Growing up in Oklahoma, part of “Tornado Alley,” I had to take cover many times as the sirens went off near my home. We had a few close calls but thankfully, we never suffered damage from a tornado.

However, I’ve volunteered with my church to help clean up after a tornado. We found bricks from a family’s home 100 or so yards away from where their home once stood. Toys, pictures, furniture and more were scattered across their property. Thankfully, they all made it through without any severe injuries.

Natural disasters can wreak havoc on a community. Lives lost. People injured. Homes and businesses destroyed.

As a church leader, not only do you need to protect your home but you also need to protect your church facility and consider how your congregation will serve the community.

Here are five steps your church can take to be prepared:

Step 1: Know the risks in your region

In Oklahoma, we all knew when tornado season started. We stayed informed on the weather forecast and planned accordingly if forecasters predicted possible storms.

There are probably natural disasters that are common in your part of the country. Earthquakes, tornados, hurricanes, wildfires and floods tend to occur in various regions. Know the potential threats to your area and how to handle each.

Step 2: Review the church's insurance coverage

Contact the church's insurance agent annually to review your insurance coverage.

  • Does it cover damage from the natural disasters typical for your area?
  • Do you have sufficient coverage to repair and/or replace the building(s) and all their contents?
  • What does the claims process look like?
  • How soon after a natural disaster can you expect to start filing a claim (and receive assistance)?
  • Who from your church is authorized to file the claim on behalf of the church?

Keep documentation about the church's insurance coverage, along with your agent’s contact information accessible by a few leaders within the church.

Step 3: Develop a process for making decisions in the event of a disaster

  • Who decides if you’ll cancel Sunday services due to a pending or active natural disaster?
  • Who decides if you’ll close the church office mid-week to allow employees to evacuate the area?
  • What’s the criterion for making those decisions?

Talk through these issues with your church leadership team and document these criteria well before you may need it to avoid any mid-crisis confusion.

Step 4: Develop a disaster response plan

Talk through various scenarios with your team and document how you would handle each.

  • If there’s an earthquake during church service: What do you have the congregation do to take cover? How do you keep children safe and then reunite them with parents?
  • If you have rising floodwaters: Do you recruit volunteers to lay sandbags around the church building? What electronic equipment do you need to move to higher ground (either in the building or elsewhere)?
  • Is there a hurricane forecasted for your area: Do you board up the windows? Lay sandbags? Move lightweight items inside?

Document how you’ll handle each situation, who has authority to make what type of decision (and have more than one person named for each), etc.

Also, contact local first responders to get their input on your plans and see if they have any additional recommendations.

A big part of your disaster response plan should include how, when and with whom you need to communicate.

  • If you decide to cancel Sunday services or close the office mid-week, how will you communicate that to staff, volunteers, members and the community? Choose which methods work best for your congregation, and document that process.
  • Decide how you’ll communicate updates after the initial crisis is past. If your church building sustained damage, how will you communicate that information and when you’ll have services again (whether at your current building or a temporary location while repairs are made)?

Step 5: Determine how to help your community through a crisis

Do you know which members of your congregation are first responders, doctors, nurses, carpenters, electricians, plumbers or other professions who’re needed after a disaster? How can your church support them as they’re working long hours in the immediate aftermath?

How can your church coordinate teams to remove debris, search for anyone trapped under the rubble, distribute needed food and supplies, etc.? Plan ahead for how your church would serve your neighbors in a difficult situation.

None of us likes to think that our community could be hit with a tragic event. However, we must be prepared if we want to protect our congregation, church facilities and serve our community.

Should disaster strike, having a plan will enable you to lead with confidence. Your congregation can be a calming presence in your community, providing hope and help in a challenging situation. Be prepared. Plan ahead. Pray for your community, comfort those who’ve lost loved ones or homes, support them and help them recover. Be the hands and feet of Christ to each other and to your community.