A few weeks ago we encountered the Blizzard of 2016 here along the Northeast Coast. This is the first winter where I was not employed at a church during this season. Working at a church during a snowy season or a time with inclement weather can be a tough thing.
ain’t nobody got time for that
When it’s freezing cold, snowing, and icy outside nobody wants to leave their house; not even pastors and church staff. I was interested to see which churches were closing their doors for the blizzard and which ones stayed open.
There was not a general consensus for specific areas. However, I loved watching Instagram and Twitter as churches and pastors started to comment on their plans. It almost seemed to be a competition between some about who is more faithful to the Lord. My church cancelled two of their four services, but they were open.
The day of church it was no longer snowing, but there was wet snow and ice everywhere. (Actually a week later my brakes were still skidding due to the ice you pass over when you exit the slope of my neighborhood.)
should i stay or should i go
Needless to say, it was not the safest of conditions, although there wasn’t a travel ban in effect. Personally, I decided I was not going to church. On this weekend my husband was gone on a work trip. I was left thinking about how if this had been any other year in that storm, even with my two babies loaded up in the car, I would have had to go to church.
If you know me, you know I would have gone without complaint, and we would have had a ton of fun worshipping Jesus. Yet, the alternative, cuddling in bed, and staying in my pajamas all day with my two boys was amazing. It was possibly even a borderline religious experience.
I posted a picture of my bedside snuggles to my Instagram without thinking. About 20 minutes later a twinge of guilt went through me as I realized it was Sunday and a lot of friends and previous co-workers that I care about would not be joining me in this luxury. I wasn’t bragging in the least. I was just being me.
Later that week one of our pastor’s wives told me she experienced such joy when she saw my picture, because she knew in the past there was not one previous weekend where that would have been my story. It made me feel better to know it was okay that I was happy to be home.
church staff, always on
In ministry, we’re always on. We don’t get bad days. We don’t get to cancel. People are depending on us, and truthfully we are depending on their offering to do all we do too.
I don’t share this story with you to make you feel bad or to gloat. Like I said in the beginning of this post, there did not seem to be an apparent rhyme or reason to the churches that cancelled versus staying open.
Pastors and executive leadership are usually going with the recommendations of the news, sometimes they are going with their gut, sometimes they are making decisions based on the needs of their church. Occasionally there might even be ego or competition as the source of their decision.
our real job
If you are not going to cancel church at a crazy time, then every person that did show up during that storm should be honored and commended. Your volunteers should be celebrated, and you have to be ready to do that, even if you’d rather be at home in bed.
So, let’s talk about that winter storm a little more. Is there actually a guide for when to cancel church? We actually do think so. We think there are 3 fairly clear times to *gasp* cancel church.
the 3 times to cancel church
1) a holiday
If your church service falls on an actual holiday, especially one that is not religious, then you should cancel. Your staff and committed volunteers will of course show up on the 4th of July if you say they have too, but let’s be honest, the majority would never desire that to occur.
If everyone is praying that you cancel church, you should probably cancel church because you don’t want people to be coming out of obligation instead of desire anyway.
A religious holiday is a different discussion, because the day was created to celebrate God. However, your staff and key volunteers are a good pulse of what most people would prefer to do. Ask them honestly, and don’t judge them if they actually tell you the truth. Typically they are the first person that would desire to be there. They love their church culture more than anyone, so trust them.
2) inclement weather
If there is a state of emergency you should strongly consider not having church. In some states, a state of emergency actually implies you are not supposed to be driving, or there may be an associated driving ban, if this is the case you need to cancel.
Some states have an outright travel ban, which means only emergency personnel can be on the road without getting a citation. If there is any type of ban in effect you should definitely cancel.
You obviously cannot ask people to break the law to attend to church. That’s a bit of a paradox. If there’s ice, black ice, extreme flooding, or extreme snow, check with your local weatherman or follow your state police on Twitter for up-to-the-minute updates for their recommendation on what to do.
3) a large community event
If your town has two-thousand people in it, and you have a town festival where the whole town attends, don’t try and compete by having church. Instead buy a booth at the event that advertises your church, or have a plan for your church to attend as a group.
A similar type example would be how in New Jersey each summer there is a series of free summer beach concerts where over a hundred thousand people attend. The traffic is insane, with people at a standstill for hours.
If your church is one that is right on the beach, don’t plan to have service. No one will make it on time, if they actually even make it. Instead, if you really want to do something, plan to give away free water bottles or open your bathrooms to the public. Avoid fighting a losing battle when you can.
It doesn’t matter if a big blizzard or national holiday is headed your way, it’s important to have a strategy for closing church while you’re still open.
Also, show up with an awesome attitude and a desire to serve God’s church when you do decide to brave the storm and keep the church’s doors open. Closing the church isn’t just about safety, or pleasing your staff, it’s about making the best out of a tough situation being thrown your way.
Times like this can really put your leadership to the test, but having a plan ahead of time can really help eliminate the pressure on the evening before a big storm or holiday.
You really should listen to our discussion about the best times to cancel church on the latest episode of our podcast, which can be found below.
In this episode, TK and Stacia talk about the scandalous topic of when to cancel church. The word cancel is basically a four-letter word in the church world, because churches are expected to always be open.
However, sometimes inclement weather hits and holidays fall on weird days, which leave ministry leaders wondering whether or not they should cancel church.
TK breaks down the very few times that churches might want to consider closing their doors. Don’t worry, the Apocalypse is not on the list.
Chief Creative Officer
Stacia has over a decade of ministry experience, with the majority of that time leading next generation change. She has experience leading almost one hundred volunteers, and developing curriculum for kids and students. Stacia has a B.S. in Church Ministries and Biblical Studies, as well as experience educating in an elementary public school environment. She is also immensely creative and accomplished in teaching children about the wonder of God.