way. It wouldn’t have protected a pastor whom was feeding on his sheep – but it may have helped keep a furtive and active congregation of 3,000 from dwindling down to 600!
    Good article, good advice.


  • Mean Dean
    April 3, 2007

    Oh have I got a story for you!
    One where the story ends that those whom were early victims of a new pastor’s spiritually abusive tactics were democratized by going online.
    And though vilified had they been listened to, a national newspaper would have not walked in the door and revealed some interesting issues regarding said pastor’s financial past – can you say SEC investigation?!
    That was only the tip of the iceberg, and said website wound up providing useful information to more and more members whom were also compelled to wander in the spiritual wilderness.
    As for said pastor, seven years later he was dismissed – something about unaccounted funds, and lots of them – mostly involving foreign students attending the associated Christian school.
    Your advice is good, a little transparency and open dialog would have gone a long way. It wouldn’t have protected a pastor whom was feeding on his sheep – but it may have helped keep a furtive and active congregation of 3,000 from dwindling down to 600!
    Good article, good advice.


  • mike hosey
    April 3, 2007

    I have some difficulty calling the Bellevue examples “attack blogs.” When I think of an attack blog, I think of political attack ads. They’re purpose simply is to malign the opposition and thereby place another candidate in a better light by comparison. They are true attacks. I haven’t read all of the Bellevue blogs, nor am I acquainted with the controversy there. However, what I have read in the blogs you’ve provided leads me to believe that they are just ways to inform the congregation en masse when other ways were denied or not available. They even provide a letter from Bellevue rejecting some of the disgruntled groups requests. This letter presumably outlines the church’s official position on the requests. So in a sense both sides are presented.
    In effect, these “attack blogs” are simply blogs. In the land of free speech, the Internet forces the transparency of leaders, because anyone can offer legitimate criticism, or trumpet any behaviors that appear out of line. While Christians should use these tactics sparingly, and only for serious reasons, they are legitimate forms of communication.
    This is a good article with good advice. Especially the advice about transparency and truthfulness. Bloggers will catch it.


  • Paul Clifford
    April 3, 2007

    If we’d all just do what Jesus said and follow Matthew 18, we’d all be better. That goes for both church leaders and those creating “attack blogs”.
    Paul


  • Mark Goodyear
    April 3, 2007

    Mike Hosey raises some interesting points in wondering who benefits from an attack blog. What “opposing” candidate ends up “in a better light by comparison”?
    It’s the attacking blogger. Since an attack blog is really just another piece of online real estate, they are using the popularity of the church’s site and the interest of the church’s audience (even if there is no site) to temporarily boost their own site’s popularity.
    It’s shameful. And like Paul Clifford points out, it’s not a good way to resolve conflict.
    I’m thinking most attack blogs don’t want resolution. They want controversy that will generate traffic.


  • Pastor Paul
    April 3, 2007

    I once read an article in YouthWorker Journal about arguing via e-mail. In general, it’s one of the worst ways to argue because it is generally (read generally, not always) done without too much thought, but more emotion. However, what’s worse is that it’s not done face-to-face. People can’t hear voice inflections or see body language that could communicate something totally different than the words do. Not only that, but face-to-face communication communicates that you care about that person enough to risk getting hurt (the risk is considerably lower when one is simply writing), and that you are willing to work with that person to correct whatever’s wrong. With all of that said, I would say that the idea of an “attack blog” is an extremely sad way for people to deal with their issues in the body of Christ. Yet I also understand that, in rare instances, they may feel that’s the only way open to them. Generally (again, that’s generally, not always),though, my guess is that most people won’t confront a pastor/leadership/person because they are afraid of getting wounded even more, or they aren’t truly willing to see reconciliation. They simply want to attack somebody who has wronged them, like a wounded dog biting the vet’s hand. Of course, even this comment is open to my own criticism, which shows the point that occasionally a loving blog of correction, or e-mail, is necessary. However, I wish it was less the norm than it is… much less.


  • mike hosey
    April 3, 2007

    Hey Paul –
    I agree with you that face to face contacts are usually preferable. However, if people are thoughtful and willing to control emotions, written communication allows restriction to topic, real thoughtful deliberation, and the ability to thoroughly avenues a variety of avenues when the original topic becomes exhausted or unproductive. The key, of course, is keeping one’s emotions under control, and being willfuly deliberative instead of reactionary.
    mike


  • Mean Dean
    April 3, 2007

    Paul, I entirely disagree with your assessment where you write:

    If we’d all just do what Jesus said and follow Matthew 18, we’d all be better. That goes for both church leaders and those creating “attack blogs”.

    Not that both sides shouldn’t practice this tenet – but rather the reality is that many, especially those spiritually abusive situations, don’t.
    What then, sit about with wishful thinking – after all – isn’t the Matthew 18 model to publically excoriate the offending party if they won’t deal with it in private?
    What better mechanism than the blog?


  • Drew
    April 3, 2007

    I get my gossip from the pews… Feels more hot off the press that way.


  • bob smietana
    April 10, 2007

    It seems like this church breaking the law and the leadership, at least the leader in the transcript, is refusing to live up to his legal obligation. What else should members do?


  • bob smietana
    April 10, 2007

    Looks like the attack bloggers are in the right here and the church is breaking the law? What else are they supposed to do


  • brendon
    April 20, 2007

    attack blogs are never good…..but if you have a good tech guy on your church staff like we have….then you just ask him to hack it and take it down…..other options availble but that one worked for us :)


  • Jeff L
    May 6, 2007

    People will be people no matter what method they use to split a church. Used to be word of mouth was enough to get the ball rolling, now we live in such a high tech state, that we want our messages, nice or attacking to get to the flock as fast as possible. Once Satan opens the door, he keeps a foot in front to keep it from closing. It is a tough battle back from an attack. Great article.


  • David Lindner
    June 7, 2007

    I agree that regardless of Technical know how, church leaders must succomb to the new wave of communication and over communicate from the get-go with their congregations in whatever form possible. I see communication as a big part of leadership, and blogging is one way to do that. It’s unfortunate that people are starting to use it to bash their churches, hopefully, we can use them to become better leaders.
    church-leaderhip.blogspot.com
    David Lindner



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