Following on from yesterday’s post, some thoughts on making church less scary:
Expect that folks in your pews will struggle.
Model weakness and beware of a leadership model that says that ‘proper’ Christians have to be strong and together.
Talk about mental health issues – even in sermons: and not as something ‘unusual’ or ‘weak’. Avoid using loaded words e.g. ‘mad’, ‘crazy’ – especially from the pulpit.
Invite speakers in to talk about specific issues, including testimonies from folks who aren’t fixed, but are working things through.
Encourage people to seek help, within the church (e.g.counselling) and outside (e.g.GPs). 80% of people with common mental disorders (e.g. depression, anxieties and substance abuse) and up to 50% of those with serious mental disorders (e.g. schizophrenia) do not receive any treatment.
Encourage folks to share their whole stories with one or two trusted friends and not everyone. This helps them to find genuine support and to build genuine relationships.
Model and teach on healthy patterns of living e.g. the value of rest, challenging the need for perfectionism, the importance of vulnerability and community. Care for the mental health of those on ministry teams.
Welcome everyone: including those who have bad hygiene or behave a bit oddly, cry during services or want to sit. Have a team to welcome newcomers (or meet them round the corner), but don’t crowd them! Provide emergency exits! Little things like leaving a door open at the back and creating space for people to come and go as they need to, can really help.
Make social interactions as easy as possible for those who find them a challenge, e.g. arranging meals around a seating plan where people are sat near friends or people they know. Avoid always putting people in the same groups, e.g. singles, parents, etc.
Make time for people outside of church services
Work as part of a team and set appropriate boundaries. Some people have had little or no experience of church and genuinely don’t know where the line is between what is and is not acceptable. Others, desperately trying to make friends and join in with things, make mistakes in how they behave. As a team make sure you have a consistent strategy: it’s hard to set boundaries if they change from person to person.
Have a clear and consistent pastoral support strategy. Make sure people know who to go to, (if not the minister, then who else?), when and how. If you offer opportunities for prayer or counselling after the service, do it somewhere discreet. Provide links to helpful organisations and local support groups. Build relationships with professionals in these areas so that you can refer in times of crisis.
Train and equip the church, e.g. through in-house training evenings, by pointing folks to outside courses, or offering a mentoring programme.
Allow for God to work in ways other than sudden, instantaneous recovery!
Build trust e.g. by encouraging small group confidentiality, providing a safe space for people to talk and taking issues seriously.
Anticipate crises, meet concrete needs and be ready to offer ongoing, long-term support, (including financial).
Reincorporate sufferers back into church, e.g. by building confidence and helping them to use their gifts (in small and non-pressured environments). Remind them that they are valuable and wanted.
When preaching or offering pastoral care, be specific in what you suggest. Do not just tell persons to ‘trust God’ or ‘put God first’ – show them how to develop practices that will enable them to be more aware of God and to grow their faith.
Remember that there may be different reasons why people can’t attend services; especially if they are anxious or feeling low. Consider providing transport/company and offer to visit where they are.
“Speak encouraging words to one another. Build up hope so you’ll all be together in this, no one left out, no one left behind… our counsel is that you warn the freeloaders to get a move on, gently encourage the stragglers, and reach out for the exhausted, pulling them to their feet. Be patient with each person, attentive to individual needs. And be careful that when you get on each other’s nerves, you don’t snap at each other. Look for the best in each other and always do your best to bring it out.”
1 Thess 5:11; 13-15 (The Message)