I grew up in Oklahoma, known as “Tornado Alley.” Taking cover during the spring as the sirens went off was pretty normal for us. We had a few close calls but thankfully, our home never suffered damage from a tornado.
However, I’ve gone out with volunteers from my church to help clean up after a tornado. We found bricks from a family’s home a few football field lengths away from where their home once stood. Toys, pictures, pieces of furniture, and more were scattered across their property. Thankfully, they all made it through without any severe injuries.
Natural disasters can wreak havoc on a community.
Homes and businesses destroyed.
As a church leader, not only do you need to protect your home but you also need to protect your church facility and consider how your congregation will serve the community.
Here are a few tips on how to prepare before a natural disaster strikes:
Tip #1: Know the risks in your area
In Oklahoma, we all knew when tornado season began. We stayed informed on the weather forecast and planned accordingly if forecasters predicted possible storms.
There are probably natural disasters that are common in your part of the country. Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods tend to occur in various regions. Know the potential threats to your area and how to handle each.
Tip #2: Check your insurance coverage
Contact your insurance agent to review the church’s insurance coverage.
- Does it cover damage from the natural disasters typical for your area?
- Do you have flood insurance?
- Do you have sufficient coverage to repair and/or replace the building(s) and all their contents?
- What does the claims process look like?
- How soon after a natural disaster can you expect to start filing a claim (and receive assistance)?
- Who from your church is authorized to file the claim on behalf of the church?
Keep documentation about the church’s insurance coverage accessible to a few leaders within the church.
Tip #3: Develop a decision-making process
- Who decides if you’ll cancel Sunday services due to a forecasted or active natural disaster?
- Who decides if you’ll close the church office mid-week to allow employees to evacuate the area?
- What’s the criterion for making those decisions?
Talk through these issues with your church leadership team and document these criteria well before you may need it to avoid any mid-crisis confusion.
Tip #4: Create a disaster response plan
Talk through various scenarios with your team and document how you would handle each.
Earthquake during a church service
What do you have the congregation do to take cover? How do you keep children safe and then reunite them with parents?
Do you recruit volunteers to lay sandbags around the church building? What electronic equipment do you need to move to higher ground (either in the building or elsewhere)?
Do you board up the windows? Lay sandbags? Move certain items inside?
Document how you’ll handle each situation, who has authority to make what type of decision (and have more than one person named for each), etc.
Also, contact local first responders to get their input on your plans and see if they have any additional recommendations.
Tip #5: Develop a communications plan
If you decide to cancel Sunday services or close the office mid-week, how will you communicate that to staff, volunteers, members, and the community? Will you use email, text messages, your church’s mobile app, social media posts, church website, recording on church voicemail, and/or your outside marquee? Choose which methods work best for your congregation and document that process.
Also, decide how you’ll communicate updates after the initial crisis is past. If your church building sustained damage, how will you communicate that information and let people know when you’ll have services again (whether at your current building or a temporary location while repairs are made)?
Tip #6: Decide how you’ll help your community through a crisis
Do you know which members of your congregation are first responders, doctors, nurses, carpenters, electricians, plumbers, or other professions needed after a disaster? How can your church support them as they’re working long hours in the immediate aftermath?
How can your church coordinate teams to remove debris, search for anyone trapped under the rubble, distribute needed food and supplies, etc.? Plan ahead for how your church would serve your neighbors in a difficult situation.
Tip #7: Adopt a church
Whether you live in an area prone to tornados, earthquakes, or other natural disasters or not, consider adopting another church that may need your help someday. Maybe it’s a church where you know the pastor or one that’s somehow connected with your congregation.
Whatever the case, talk with their leadership team and discuss how your congregation could serve theirs in the event of an emergency. After all, they’re your brothers and sisters in Christ. We should be proactive about helping out family and the communities in which they live. Don’t wait to reach out until the storm has already come (although that’s certainly still helpful). Start the conversation before there’s a need and discuss how your church could help should that day arrive.
None of us like to think that our community could be hit with a tragic event. However, we must be prepared if we want to protect our congregation, church facilities, and serve our community.
Should disaster strike, having a plan will enable you to lead with confidence. Your church can be a calming presence in your community, providing hope and help in a challenging situation. Be prepared. Plan ahead. Pray for your community, comfort those who’ve lost loved ones or homes, support them and help them recover. Be the hands and feet of Christ to each other and to your community.