True story. A hidden camera was found in the women's restroom of a local Mexican restaurant. Investigators know of at least two victims. The news was reported widely for a brief time in the rural county seat town in which I work. The crime was committed by an employee, not the owner, and as far as we know the incident was an isolated case.
Today, one week after the news broke, I drove by the restaurant during lunch. As you might expect, very few cars were in the parking lot. In small town America reputation is worth more than its weight in gold. Can the business overcome this hit to its reputation?
My lunch money was spent at another establishment downtown. One with a squeaky clean reputation, I might add. When I walked in the door I immediately recognized a group of businessmen whom I have seen regularly at the Mexican restaurant on Mondays in the past. Not a good sign.
Old Mexico's public relations debacle got the pastor in me thinking about the reputations of the churches I have served. If my experience is a good indicator the best place in town for a fajita may not go down in flames. Allow me to make a few observations...
Reputation is everything. Okay that may be overstating the matter a bit. But one or two serious blows to the reputation can transform the church sanctuary into a BBQ restaurant. A good name is more desirable than great riches, see Proverbs 22, and often the two go hand in hand. Small town churches, and the gatekeepers who run them, instinctively guard the organizational reputation. It's a matter of survival.
Reputation is fragile. Damaging facts are bad enough when a church is going through crisis, but rumor alone can bring down years of growth and fruitfulness. Just the thought that your church might have, at sometime in the past, possibly had an alleged pedophile who attended every other Easter can be enough for some people to avoid your church like the plague. Granted, little can be done for people who look for a reason, any reason, to stay away from church, but a wounded reputation often provides a lifetime excuse.
Reputation is redeemable. Another true story: a lady joined our church recently and following the service said to me, "They told me the people of this church were mean." Now, I probably don't want to know who "they" are or why they think we are anything less than the nicest people you will ever meet, but the fact that our newest member continued to attend IN SPITE of what she had heard demonstrates the redeemable nature of the reputation. Reputation is a snapshot, a picture of what is, or what is perceived, at the time. It may or may not have any similarity to what exists now.
The best advice ever given to me about reputation came from the man I call my pastor. He told me to do the best I can in the difficult circumstances that ministry will certainly force upon me...and then trust the Lord to take care of my reputation.