Caring for the mental health of one another is the reality of our human condition around the world. Americans who struggle needlessly with mental and emotional disorders was estimated around 20% before the global pandemic in 2020, and projected to have increased since. The truth is that not enough professional healthcare resources currently exist to adequately care for all those who need help. And the consequences are dire, because for those who have mental illnesses lose productivity, quality of life, and even life itself.
This is where churches can serve this most obvious of felt needs in practical ways. Churches can help and support people in their recovery process in ways that psychology and psychiatry cannot, because churches are best at being a spiritual and relational community for people inside and outside of its walls. And for those who struggle, they can use all the help they can get.
This short article provides a quick overview for what your church can do to better care for those who struggle with mental health, beyond the basic counseling that pastors in churches typically are known for. (Note that I am not a professional psychologist or psychiatrist; I am sharing from my own lived experiences and learnings.)
1. Talk about Mental Health in Caring Ways
Churches and pastors can be most helpful by talking about mental health in caring ways, educating themselves and its congregations about how mental health and faith are all a part of our humanity. Sadly, most Protestant senior pastors (66%) seldom speak to their congregation about mental illness.
Pastors are often the first person that people contact when they’re struggling. In this sense, they’re like first responders. Churches would do well to care for people holistically and support those who need medical and psychological care; however, there are churches and Christians who hold to a conviction that mental and emotional problems are only spiritual, unfortunately.
This is the best first step, get educated about mental health together using trustworthy resources. In doing so, let your church be a safe place of hope and care.
2. Prayer and Support Groups
Having a regular prayer time and support group for those who struggle with mental health, addictions, or other issues, has helped many to get spiritual help in their recovery and healing process. This is a concrete way to manifest how members of the body of Christ can love and care for one another through carrying one another’s burdens. Make it a safe place by being empathetic, confidential, and non-judgmental, because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1). Get some basic training through resources readily available online—see below.
3. Peer Counseling
As your church prays, God may very well raise up leaders in your church to serve as peer counselors. There are minstry training programs like Stephen Ministries or the Lay Counselor Institute. (oh, when you get to this step, your church will need to learn about Legal Guidelines for Lay Counselors.)
Strategy for Mental Health Ministry in a Church
Saddleback Church has put together this handy chart with more doable things in 3 stages to grow a church-based mental health ministry. Click the image to view and click the (+) sign to expand the lists.
Get this starter kit that will educate and equip your church for doing mental health ministry with videos from experts, professionals, and pastors. Plus, this kit has sermon notes, teachings for youth groups, church communications and more resources in one convenient package; produced by Saddleback Church.
This website serves faith communities with a curated collection of mental health resources that are especially useful for churches, clergy, pastors, Christians, and others for whom faith is a key component of their lived experience. Connect with more Christian ministries, books, podcasts, and resources to grow your church in its care for more people.