Assign a Point Person
Assign a media contact. Direct all offers to help, offers to send resources, donations, and media requests to one capable source who can then farm out the necessary pieces. Understandably, reporters and film crews are vying for sound bytes on how the affected families are coping, so when one or more of the families attends your church, they will be calling you (and anyone else from your congregation who is willing to speak).
Protect the impacted families by urging your staff and congregation not to speak with the press. Instead direct them to a contact person who understands how to handle media requests. This will prevent the spread of misinformation as well as protect the privacy of the grieving families. Also, direct well-intentioned offers for help through a single source that can convene proper care so that grieving families do not end up with 100 plates of brownies and 1000 people praying on their front lawn when all they want is a moment alone.
Phone Calls & People in the Pews
In the wake of 9-11 churches were filled. Tragedy brings people to the pews. The front desk of our church reported that more phone calls came in that day than any other day in the history of our church. Your own parishioners will want to know how they can help or pray. Others in the community who may not have a church home will suddenly have deep faith questions for you or your staff. They will want to know when funeral arrangements will be known or, they may ask if they can speak with a pastor about their own response to the tragedy. Have people on hand to support their hard and meaningful questions. Consider a team of volunteers who might sit in your lobby just to listen or answer phones.
We know that prayer is one of the most healing and beautiful responses to any tragedy. Be prepared to lead times of prayer for the families impacted as well as for the wider community itself. Do not attempt to answer the hard question “Why did this happen?” Instead, gather people and point them to the grace and mercy of a loving God who, even in the darkest of times, extends his healing and hope to our world. This is not the time to answer every theological question that gets kicked up. It is a time to draw people together. Invite other community leaders (even those of different faiths or non-faith) to join your gathering(s). Help your community know that prayer is a safe way to bring this tragedy before God. Pray for the affected families but respect the fact that they may not want to personally join a prayer event.