Communities in crisis:
In times of disaster, is your church
ready to offer hope and help?
By Kary Kingsland
Floods, hurricanes, tornadoes and pandemics confront us with
large-scale tragedy. Yet they also provide the church with one of its greatest
opportunities to demonstrate God’s love to people who are hurting.
Though government and public agencies are prepared to help
in times of disaster, there is no greater or more effective organization in a
community to offer eternally significant help and comfort than the local
Local churches are uniquely invested in their communities
and remain long after the media, the government and public agencies have moved
on. Local churches best understand the culture and people around them. Most
importantly, every church shares a mandate from God not just to preach the
gospel but to love their neighbors sacrificially.
In the wake of a crisis, opportunities abound to build
relationships with people who might never attend a traditional church service.
As families struggle to rebound, churches can live out the mandate to love them
as congregations band together to relieve suffering and bring comfort. Disaster
response provides a myriad of venues for these opportunities.
Churches don’t need to wait to respond to major disasters
like Hurricane Katrina, 9/11 or the Oklahoma City bombing. Far more disasters
involve a single family or an individual, and the church — if it is
prepared to do so — is one of the few organizations equipped to help at
Every community faces disasters. The most vital thing
churches must do is to plan and prepare in advance how they will respond. Here
are some priority issues every church should consider.
Promote individual family preparedness
If the members of a church are themselves unprepared for
disasters, the ability of the church to respond and assist in disasters is
hindered. Families who are not prepared have to react to and focus on their own
disaster issues, thus depleting the church of one of its most valuable
resources — volunteers. Churches can provide training for families on
issues of individual preparedness by contacting a local Salvation Army or
American Red Cross chapter about having these kinds of training sessions.
Convoy of Hope provides manuals on individual preparedness on its Web site,
Develop a strategy
Consider the church’s location, size, volunteer base,
financial and material resources and strengths.
• Can the building be used as a feeding center or shelter?
• Are some members professional responders who could set up
a medical clinic or counseling service?
• Could church members assemble and distribute relief
• Can the church serve as a distribution center for
food, hygiene kits or clothing?
• Does the church have additional facilities to
warehouse large quantities of food and relief supplies for the community?
• Could the church assist with or function as a
long-term recovery center?
• What current ministries could continue or even expand
during a disaster?
• How can the church help the elderly, single moms, the
poor, those with special needs, and other vulnerable populations?
Once a church identifies how best to serve, a team should be
built to oversee the coordination of response efforts. The senior pastor should
be included in the team, but not necessarily serve as the head of it. His or
her attention would likely be diverted in times of disaster to overseeing the
many needs of the church facilities and ministering to needs within the
Connect with your community
The disaster ministry team leader should connect with others
in the community involved in disaster response, especially the local emergency
management. This person can help assess needs in the community’s disaster
response plans and help the church find its niche in the community. This helps
prevent duplication of services and confusion between organizations.
No church can fill every need. A church should pick one area
to become involved in and work to become as efficient and effective as possible
in that area, and partner with local agencies and other local churches with a
heart for serving the community during disasters. Disaster response is much
more effective when everyone works together.
Develop team protocols
A church’s disaster preparedness team needs to know when and
how the church’s disaster ministry plan is to be initiated.
• Who is responsible to initiate and coordinate
activities when a disaster hits?
• How would the team communicate with each other?
• What central location will the team use to meet?
Once the disaster response ministry is defined, the
facilities should be prepared, the proper equipment acquired, and all
• In the event of disaster, what measures are in place
to protect the church, including documents and data?
• Who is responsible for assessing damage and
contacting appropriate persons (including local response agencies, insurance
agencies, district and national officials, etc.)?
• Are there plans for evacuating the facilities during
a service or large gathering? How is this information communicated and by whom?
• Do your volunteers have access to equipment needed for
response, and can they get to it in a timely manner? Do they know how to use
Many communities offer a spectrum of training courses. Every
church’s disaster response team should take advantage of such training.
Ideally, such training opportunities should include the whole church. Schedule
teams to take classes such as CERT (Community Emergency Response Training),
CPR, shelter training, and spiritual and emotional care courses including
Critical Incident Stress Management courses.
Any church, anywhere of any size can promote church
preparedness and community disaster response. More information, including
manuals on preparedness measures, is available at convoyofhope.org.
KARY KINGSLAND is the director of U.S. Disaster Response for
Convoy of Hope.
E-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.