Once again tragedy struck this week and we were glued to social media eager for news. Two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon, killing at least three and injuring more than 150.
Before that it was the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., where Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children and six staff members before killing himself.
Before that it was Superstorm Sandy that ravaged its way from the Caribbean to Canada, directly killing at least 147, leaving millions without power, submerging the New York subway system and canceling the New York Marathon.
And that’s just a U.S.-centric list of calamities. Even this morning an earthquake hit the Iran-Pakistan border, killing several dozen and injuring scores more.
These massive tragedies have a death grip on our attention. It’s in these overwhelming moments of terror, fear and despair that people most need hope.
Is your church ready to offer it?
A Platform to Respond
In order to share hope, comfort and peace in the aftermath of a tragedy, your church needs a platform to respond. You need to have a channel ready to go so when some new tragedy strikes (and sadly there’s always a new tragedy) you know where and how to respond. You need to have those systems in place so they’re ready to go.
- Any Platform Works: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, a blog, email list, etc. Whatever format works for your church and your capabilities.
- Use It Regularly: It should be something you use on a regular basis to communicate with your church, but you can ramp it up when the need is great.
- Build Your Audience: It should be part of your standard communication efforts—you don’t want to launch something new with no audience in the middle of a tragedy.
- Flexibility & Speed Are Key: You want a platform that offers immediate access without help. If graphics are required or you need a developer, that’s too slow. If your pastor can’t write on the fly but has an iPhone, YouTube might be perfect. You might even pair multiple channels, using Twitter for quick updates and pointing people to your website for more details.
The ad-hock email list in your pastor’s Outlook isn’t going to cut it. A private social network where you can only reach your congregation will limit your ability to truly help. Get a real platform where you can actually reach your congregation and beyond.
What Can You Share?
The goal is to be able to share hope with people when they need it the most. It might be simple words of comfort such as a prayer, quote or Bible verse. It might be ways people can help, whether it’s a call to action for your congregation or a general call to volunteer.
Here’s how some churches responded to recent tragedies:
- Nick Fatato, pastor of Common Church in Boston, sent out this email newsletter, sharing that his wife and son were only a block away from the blast but were safe and then offered encouragement to his congregation.
- Old South Church in Boston (located next to one of the blast sites) had a missions team in New Orleans the day of the blast. They were able to share thoughts and pictures from their blog, which were then shared on Facebook, along with a number of other updates.
- Brandon Levering, lead pastor at Westgate Church in Weston, Mass., offered this prayer on his blog. Other churches have offered prayers and condolences on Twitter.
- It could be as simple as noting that your church is open for people to come and pray or sharing special service times, details and recaps. (Though note platform difficulties/limitations in both these examples: Both are personal Facebook pages which aren’t as accessible as more public options.)
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, be genuine. If you treat tragedy like an opportunity to promote your content, well, that’s just ugly.
Also, shut off any scheduled posts that might seem out of touch in the context of the tragedy.
In the end, it’s about being prepared:
Photo by Mark Z.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” 1 Peter 3:15, NIV