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Staying “Church Connected” when it matters most

Compiled by Kathy Bryson and Larry Johnson

The local church is a place where people connect — with God, with each other and in the community. People naturally turn to the church in times of a crisis seeking meaning, peace, and healing. A church that is prepared can help mitigate the emotional and spiritual impact of a disaster and may be a place of hospitality and sanctuary in times of critical need. A plan can speed the immediate response and help lessen those feelings of confusion, loneliness, and isolation that are so common after disasters. 

Here are some suggestions to stay “Church Connected”:

Congregation Checks
Prepare a method of checking on the congregation of the church when a disaster strikes. i.e. developing a “telephone tree” or utilizing “prayer chains” communications. Develop an “Outreach Committee.” Update and make church directories available.

Click to see full-size Phone Tree Template

Check on shut-ins and most vulnerable church members first
Call, visit, reach out to family members to make contact with church members. Notify the local rescue squad if there is a call for concern or evacuation, giving all pertinent details. 

Arrange for people (volunteers) to serve as companions for vulnerable or disaster-affected people. Companions should be prepared to listen, run errands, make phone calls; anything to help church members feel more comfortable and ease the anxiety. If possible, arrange for persons with skills in signing for the hearing impaired, and translators for non-English speaking people. 

Make contingencies for providing services as soon as possible after the disaster 
Consider identifying an alternate location in case the church is damaged, perhaps including a reciprocal agreement with another church. Be open to alternative ways of holding service — videotape service, use website, and online capabilities.  Be prepared in the event that the pastor is affected by the disaster. 

Determine ways existing ministries can continue in the event the church is damaged
Develop a plan in case in-church ministries, such as child care, bible study, AA meetings, etc. need to be canceled. Identify and plan for ministries your church will engage in during a disaster, such as feeding, donations distribution, information center, etc.

Larry Johnson serves as Disaster Preparedness and Response Coordinator for the Oregon-Idaho Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church. Along with her husband Dana, Kathy Bryson serves as Disaster Response Coordinator for the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference.

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