Any natural disaster poses a serious threat not only to people within affected communities but also to businesses and organizations that serve them. And such threats extend far beyond simple property damage.
Lakewood Church pastor and prosperity gospel preacher Joel Osteen has come under fire for allegedly not making its megachurch available as shelter for Hurricane Harvey flood victims.
The controversy began to develop earlier this week when the megachurch posted a message on its Facebook page saying that it was inaccessible to operate as a shelter due to severe flooding.
It didn’t take long for people to begin voicing their criticism on social media:
Joel Osteen has a HUGE church in Houston that would make a great shelter. pic.twitter.com/byqHxXrHQn
— Brasilmagic (@Brasilmagic) August 28, 2017
Joel Osteen won't open his church that holds 16,000 to hurricane victims because it only provides shelter from taxes. #HoustonStrong
— Alan Spencer (@MrAlanSpencer) August 28, 2017
Lakewood Church did create a page on its website to gather donations for Hurricane Harvey relief efforts, which Osteen announced on Twitter Monday evening.
— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) August 28, 2017
However, the criticism only intensified after reports by local Houstonians, including sports analyst Sean Salisbury, alleging that Lakewood Church was indeed accessible.
— Sean Salisbury (@SeanUnfiltered) August 28, 2017
Osteen responded to the criticism in a statement to CBS News, saying: “we have never closed our doors,” and that the church will “continue to be a distribution center for those in need.” Osteen added that Lakewood is ready to shelter people once the city shelters reach capacity.
On Tuesday, Osteen announced on Twitter that his church began to accept those needing shelter.
Victoria and I care deeply about our fellow Houstonians. Lakewood’s doors are open and we are receiving anyone who needs shelter.
— Joel Osteen (@JoelOsteen) August 29, 2017
Still, Lakewood’s delayed and somewhat uncoordinated response to the situation allowed the controversy to spread nationwide.
Being one of the largest congregations in the country and headquartered in a former NBA arena capable of seating around 17,000 people, it would have served Lakewood Church well to have a clear pre-planned communications strategy in place that it could follow in the event of a natural disaster, such as Hurricane Harvey. However, it seems as though the organization’s communications department was caught off guard by the crisis.
As a result, Lakewood Church did not do a very good job of effectively communicating with people in its community, or the media, which lead to a serious public relations issue for both Osteen and his organization.
Retaining professional crisis communications counsel and having a proper crisis plan in place in advance of the disaster would have allowed Lakewood Church to focus on what is really important – helping Houston’s flood victims – rather than firefighting controversies.
What do you think: could have Lakewood Church handled the situation differently? Let us know in the comments section.