Planning for Worst-Case Weather Scenarios
The following is a guest post by A.J. Farthing, Associate Campus Pastor over First Impressions at the Summit’s Chapel Hill Campus.
Weather and church weekends have a lot in common: both are finicky, both are mostly unpredictable, and how it all turns out really depends on which way the wind is blowing.
Growing up, I heard my parents say that you can never really trust the weatherman. My grandma swears she can predict the rain better than the folks on The Weather Channel because of her metal hip (thankfully, she’s not quite as dramatic when a storm is rolling in). Either way, weather can leave your weekend ministry plans in a pile of rubble, and there is not always a lot you can do about it.
Serving at the Chapel Hill Campus (a mobile location of the Summit), weather has quite literally made church unable to happen. We have been snowed out, iced out, rained out and at one point roasted out (by a rogue heat wave and an underperforming HVAC system).
The trick with being mobile is that most of the time, the call to cancel doesn’t come from us, but from the school district.
In the wake of a storm, we have to figure out how to handle the ramifications of the storm. In the same way, when weekend ministry plans are impacted by weather, we have to have contingency plans. It can be messy at first and almost like responding to a disaster. In my time as a mobile ministry leader, I have seen a few things work well in making sure we respond well to this kind of natural disaster. Here are four things we’ve learned:
1. Have a plan before you need it.
Growing up on the coast of North Carolina, my family had a plan for every size hurricane that could possibly hit. We knew what we needed if we stayed and what we were going to take with us if we left. When severe weather impacts your weekend gatherings and you have to cancel, what are you going to do? At our campus we work to have an up-to-date list of leaders, volunteers, and regular attendees that we can contact if disaster strikes.
When our weekend contingency plan is in place, we are able to catch 95% of our weekend guests by communicating the plan in a variety of ways. We are able to simply respond to the plan – not react to the unexpected – and let people know what’s happening. We communicate details like other area campuses that are open, if the sermon or service is available to stream online, whether small groups will be meeting later in the day, etc.
3. Have a presence at the facility.
We attempt to be like the positive aspects of U.S. Postal Service, showing up whether we’re facing rain, sleet, snow, hail, or a good old-fashioned east coast hurricane. Any time we have to close the campus, we attempt to have representatives catching unaware guests before they park and walk up to a locked door. This means staff or volunteers standing in the pouring rain and wind, walking in the snow…ultimately, doing whatever it takes to serve the guest. At minimum, we put a sign out and (acknowledging the power of the weather) hope it is there when we come back. Regardless, there must be an attempt at catching those who are not on social media, our email list or phone tree, or those who can read smoke signals or Morse code messages.
4. Check in after the fact.
If the flood waters rise, trees fall, or power goes out we have a responsibility to care for our people. This is where having a plan in place beforehand gives us the space to care for our people. It is helpful to think through the specific people that need care such as elderly, singles, people in hard impacted areas (this is why we strive to know and have up to date information). The driving force behind this isn’t duty but the gospel, we are called to show the love of Christ to those hurting, be a light to your city in how you respond. If you haven’t figured it out yet, I am a planner so this is done “easier” with a plan in place because a wise man once told me to be proactive not reactive.
These steps are imperfect, and we continually try to be proactive in thinking through contingencies before a very real weather event hits. The one good thing about hurricanes and snow or ice is there’s usually a lead-up time. Other events – like a tornado or heat wave – can cause things to shut down without warning. We must be ready to respond and love our people well to make sure that even in a weather crisis, people feel the love of Jesus.