This entry was originally posted to Resilire Blog on January 7, 2016.
“By taking action now you can potentially save lives, reduce harm during a disaster, and extend your ministry to those who need help.”
You may not have thought about your church’s role in responding to a disaster in your own community. After all, no one likes to think that bad things might happen—it’s human nature. The unfortunate reality, however, is that many congregations may be touched either directly or indirectly by a disaster of some kind at any time. Since the 1980’s there has been roughly a 400 percent increase in natural disasters. The world’s five costliest natural disasters have occurred in the past 20 years, with three of those disasters striking in the last eight years alone. There have also been nearly 5,000 terrorist events annually over the last 10 years. Mass shootings have also increased in frequency.
If your church doors are open after a disaster strikes, people are going to come to you for help. By taking action now you can potentially save lives, reduce harm during a disaster, and extend your ministry to those who need help.
Local congregations are uniquely positioned in their communities to assist with disaster preparedness, response, and recovery. Following are 10 reasons why every church should have a disaster ministry, based on stories we’ve heard from pastors and lay leaders:
Ten Good Reasons
1) The scriptural support for such ministries from the proclamation of the church as the salt of the earth, to the call to the church to be the light of the world (Mt 5:13-16), and the repeated call throughout the Bible to serve the vulnerable (e.g. Mt 25:35; Acts 10:4).
2) Congregations can provide broad- based prevention as well as holistic care for individuals after a disaster incident. Holistic care provides for the physical, emotional and spirituals parts of a person's life.
3) Congregations can reach people in need that other groups and agencies cannot reach, and thus help those who would otherwise go un-served.
4) Disaster work can be integrated into other ministries of a congregation and strengthen those same ministries.
5) Congregations can be source for community action. The connection with people in the community helps with assessing needs, risks, and identifying possible actions.
6) Congregations can advocate on behalf of the marginalized and vulnerable, as in ensuring fair distributions of healthcare or food, or determining where help is needed most.
7) Congregations may provide key resources during a disaster. Examples include using a meeting space as a rest of evacuation center, storing and distributing food, water, equipment, and other resources.
8) Congregations are already a center for communication, allowing meetings and messages to be communicated to a significant number of people on a regular basis.
9) A congregation can provide a willing body of volunteers (members of the congregation, clergy and leaders) who are motivated by love and compassion.
10) We have found that many people turn to faith and to local congregations for answers and assistance when disaster strikes.
The local church is often among the first to respond and among the last to stop working amid disasters. If your church doesn’t already have a ministry in place to address catastrophes, crises, and emergencies then the time to start is now.
Dr. Jamie D. Aten is the founder and co-director of the Humanitarian Disaster Institute at Wheaton College, in Illinois. He is also the co-author of the new “Disaster Ministry Handbook.” Follow him on Twitter @drjamieaten and jamieaten.com.