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A pastor’s worst nightmare occurred just a few weeks ago on a rural Texas highway when a pickup truck slammed into a small church bus loaded with senior citizens. Thirteen people died – including the bus driver.

One moment, a fun church outing. The next, a church in crisis.

How does a church minister to thirteen grieving families at the same time? It would be difficult enough if the dead and the hurting were all strangers, but these were all family and friends who lived and worked and worshipped together. How do you grieve the loss of your dear friends, while trying to be strong and minister to their families?

And for the bus driver’s four children, their loss was compounded by the sudden death of their mother just a few days later.

This church and city are suffering tremendous loss, and continue to need the prayers of every believer.

What if something similar would happen to your church? How prepared are you to minister to multiple hurting families?

In difficult times, God’s people always come together, and God often makes up the difference between our abilities and our desires. But every church leader needs to take a serious look at how well his/her church is prepared to deal with these traumatic situations.

For the next few days, we will look at ways every church can improve their crisis ministry response.

Consider how wide the ripples of this tragedy reach.

First, you have the immediate families of the thirteen individuals who lost their lives.

Add to that list, the lone church member to survive that wreck.

What about the young man who caused the accident? Consider the pain his parents and other family members are experiencing.

What about the 911 operators who had been taking calls from other drivers complaining about the erratic behavior of the pickup truck several minutes before it collided with the bus? It was reported that they were unable to dispatch patrol officers immediately because of jurisdiction questions. Now, through no fault of their own, some may feel a bit of guilt because they could not respond more quickly.

First responders and emergency room nurses are often overlooked in these situations. We forget that they are human and need time to process the trauma they see every day.

Although we often berate the news media, even they can be emotionally affected by tragedies like this.

We view our pastors as strong and full of faith, but they are vulnerable to blocking out their own grief so they can go through the motions of performing as expected. The hard truth is, months down the road, some of the wonderful men and women who are ministering to these families may find themselves struggling or sick or disinterested in ministry and they may not realize that it all stems from the trauma they experienced, but had no opportunity to recover from.

On and on we could go, tracing these ripples to the Sunday School classes these seniors taught, or the weekly luncheons they attended, or the special desserts they made that everyone looked forward to enjoying. But what is important about following the ripples is that we are aware of every person or group who might be affected by this event.

While not everyone touched by a traumatic event will need assistance to process it, those closest to the point of impact need to have friends around for a few months as they get used to living life differently than they had planned. One of the first things your church crisis plan should include is the process of following the ripples from the impact outward to see just who all needs care.

Following the ripples will often surprise you by exposing hurting people in places you didn’t expect to find them. Like in your pastor’s office.

In our next post, we’ll discuss how to help your pastor stay emotionally healthy during difficult times.

**This article was originally posted at dougellingsworth.com