Steven is a middle-aged pastor at a large, urban, mostly African-American church. He believes congregations play vital roles in disaster response and community care. So much so, he went back to school for an MBA at Fresno Pacific University to gain further skills in community development and management after disasters.
For his final group project, he secured permission from his school to use ICTG surveys to sample leaders and measure how aware, prepared, and responsive congregations were to disasters and traumas they encountered. His group surveyed 31 congregations in Louisiana, Missouri, and New Jersey, where community-wide disasters occurred between 2004-2011. These congregations represented the following denominations:
They also included 3 rural churches, 9 small town churches, 6 suburban churches, and 13 urban churches. Membership included 19% multi-ethnic backgrounds, 4% Central or South American backgrounds, 15% African-American, and 62% Canadian- or European-American.
The project revealed several key insights that more ministers should know about.
Many congregations experience more than one trauma or disaster within a few years. 54% of the congregations surveyed experience two or more collective traumatic events within just 5 years of the hurricane or shooting they first reported.
High turnover rates exist among ministry staff following traumatic incidents. Within only 3 years of the first incident, 62% of the ministry staff among these congregations changed, including one pastor dying of a heart attack.
Membership and stewardship radically change following traumatic incidents. Nearly 80% of the congregations surveyed had between 100-2100 members the year before the first disaster occurred. 56% of them decreased in membership as much as 20% in the first 3 years after, even as financial giving increased 70%.
We need more projects like Steven's to provide congregations with the information they need to face what's ahead. Surveys like this one significantly help clergy and lay leaders better assess their congregation's current practices and increase resiliency to withstand the pressures of collective traumas.
Want to support more innovative students like Steven and create more projects that get congregations information and tools they need?
- Support financially – It takes ICTG $60 / month to support a graduate student with materials and mentoring. To contribute to all or part of these costs, become a monthly donor today.
- Participate in a new research project – In an effort to expand resources and inform congregation leaders, Associate Professor of Psychology, Cynthia Eriksson, is working with a team of graduate students at Fuller Theological Seminary's Graduate School of Psychology to survey of ministry leaders about their own encounters with trauma care. The survey takes about 30 minutes. Take it, and pass the link along to other ministers you know.
The boards, staff, and volunteers at ICTG heartily agree with Steven – congregations can play vital roles in disaster response and community care. Especially when they are informed and have access to tools they need to promote safety and growth.