To Cancel, or Not to Cancel

Today is the first day of winter, a season people in many parts of the country associate with ice and snow. Winter weather can present a dilemma for church leaders, who must decide when to call off services. Following is a preview from the January/February 2019 issue of Influence to help you work through weather-related cancellation decisions.

No pastor wants to cancel a church service. But at times, acting in the interest of our people’s safety requires us to cancel. The decision to cancel a service is a multifaceted one. Answering eight key questions in advance can help you make the right call.

When do we need to make a decision? This should happen before the first volunteers to arrive at church would need to leave their homes.

Is it appropriate to follow another organization’s lead? This is most feasible for weekday services and events. Consider adopting a policy of canceling weekday events whenever local schools close for inclement weather.

Who makes the final decision? Who participates in the discussion? Trying to get consensus among a group can be difficult when time is of the essence, so it is best to designate one person to make the ultimate call. Of course, that person will likely want or need input from others. While the lead pastor typically has the final say, consider including those responsible for facility readiness and leaders of other key support teams in the decision process.

Decisions to cancel can be notoriously easy to second-guess.

How do we communicate a decision to cancel or not to cancel? Numerous tools are available, such as social media, websites and text messaging. If you determine a communication plan in advance, you can educate your people on where to find the information.

What are the insurance implications? This is an important consideration that can be easy to overlook. Make sure you understand the types of coverage you have and any exclusions to liability coverage that may exist in your policy. Don’t forget to confirm coverage options for any volunteers whose work may expose them to abnormal, risky conditions. Also, some insurers offer coverage for lost revenue due to cancellations; find out in advance whether you have this coverage and the criteria for filing a claim.

Are there factors beyond our control? What are the road conditions around the church? If you are in a leased venue, who is responsible for maintaining safe conditions?

Are there financial implications? Canceling a service will mean a lost opportunity to receive an offering. Carrying emergency savings can help pay the bills when your church loses income because of a canceled service. Providing options for online giving and educating your congregation on using them may help mitigate the financial effects of a cancellation.

How does the timing of a weather event affect the decision? A forecast calling for ice to fall during service times on Sunday morning is typically more difficult to deal with than a snowstorm that happens on Friday.

One last thing: Decisions to cancel can be notoriously easy to second-guess. If you make a decision you later regret, remember that you made the best call possible with the available information. Learn from the experience, but don’t let regret over the last decision influence your next decision!

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