In times of crisis, hurting people want a relevant response. We heard this longing in the fatigue with the phrase “thoughts and prayers” after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Hurting people want a response to their pain that meets their pain in meaningful, not trite, ways.

It’s in these times of crisis, like after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that your church has never been more relevant and necessary. It’s because we are people of faith, believing in the power of prayer, that we offer our prayers. But more than that, we can be present and provide stabilizing, spiritual support to people in pain. Ministry is a verb. Ministry is action. And during times of crisis, crisis response is the effective and appropriate response ministry.

Crisis response ministry is an organized, compassionate and spiritual response provided by specially-trained clergy and lay-ministers.

The concept of crisis is often misunderstood – especially by those in crisis. Many people think that crisis must be a “newsworthy” event. In fact, crisis isn’t even the event. Instead, it’s a condition (or state of being) that happens as a result of a critical event. Crisis is the natural and expected reaction to an unnatural and unexpected event.

The level of crisis isn’t determined by how big or small the event; it’s determined by one’s personal connection to the event.

Want to quickly assess potential for crisis following a tragedy? Ask these questions:

  1. Does the person perceive the event as unexpected? Did the person see it coming? Or, do they feel like they were caught off guard?
  2. Does the person feel like the event was powerful, intense or severe? Do they feel off balance or overwhelmed as a result of the event?
  3. Does the person feel personally involved with the event? If the person was not directly involved in the event, do they feel connected to the people, places and/or things involved in the event?

There are three main factors that make an incident critical – the event is perceived as powerful, personal and unexpected. You may have noticed the word perceive used repeatedly. Who gets to say if the event was unexpected? The person does. Who determines if they were personally involved? The person does.

Crisis is deeply personal; not just for the connection to the event but for the intense and overwhelming feelings that follow. Because the incident was personal, unexpected and beyond their control, people in crisis can feel powerless, insecure and maybe even unsafe. Because people in crisis struggle to make sense of the senseless, they can feel like they’re going “crazy” (that is, they don’t feel “normal” or like themselves). Because people in crisis don’t feel a sense of balance and certainty, they can feel unsure of themselves and those around them.

Understanding crisis empowers lay and ordained ministers to sit comfortably with uncomfortable reactions and provide a compassionate ministry of presence. Being trained in crisis response empowers ministers to show up, lean in and listen up in order to meet immediate needs and critical concerns. Ministry is action. Relevant ministry is showing up, standing with and walking beside.

As people of faith, believing in the power of prayer, we offer prayer. But, when individuals, families, congregants or a community are in crisis, we can also show up and provide a stabilizing and spiritual support. With a little bit of training, clergy and church members can build skills that effectively assess and address people in spiritual and emotional pain. Churches can build crisis response ministry teams that meet immediate needs and critical concerns. We can create connections with mental health professionals to identify and refer those in need of next-level care. We can be of service to those who serve, protect and keep our community safe. We can demonstrate God’s love to the community by being present with people on their worst day.

As we often say to churches and ministers: be present with people on their worst day…and they’ll never forget it. Fail to be present with people on their worst day…and they’ll never forget it.

For more on crisis response ministry, visit

Dorie Jones is partner, co-founder and CEO of Crisis Support Solutions, LLC. Jones has been working with people in crisis for almost two decades. At Crisis Support Solutions, she and business partner Joey Fennell help organizations build and maintain support programs. Their mission is to train people to provide care and offer hope to those hurting during difficult times. Learn more about their mission and ministry at

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