No matter how much time you spend planning and perfecting your church’s disaster response plan, that plan won’t do you much good if you can’t communicate it to your church during the crisis. Crisis communication is an essential element of disaster ministry, one that requires planning and training so you’re ready to go when crisis hits.
Several years ago, I saw how firsthand how important it is for church leaders to be ready to communicate in a crisis. I was visiting a church when a bad storm with strong winds knocked out the power during the service. At first, the pastor tried to awkwardly keep preaching as the generator struggled to start. After a few minutes, he quickly ended his message and walked off the stage. Another pastor, obviously caught off guard, walked up and abruptly ended the service. No one addressed the blackout, and no one provided instructions on what to do next. Some people were scared and started to panic. Others hopped into their cars and drove off, only to return moments later because of the dangerous weather outside. Those who did manage to keep driving eventually returned as well, because of a downed tree in the road. It’s a small miracle no one got hurt.
A little bit of preparation now goes a long way in making sure everything goes more smoothly at your church when disaster hits. To begin creating an effective crisis communication plan for your church, your leadership team will need to walk through the following questions.
Who will implement the plan?
Identify a point person who will take ownership of the crisis communication plan. This person will be the “face” that people know they can look to for information when a disaster hits. You will also want to identify a few back-ups—when disaster strikes, it’s likely that members of your own congregation will be impacted as well. There’s no way to predict who that will be, so it’s important to identify and train at least a few people in case one or more of the appointed leaders are themselves impacted by the event and unable to fulfill their duties.
Who will need to be contacted?
You will need to gather contact information for not just your leaders and congregation, but also local emergency services (if you don’t already have that information on file). Doing your research now will save you valuable time and energy so that when disaster strikes, you are ready to point people to the services they need. These services include local emergency management, shelters, food banks, the American Red Cross, your local Community Emergency Response Team (CERT), and local Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (VOAD).
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