What should churches and ministries do when winter weather strikes? When it snows, things shut down in some parts of the country. Some of my Minnesota readers may scoff, but 2+ inches of snow completely shuts down my southern county. Schools close, people make runs on supermarkets for bread and milk, and abominable snow men wreak havoc on otherwise peaceful townspeople (see evidence here).
So, when winter weather hits, how should your church respond, particularly if you are in a small town? The tips that follow would also serve urban churches well, but are especially critical in small rural counties.
Here are 5 Winter Weather Ministry Tips
- Make contact with every widow, widower, extremely elderly congregant, and shut-in. Many people will not need anything during a snow storm, but some may feel incredibly isolated from the rest of the world, and if they are in need they will likely need more help than most. Even a three-minute phone call to let them know you are thinking of them will mean a great deal. Lay leaders should be encouraged to call these folks, but for some, nothing will mean more than a call from the pastor. In a small congregation this is an achievable goal.
- Stay up to date on weather by keeping in contact with local emergency personnel. Most counties have an emergency services department that has a master-plan of what to do in case of catastrophe. Many emergency services departments have early warning notification systems that you can sign up for, and you’ll be among the first in your county to learn of weather patterns, and needs in the case of emergency or disaster. As you receive alerts and warnings, pass them along to congregants by pushing info out on social media and email.
- Get a ministry team together and offer to shovel snow. Simple acts of service and kindness go a long way. Many people in your community may be unable to shovel snow, or pay someone to do it. It will give you a chance to meet the neighbors and serve them at the same time. Many elderly people are at risk of falling and injuring themselves, and shoveling snow and clearing sidewalks may not only serve as a gesture of kindness, but ensure their health and wellbeing. Plus, if you made a New Years resolution to work out a little more, you’ll get to make good on it!
- Offer to open up the church as a warming station. Rural churches are often the largest and best equipped buildings in their communities to serve as warming stations. With kitchens, ample seating, and bathrooms, churches can offer a warm place to grab hot chocolate of coffee, and provide a place for neighbors to meet during the cold. If your church serves as a shelter, bring board games and cards and give people an opportunity to entertain themselves while simultaneously taking their mind off power outages and cold. (HINT: If your church offers to provide shelter in winter weather, odds are you will be VERY high on the list of locations that MUST have power during bad weather. This means in the event of power outages, your congregation and surrounding community will be on TOP of the list to have power restored.)
- If you’re going to cancel services or activities, communicate early and often. A primary concern for any church event should be safety. At my church, even if we get the parking lot cleared of snow, there are so many back roads in our area, it may still prove treacherous for people to come worship on Sunday. Also, the general age of our congregation plays into our decision of whether to cancel a Sunday morning or Wednesday night gathering. Make sure and have a phone tree in place before making such a decision, because many people (especially the elderly) do not have email. (HINT: During the week it helps to follow the local school schedule – if schools close then the office is closed.) Remember, the best policy is always safety first.
These are just a few tips and reminders for churches and ministers to consider during winter weather events. What tips of your own do you have? Have you learned from experience what to do, or not to do, during winter weather? How can our churches minister in creative ways this winter?