How To Actually Help When Tragic Events Happen In The World

Whatever the reason—be it the modern news cycle or the never-ending flow of social media reports—we’re all inundated with bad news every day.

The latest school shooting and an unpredictable hurricane were the issues this week. Next week it will be something else—and whatever the something else is, it’s sure to be just as overwhelming.

I’m prone to feel helpless in the wake of each of these events. Were it my family, neighbors, or friends then I would know what to do. I’d know how to love, care, and support.

But when it’s people I don’t know suffering in places a long way from home, I’m a bit lost. How can I help? Even more, how can the normal church member help?

The cutesy solidarity profile images on Facebook just don’t seem to do the trick. It seems stunningly trite to respond to national tragedy with a new profile picture. I can do better.

I know I’m supposed to pray—and I do. I pray that God would bring comfort and peace. I pray that God would use these events to point many to Christ. My prayers are informed by Jesus’ instructions when asked about the tragedy of the tower of Siloam—I pray that others would repent because they are reminded that their days are numbered (Lk 13:1–5).

This is certainly an appropriate, and necessary, response to suffering. God’s people pray. But as I pray I’m compelled to do something else. I want to get in the game to help, but I often feel helpless.

My temptation is to seek out an individualistic response—to try to do something on my own. But this is one situation, among many, where the local church is vital. The church becomes a conduit through which we can all partner with the needs of those hurting around the world and it should be the first place we look in times of tragedy.

Snapshot 1: Denominational Partnership

At a macro-level each local church may partner with national agencies or denominational groups that facilitate care to those who are suffering. These groups can funnel resources and manpower to those who are hurting in ways that far exceed my capability alone.

For those of us who are blessed to be a part of a church with these types of partnerships, we should be encouraged that our regular giving through the local church is making a difference—even if we can’t see it. If you are a member of a local church, ask your pastor how you partner with these groups if you don’t already know. You might be encouraged by how much your church is doing around the world.

Snapshot 2: Local Church Partnership

We can then zoom in a bit closer and consider the churches with whom my church partners. It is often the case the local churches will form partnerships with other local churches, either because of like-mindedness, joint missionary endeavors, or merely friendship between the churches’ pastors.

These relationships provide a way for members of local churches far from the epicenter of the tragedy to aid the work of other local churches who can make a real difference in their communities. Our church can give or serve in partnership with a like-minded church who we know will not only provide lasting care, but will also communicate the beauty of the gospel in the face of great tragedy.

If we want to make a real difference in alleviating suffering in Haiti, Charleston, or Townville, SC then it’s best to find out who my church knows and partners with in these places, and discern how best to serve as a catalyst for the work these churches are already doing.

This is a great way to engage in the relationships you have at the local church level—you can ask other members of your church to point you in the direction of a healthy church in an area that is hurting.

Snapshot 3: Individual Partnership

Zoom in another click or two and we will likely find individuals who live in these locations that are connected to our church in some way. Maybe someone moved to this city for work, serves there as a missionary, or has extended family living among those who are hurting.

If we want to help, then I can reach out to these people and find out specific ways to come alongside them in meeting needs they may have or helping them care for neighbors and friends who are hurting. Sure, I don’t personally know someone who lost a house due to hurricane Matthew, but odds are someone who lives in Charleston does. So why not reach out to those who are in the know and discern the best path to lasting help?

This is a great way to leverage social media for good—we can learn the names and needs of those who are hurting with little work. Not only will this make a difference in the short-term, but it will also leverage Christians in these cities for lasting mission to those around them.

The Beauty Of The Church

This is the beauty of the church. In it, we get to partner together as the body of Christ to accomplish more than we can ever hope to do alone. If we want to make a difference this week—or the next time tragedy strikes—we should look no further than our own local churches.

I am married to Sarah and we have four children: Corrie, Avery, Hudson, and Willa. We live in Greenville, SC where I serve as the pastor of The Church at Cherrydale. I am a graduate of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD) and enjoy reading and writing. I am also the author of three books: Aspire: Developing and Deploying Disciples in the Church, Seven Arrows: Aiming Bible Readers in the Right Direction, and Mergers: Combining Churches to Multiply Disciples. Find Matt online at or follow him on Twitter @mattrogers_