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.
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.