Your Church and Natural Disasters—Part I
When a disaster strikes a community, be it a hurricane, tornado, flood, etc. Churches desire to be a shining light and help anyway possible. However, every Church cannot do everything and each Church and Pastor should carefully develop a plan of assistance should the need ever arise.
During hurricanes, floods, tornados, etc. people often look to local Churches as potential shelters. Just because your Church has the space does not qualify it as a shelter. A lot of thought and consideration must factor into whether or not your Church can successfully operate in a relief shelter capacity.
Things to Ponder Before Offering Your Church Facilities
Space is only a minor factor in the equation. Some questions the Pastor and Church Leaders should discuss are:
- How much Kitchen and Storage Space is available?
Is the kitchen of your Church sufficient to cook the food necessary to feed those whom you plan to shelter? Are the appliances capable of handling the task (Many Church Kitchens use residential appliances which will not handle the necessary load demanded by a crowd)?
Do you have ample storage space, including refrigeration and freezer capacity to store enough food and supplies to service the residents?
- Do you have a sufficient number of volunteers?
Everyone wants to help initially, but offering your location as a shelter can require days or even weeks. Most of those who volunteer will quickly lose interest and motivation. This will then over-burden those who stick to their commitment. Without an abundance of volunteers to give each one ample down time, you are fighting a losing battle.
- What about restroom facilities?
Most Church plumbing is designed for occasional use—i.e. Sundays and a midweek service. It is best to check with your water and sewer providers to ensure this will not be a problem. If your Church is on a septic system you will need to check with your county’s environmental department to ensure the septic system and leach field can handle the drainage. If not, then you will need to secure some portable sanitation units, including hand-washing stations (make sure these units can be serviced as needed by the vendor).
- A final question that must be addressed is, “How will Church members handle the stress and damage that is done to its pristine Worship Facility?”
Many Church members sacrificed to build or pay for the facility they call their Church. As much as we want to convince ourselves that in a time of disaster everyone would think of the displaced first, this is not the case. Years of pastoral experience and dealing with Church membership has taught me that everyone looks at things through different filters.
It is difficult for those who have struggled financially to help build and pay for a Church, to sit quietly and watch it destroyed, or at the least suffer damage, while housing those who are there for a few fleeting days and will never offer to help bring the facility back to its pristine condition. This has caused many Church fights and splits and your Church will be no different. Make sure all members understand and are okay with the fact that the facility will be damaged (often significantly) while operating as a relief shelter.
It is hard to imagine people whom you are helping would sue you, but DO NOT underestimate people and ambulance chasing attorneys. I have seen Church members sue their Church. If members will do it, you know strangers will.
Is your Church Liability Insurance Policy sufficient to handle the amount of liability that sheltering displaced persons could impose? Those who are using your facility for shelter will be in a crowded situation. Tempers will flare; accidents will happen; since there is no way to screen those who show up, the possibility of sex-offenders preying is probable.
All of these concerns are liabilities to which the Church Leadership must satisfactorily address before offering to open their facilities as a relief shelter. When helping others harms you, you need to take a moment and re-evaluate.
This is Why You Need Us
As the premier Church Management Firm in the nation we know what others do not. That is why it behooves every Pastor and Church Leader to attend a Church Management Conference. To register for a seminar nearest you, call 800-344-0076, or visit us online at www.cmtc.org. This will be the greatest investment you can make for you and your Church.
Look for Part II of this blog for more information you need to know before opening your Church as a relief shelter.