Emergencies and problems tend to sneak up on us at the worst possible moments. Annoying things like losing your keys when running late happen on a regular basis, but real disasters can set us back a lot. Similarly, digital disasters can set a church back weeks or months; slowing progress and momentum they were gathering. Yet by preparing today you can help mitigate the possibility of your online ministries grinding to a halt. This article will cover four areas you should prepare for, and the steps you need to take.
Hacks, Defacement, and Viruses
Any computer with a login and password has the potential to be hacked. From sophisticated tools and exploits to simple brute force attacks; your website is vulnerable. I wrote an article about best security practices; which ultimately comes down to a regular calendar of updates, backups, and password changes. However if your site has been compromised, replace your homepage with a single page that explains the situation. Prepare this ahead of time, with some bare bones information (addresses, phone numbers, & service times) and have an empty text box that explains the nature of the down time. You may not want to advertise that you were hacked, but you owe it to your visitors to warn them of any misrepresentations on your site, or worse, any viruses that may have been injected into the site.
Social Media and PR Mishaps
Your social media team, be it one person, or a group of people, are not perfect. We sometimes post the wrong content. Minor problems such as a typo or misspelling can often be edited or deleted and reposted without many hiccups, or worries about massive repercussions. Accidentally sending a personal or private message to the public is obviously more damaging. It obviously requires quick action in deleting the post and both public and private apologies. Unfortunately this is often the only way we learn, as pain is the best teacher.
Real Life Problems
Mistakes in sending out the wrong message may be damaging, but often what we do in real life will bleed out onto the Internet. The church was not even a year old when it was met with its first scandal (Acts 5: 1-11). Yet it did not have the swift digital communication channels of today. While you may want to sweep your issues under the carpet, you cannot ignore them. I am not saying that you air your dirty laundry on your website, but at least acknowledge when someone on staff, from a janitor to your lead pastor, has been asked to leave. The biggest reason is that rumors and speculation will spring up on various social media channels; which looks exponentially worse when official channels are not responding. Be professional and discreet, but do not be silent.
People leave churches, staff members find a new job, and volunteers lose motivation and stop serving. These are facts of life and we need to prepare for these often very preventable situations. Keeping offline non-digital records of account information (logins, passwords) for all of your web properties is essential. Ask that anyone with the capability to log into a digital asset, from your Twitter account to your FTP server information; write it down and keep the password information updated. The process to re-claim an asset is long and arduous, and all the while your web properties will sit idle and silent.
Prepare for the worst situations now. Create an "our website is currently down" template, pen and paper logs of your account credentials, and processes and guidelines for real life and digital problems. Have templates and canned statements ready to modify slightly and post in a moment's notice. Save these assets to a cloud storage service, such as Google Drive, where multiple people can collaborate on their creation as well as access them. Regardless, prepare for an emergency before it happens and your online ministries will continue without skipping a beat.
This article was inspired by a talk with Kathy Yoho and her experiences consulting with churches that failed to take these precautions.
Photo courtesy of Robert Linder