In shocking news to all of us in Florida, the entire country (except us) got hit with ridiculous, generational cold temperatures. It was colder in Chicago than Siberia. And Minneapolis got so cold that the weather radar didn't even have a color for it.
If you're reading this in one of those areas affected, stay warm and make sure you check in on your neighbors.
Weather events always prompt us as pastors to ask the hard question: should we have services today or not?
I'm not proposing a clear-cut, black-and-white answer to this question. Every church has to make the decision for themselves when facing a significant weather crisis. Those who choose to have them will do so trusting that their services go well, and are attended by those who can safely come. Those who choose not to do so trusting that they have made the right decision in people's best interests.
Typically we don't see decisions made on the far ends of the spectrum. Most of us live in the middle. So I want to propose 5 questions to ask when deciding whether or not to have or cancel services during inclement weather.
1. Is there a legitimate public safety crisis? - If you're in an area that deals with hurricanes and one is expected to make landfall on Sunday at 10:00am... you might want to go ahead and cancel. Sometimes there are legitimate public safety issues to factor in to our decisions. If roads are not treated for ice/snow, and local officials are encouraging non-essential people to stay home, there's a legitimate safety issue to factor. Tune in to your area's Emergency Management for warnings and advice.
2. Will there be a risk to our senior adults? - I'll be totally honest, the people who will get out in snow/ice or serious weather threats aren't your families in minivans. It's going to be the guy on his third hip, or the lady with a walker. Our senior adults in our churches are our consistently faithful attenders, and they'll show up when the church is open.
3. How are our facilities? - When it comes to snow and ice, our facilities have to be clear and prepped in order to accommodate people for services. In making any decision about holding or cancelling activities, the state of the facility has to be considered. If your facilities can be cleared and accessible safely for people, then consider having. If not, consider closing. Every church should, depending on where they're located, have on hand the resources and materials (and a list of people with strong backs) to do what's needed to clear.
4. What do our key leaders think? - Group think can often lead to decision paralysis, but if you're the decision maker you need input from those around you. I've been part of paralyzing decision processes, but I've also seen when getting input has been helpful in making decisions. If you ask key leaders or if you have a group who are charged with the decision, it can sometimes make it easier. I've had times where I've been reluctant or hesitant, and when getting input from people around it's made the decision easier.
5. Do we have other options? - Growing up in Kentucky we often would experience all four seasons in a week, sometimes even in a day. When making the decision, you may have the ability to still have some activity, depending on conditions. You'll see this when churches will cancel their early activities and only host their later ones, or those who condense into one service, or who reschedule for the afternoon.
If you ask me my philosophy, I tend to be more cautious than most. My thought is that it's better to call off and be wrong than to have and put people at risk. You may not be that way. That's ok. We're not all supposed to be the same. But we do have to ask ourselves these questions every time we're confronted with the question.
How do you and your church handle weather issues and making the decision? Share in the comments!
Scott M. Douglas
A blog about leadership and the lasting legacy of family ministry.