Communicating a Crisis Into an Opportunity. Lessons from Camp Katrina.

camp katrina, waveland, MS churchAs we discussed in How to Prepare a Crisis Communication Plan for Your Church, developing a crisis communication plan is an important part of mitigating the negative effects of a crisis whether it be abuse, adultery, fire, murder, theft or natural disaster.

But there is more to it than that. While nobody wants to face a crisis, crises often provide a unique opportunity to inject the love and hope of Jesus into a tragic situation.

Camp Katrina

When Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast, hundreds of thousands of people lost everything. Local and federal government agencies were widely criticized for their inability to help those in need. The eye of Katrina passed over Waveland, MS and destroyed nearly every building in the area, including every church building. So, leaders from Christian Life Church of Orange Beach, AL set up in a Kmart parking lot and began serving meals to those in needs in what became known as Camp Katrina.

camp katrina, living beyond myselfWhile phone and Internet service was extremely difficult to come by, they got the word out about what they were doing. Emergency supplies began pouring in. They coordinated with churches all around the country who began sending teams to help. Together, they served as many as 5,000 meals a day, distribute tons of dry goods through a giant make-shift food bank, and provided much clothing.

They also prayed with people, held nightly worship services and provided the hope that only comes from God.

Actually, I should say “we…” because I was one of those who served with a team from my church.

Christian Life Church did an amazing job turning the Katrina crisis into an opportunity.

They acted quickly and courageously. They also communicated very openly and effectively:

  • camp katrina, computers and internetThey coordinated tons of supplies being delivered by semis every day. Plus generators, fuels, water filtration systems and more.
  • They coordinated with dozens of short-term serving teams like the one from my church.
  • They spoke with anyone in the media who would listen.
  • Word of Camp Katrina spread through their denomination communications.
  • While this took place in 2005 before the rise of social media, they got computers and Internet connections set-up so people could coordinate via email. Our team blogged stories and photos as our families and friends prayed and posted comments of encouragement.

While no crisis communication plan could have prepared the leaders of Christian Life Church for everything that took place, going into with the mindset that communication was critical rather than an afterthought or something to squeeze in when time allowed made all the difference in turning this crisis into an opportunity to communicate the love and hope of Jesus.

Be sure to check out NextChurch.tv’s: Master Class 026: How to Prepare a Crisis Communications Plan for Your Church with Meredith Gould

camp katrina, food pantry

(Yes, that is a younger, gotee-less me on the left serving along side my friend Tim Walters.)

What communication principles and lessons have you learned from dealing with or observing crises?

What preparations, action or attitudes do you think are essential to turning a crisis (natural disaster or otherwise) into an opportunity?

Paul Steinbrueck is co-founder and CEO of OurChurch.Com, elder of CypressMeadows.org, husband, father of 3, blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @PaulSteinbrueck and add him to your circles at Google+ as +Paul Steinbrueck.

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