Editors’ Note: This is the first in a new column by psychologist and disaster ministry expert Dr. Jamie D. Aten who serves as the Rech Endowed Chair and Associate Professor of Psychology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois. Look for more monthly columns from Jamie here in the future.
If your church’s doors are open after a disaster—even if your church isn’t left physically standing—it’s likely people will seek help from your church.
However, I’ve found few churches are truly prepared to respond to disasters that may occur, especially in their own backyard.
I’ve interviewed church leaders about disaster ministries all over the globe, and I’ve found a common barrier to getting started: many don’t know where to begin. That’s why, in this column, I provide some simple steps for laying a foundation for developing a successful disaster ministry.
Start with Prayer
Start by spending time reflecting in prayer about how God might use your church in the event of a disaster. Prayerfully consider how your church’s unique resources and current ministries might be used to help those in need. Also, pray for guidance about how the most vulnerable in your congregation and community might be helped: that God would open your eyes to opportunities to help.
I’ll never forget meeting a church lay leader from the South Side of Chicago at our first annual Disaster Ministry Conference. She pulled me aside after one of the plenaries to share how she felt led to help address the gang and gun violence plaguing the neighborhoods surrounding her church. To her surprise, her prayers had led her to a conference on disasters, of all things. She went back home and applied what she had learned at the conference to address public violence. Over time, this church’s disaster ministry evolved, and it now includes public health emergency preparedness.