No matter where you live, the threat of natural disaster is a real possibility. One that most of us don’t want to think about. But such ‘acts of God’ impact churches every year and, more often than not, it’s not the disaster but the lack of preparedness that holds up God’s work. The time for planning what to do if the worst happens is now. For the good of your congregation and your community.
According to Jamie D. Aten, founder and executive director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute (HDI) at Wheaton College (Illinois), major disasters present unique challenges to pastors and their churches. His 2017 research study, conducted among 27 pastors from South Mississippi and New Orleans whose churches were damaged by Hurricane Katrina, tells the tale. And, though most of us don’t live in hurricane-threatened coastal areas, we can still benefit from the lessons learned for the natural disasters we could face, including fire, flood, tornado, winter storm and earthquake.
The majority of churches in Aten’s study were not prepared for disaster. Of the pastors surveyed:
- 59 percent reported their churches did not have a formal disaster preparedness plan in place prior to Hurricane Katrina.
- 24 percent had only “bare necessity” plans in place that consisted of attempting to protect physical property the day before Hurricane Katrina made landfall.
- And, 24 percent described having comprehensive preparedness plans in place focused on protecting church property (e.g., church records and data, sacraments) and church member communication (e.g., phone ‘tree,’ evacuation recommendations).
The pastors also reported many obstacles to preparedness. Among the findings:
- 55 percent discussed communication challenges and difficulties collecting information (e.g., emergency contact information, evacuation plans) from their congregants as the storm approached.
- 53 percent noted they had underestimated the potential threat of Hurricane Katrina.
- And, 47 percent said they felt rushed and disorganized trying to help their churches prepare.
In good times or bad, Disciples Church Extension Fund (DCEF) offers congregations a variety of facility-related services through its Building and Capital Service Advisors, including Building Evaluation, Building Planning, Capital Fundraising, Architectural Consultation, and Relocation Services. But when the worst happens, immediate facilities help is available through DCEF’s Disaster Response Service. This service is designed to assist church leaders in securing their damaged buildings, navigating the worlds of insurance and construction, addressing legal concerns, and more at no cost to the church. Should a natural disaster affect your facility, call 800.274.1883 to see how DCEF can help.
You could also turn to Week of Compassion for disaster preparedness and response information. Through Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering, Disciples churches and Regions can host congregational disaster preparedness workshops, in person or via video conferencing. Following disasters, Week of Compassion can provide information, connections, and solidarity grants to help your congregation and community respond. One hundred percent of designated gifts to Week of Compassion go to assist affected communities.
Visit the Week of Compassion Preparedness Page here.
Download the Week of Compassion Preparedness Guide here.
Here are a few other planning aids to jump-start your church’s preparedness before, during and after disaster strikes:
- Seven tips to prepare your church before a natural disaster strikes
- Five things churches need to do during natural disasters
- Top four worst and best ways to help after a disaster
It all comes down to planning ahead and these two resources can help: Building your Church Emergency Plan: A Step-by-Step Guide from Church Management and A Disaster Preparedness Manual for Churches, a joint resource from United Church of Christ Disaster Ministries and the Insurance Board.
For more insights on church preparedness, read: