Welcome to Washington, D.C., the snow capital of the country. In the past month and a half, we’ve had two major snowstorms of over 20 inches (affectionately named “Snowpocalypse” and “Snowmageddon,” respectively). Plus a smaller storm of about eight inches. For a city where it is unusual to get more than three inches of snow, having three storms of that magnitude has been unprecedented. What’s more, they have all happened just in time to wreak havoc with our weekend services here at McLean Bible Church. So since Dec. 19 we’ve had to cancel our services three times.
However, each time we’ve had to cancel we’ve still been able to run our Internet Campus. On a normal weekend we normally have about 3,000 people attend services online, but during each of these three snowed-out weekends we’ve seen almost double that. We also added the Saturday night service, which we normally do not broadcast.
So how do you best communicate in a mini-crisis, like an enormous snowstorm?
We’ve learned a few things this winter:
1. If possible, plan ahead.
Now, you won’t always have this luxury, but if you can, have a plan in place ahead of time. We were lucky enough to have warning a few days in advance that these storms were coming, and we were able to do a lot of the work in getting the Internet Campus broadcast ready. We recorded a few greetings explaining the situation and the weekly announcements, and then edited them into the service.
From a communications standpoint, we established a set of procedures and responsibilities for when we are forced to cancel services. Each person also has a backup who can step in and fulfill their duties. So from the time services are canceled we can have all of our communication in motion within a half hour or so. Having these procedures also help us to make sure that no one is repeating work someone has already done.
2. Let your congregation know in advance what the plan is.
After the winter we’ve had, our congregation is getting used to the procedures for announcing closings, but it’s still a good idea to let people know in advance how they can find out if church is closed. In our case we’ve used bulletin announcements, as well as sending out an all-congregation e-mail explaining how and when people would be able to find out if services were canceled, as well as information directing them to the Internet Campus.
3. Have multiple communication methods.
This one goes without saying, but it’s especially important when you’re trying to get crucial information out as quickly as possible. Here are some of the different mediums we used:
E-mail. We sent an e-mail a day before the storm and then when we found out services were canceled.
Television and Radio. Not just for school closings, TV and radio stations are some of the first places people look for closings, especially if your congregation’s demographic is older. These stations will usually put your information on their web sites.
Web Sites. We ran a popup feature on all of our web sites with current closure information. So when people came to check the web site they didn’t need to search for it.
Twitter and Facebook. Social networks also helped spread the message. Because let’s face it, when there’s 30 inches of snow on the ground, you don’t have much else to do but check Facebook…
Phones. Don’t forget to change the voicemail message of your main phone line to let people know about your closings!
Texting. We use a texting service to alert our staff of closings, and we’re likely going to roll out a service for the congregation soon.
It’s important to note that in all of our communication we directed people to our Internet Campus. We even got one of the TV stations to put the web address up on their ticker. We’ve used the storms to promote our Internet Campus as much as possible, and encouraged the congregation to use this opportunity to invite friends.
So those are a few of the lessons we’ve learned through this winter’s snowstorms. We were fortunate enough to have the Internet Campus available so that even though the buildings were closed, thousands of people still got to attend church!