Research: Americans Turn to God and Generosity After Natural Disasters

disasters flood

Disasters, particularly natural disasters, perplex all of us. While some call them ‘acts of God,’ others question why a good and loving God would do such a thing. The fact is, God does not give us all the answers. But, as Christians, we believe that God gives us Himself—and that is why we have faith. Faith is believing God when you don’t have all the answers. But, disasters test that faith—some people draw closer to God, some pull away.

In the wake of the historic EF5 tornado which devastated parts of Oklahoma in 2013, we polled Americans about their interest in God, responding by donating to relief agencies, their trust in faith-based agencies, and whether or not prayer can avert natural disasters.

In response to the question, “How do you feel about God when suffering occurs that appears unfair?” we found:

  • “I trust God more” (33 percent).
  • “I am confused about God” (25 percent).
  • “I don’t think about God in these situations” (16 percent).
  • “I wonder if God cares” (11 percent).
  • “I doubt God exists” (7 percent).
  • “I am angry toward God” (5 percent).
  • “I am resentful toward God” (3 percent).

Highlights from the release:

Interest in God Increases

Nearly six in 10 Americans (57 percent) agree with the statement, “When a natural disaster occurs, my interest in God increases.” Thirty-one percent disagree and 12 percent don’t know. Nearly two-thirds of respondents living in the South agree (62 percent), compared with just over half in the West (54 percent) and Northeast (51 percent). Women, people with a college degree, and those who attend worship services once a week are also likely to be more interested in God during a disaster.

Prayer Cannot Avert Natural Disasters

Despite their increased interest in God following disasters, most Americans doubt prayer can avert natural disasters. Fifty-one percent disagree that praying can avert natural disasters, with a third (32 percent) strongly disagreeing. Still, 34 percent believe prayer can avert natural disasters. American’s in the South (40 percent) are more likely to believe than those in the Northeast (26 percent) and West (28 percent).

The “Join me in praying for…” Social Media Posts

Thirty percent of Americans post on social media that they are praying for specific people or things. Sixty-seven percent do not post topics of prayer on social media and three percent don’t know.

Among those who do post prayers on social media, most take a moment to actually pray rather than consider the post itself a form of prayer. When asked to complete the statement, “If I post a prayer on social media …,” 23 percent say they always take a moment to actually pray and 10 percent consider posting the update to be form of prayer. Sixty-four percent complete the statement by saying they don’t post prayers.

People trust faith-based groups over secular with their donations

When a natural disaster occurs, Americans trust faith-based groups to be more responsible than secular groups with their donations by nearly a two to one margin. Fifty-six percent agree they trust faith-based groups more, while 28 percent do not. Those who live in the Midwest and South, men, and those who do not have a college degree are more likely to trust faith-based charities, while those in the Northeast and Americans ages 45-64 are not as likely.

Almost 60 percent of Americans donate to relief agencies in the wake of natural disasters. Thirty percent donate to both faith-based and secular relief agencies, 15 percent donate to faith-based relief agencies only and 12 percent donate to secular relief agencies only. A third of Americans (32 percent) don’t donate to any relief agencies.

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Ed Stetzer
Ed Stetzer, Ph.D., holds the Billy Graham Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College and serves as Executive Director of the Billy Graham Center for Evangelism. He has planted, revitalized, and pastored churches, trained pastors and church planters on six continents, holds two masters degrees and two doctorates, and has written dozens of articles and books.