How to Prepare for a Church Service Cancellation

As much as we try to avoid it, there are times when we have to cancel a service. Sometimes there are warning signs this is coming, like a 3-day snow storm and other times it’s a sudden decision like a power outage on your campus, but there are 5 steps to take when needing to cancel a service. It’s best when these steps are already in place when you realize the cancellation has to happen, but if you’ve found this article after realizing you have to cancel service tomorrow and need some quick advice, then apply what’s helpful and have a plan for next time.

It’s best if each of these steps happen on a separate day. By giving each step a full 24-hour breathing period, you’re able to make the best decisions and communicate each efficiently. In some cases, that’s not possible, so set aside a clear block of time for each step and try to avoid overlap.

Step 1) Notification Day: The day when you’re going to notify your church of the cancellation.

  • Write out a 2-3 sentence statement. Include why you’re cancelling service, and when you anticipate your schedule will resume, and when you’ll be able to provide more information. This statement will be all you talk about for the first day. Send it to your staff, key leaders, small group leaders, nursery coordinators and let them know that if someone emails, texts, sends a Facebook message and drops a carrier pigeon, they need to copy and paste this to respond. It’s important that everyone is saying and hearing the same message to avoid confusion.
  • Have a communications plan ahead to say all the ways you’ll communicate this cancellation: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, text message, email newsletter, app notifications, building signage, office voicemail, etc. Your communications plan will describe who is responsible for each of these avenues, in what order they’re sent out and who will moderate any questions or comments.
  • Ask your small group leaders to email, text or call everyone in their group and have your volunteer team leaders do the same. It’s better for someone to get this message multiple times than not at all.
  • On notification day, your staff and leaders are not writing a personal message about the cancellation on social media or in an email to their team. They are copying and pasting. This is really important to lay the ground work for how you’ll communicate through this cancellation.
  • Redundancy and consistency are key.

Step 2) Reminder Day: Remind people the day before a cancellation.

If you have to cancel a Sunday service, then ideally, reminder day is on Saturday. If you have Saturday and Sunday services, then reminder day is on Friday.

  • This is the time to post a personal message about what’s happening. Your staff and leaders now have the freedom to post their thoughts, send out a personal message to those most impacted, and respond in whatever way they feel is best.
  • Compared to notification day, this is less about redundancy and consistency and more about a conversation. Things like “How are you staying warm on this snow day?” or “We miss worshipping with you this morning. Which songs are you listening to while you worship at home tomorrow morning?” You are not informing people about your cancellation, but having a conversation as a subtle reminder.

Step 3) Actual cancellation Day: The day you would have had service.

  • Post or email a way for people to still worship. This could be some worship videos from YouTube, a Facebook live video from your Pastor or a live feed from another church that you’re friends with. Include a link for giving online, or signing up for an event and some of the other typical ways people would interact with you if they were still on your campus.

Step 4) Post-Cancellation Day: Letting people know that your schedule has resumed.

  • Use all of your public facing communication channels to let people know midweek services will resume as scheduled, or small groups are still on, or that you’ll be back next Sunday. Also, if you had to cancel service because of weather, let people know the condition of your campus (leaks, flooding, everything is fine) and ask if anyone needs help getting their property back in shape from the weather. If you had to cancel service because of your Pastor’s health or something of that nature, it’s better to let people know the status before they start asking (or guessing) what could be going on.

Step 5) After-action review.

  • Meet with your team and have a discussion about what revisions could be made to your communication plan based on the results of this event. Were there any families that didn’t know about the cancellation and showed up anyway? How can that family be best reached and included in future communications.

We recently cancelled our service because of Hurricane Irma. Here’s what we learned in our after-action review: I realized that Planning Center was going to send out a reminder to everyone who was scheduled about service on Sunday, so we cleared out our schedule for that weekend so people weren’t receiving a reminder. Also, we missed having a voicemail on the church’s phone system to let people know that service would be cancelled, and realized after everyone had evacuated. Thankfully, we were able to phone in and change the message remotely, but it’s being added to our service cancellation plan for next time.

Having a plan before a cancellation is the best way to be sure you’re not missing any steps. Not cancelling your service this weekend? Then it’s the perfect week to start developing a plan for when it does happen.