Smart churches call 911 sooner rather than later

On a pleasant morning a few years ago at a church preschool, a 3-year-old boy fell backwards off a piece of playground equipment and hit his head. It was no one’s fault. It just happened.

His symptoms indicated the need to be checked out by a doctor. The preschool director called his mother and could not reach her. The father was called, but he was a doctor performing surgery at that hour. The boy’s pediatrician was called and the nurse in that office said, “If there is no one who can bring him to our office, then call 911.”

By this time the boy’s symptoms intensified and the caregivers at the preschool were anxious. The director responded, “We can bring him to your office.” The director decided she would drive and a member of the staff would hold the boy in their lap in the back seat. They set out for the doctor’s office ten minutes away.

On the way as they approached a busy intersection, the boy’s trauma seemed to increase. The director turned around to see what was happening, the traffic light in front of her turned red, and she broadsided another car in the intersection.

At this point, 911 was the only reasonable choice. Within a few minutes the EMT’s arrived, treated the boy at the scene and took him to the hospital as a precaution. He was back in preschool within a couple of days.

Lessons Learned by the Preschool Staff

In the days following, the preschool director and her staff debriefed the situation and listed several lessons learned from this experience. First, they were right to seek medical assistance for the boy. It is important to care for the child as a first priority.

Second, when they could not connect with either parent it was appropriate that they called the pediatrician’s office. Third, it was important that they took the initiative to get the boy examined.

Fourth, their anxiety and desire to do something quickly led them to make the mistake of not relying on the best and quickest professional help available. They should have called 911 who would have been present in less than ten minutes and would have the competency to address the symptoms.

Call 911 Sooner Rather Than Later

The incident in this preschool is not unlike the situation of many congregations. Help is needed sooner rather than later, but wise choices are not made sooner rather than later. Instead the following scenario may unfold:

First, something happens. Perhaps it is a crisis such as a moral failure or financial irregularities. Perhaps it is a conflict such as the termination of a staff person or theological division. Perhaps it is something about the congregation’s vitality and vibrancy that has been building for a while or possibly it comes along very suddenly.

Second, the congregational leaders brainstorm solutions to deal with the situation. They call everyone they know who might help them address the situation. Their preferred choice for help is not available or too expensive. They even stop seeking outside assistance because they are embarrassed.

Third, in a pinch to quickly find a fix the congregational leaders decide to handle it themselves. They cannot wait for the right help. They feel they cannot afford to pay what it will cost. They do not want to admit they cannot handle their own problems. Pride gets in the way, the perceived lack of resources cause them to hesitate, and the sense of urgency compels them to act quickly.

Fourth, the situation is really beyond their capacity to address, but in the emotion of the moment they feel they are responsible and must act. Because it is beyond their capacity they make a mess of it. The situation gets worse. They are blocked from handling it and must take undesirable actions.

Fifth, ultimately they call for the help they should have called for at the beginning of the crisis or conflict. Only now not only must the presenting crisis be addressed, but the mess made by the congregation in their attempt to deal with the situation must also be addressed. It ends up costing them more time, money, and trust than it would have if they had addressed it with the right resource much earlier.

What did your congregation do last time you had a crisis or conflict like this? What will you do next time? Remember to call 911 sooner rather than later.

George Bullard

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About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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  • RalphCooper

    As an attorney who has worked with churches when pastoral moral failure happened, the other tendency is too quick forgiveness followed by too easy restoration, without a proper investigation and evaluation. My experience teaches that when you find one moral failure (say a sexual indiscretion), you will find others (such as financial peccadilloes or abusive manipulation of the organizational structure to accumulate power in the pastorate). I have never seen just one, often two, and on occasion three.

    • George Bullard

      Ralph, and also how many people know about the various issues of conflict and personal failure in congregations is under-estimated. Thanks for your comment and your work with congregations.