Some ways your church can support people with Anxiety
I wanted to share some practical ways that your church can support those of us that struggle with anxiety. Statistically that would be approximately 40% of the people in your church.
- Talk about it: I am not saying mention it once in a while in a sermon but actually talk about this issue from the pulpit, on a Sunday morning service. It is great to talk about these issues in a small group or special event but you only get to speak to a small portion of your church. I get a chance to do my talk “The Walking Wounded” numerous Sunday’s each year and I often hear that this was the first time they have ever heard the conversation of mental health from the front. The way to make your church a more welcoming place for people who struggle with any form of mental health is just to talk about it.
- Counselling: If I was to attend your church and ask random people if they knew which counsellor(s) their church would suggest if they need counselling what would they say? I think we sometimes assume that people know how to get in touch with counsellors. I think we should post websites, names and contact information for counsellors somewhere on your website and on a bulletin board in the church where people know they can find it. Then tell people a few times a year where this information is to remind them.
- Church Aerobics (stand/sit/stand/sit): Something I often hear from people with anxiety their frustration with the “everybody stand” instructions for musical worship, prayer, prayer for offering, closing the service etc. Now I don’t have anything wrong with people standing but maybe once in a while use more inclusive language. Maybe everyone does not like standing for music worship due to struggles with anxiety. I was in a church a few months ago and the worship leader said that during their 4 songs people could stand, sit, kneel, come to the front or stay in their seats. He just offered some options for people and released any guilt or shame for people not just standing. For those of us with anxiety I often find standing in one spot for 15-20 minutes unbearable. My goal ends up being to survive standing and not to be in any form of worship during the music. I hear from people that when they don’t stand (because they are struggling with anxiety) they feel shame, guilt and divisive when people keep looking at them wondering why they are not standing when someone asked them to. Just saying a fe extra words can release all these thoughts and feelings.
- Ropes: Please don’t use them. I understand that if you have a smaller amount of people in a service it pushes people into one section but the sections you cut off are the places that those of us with anxiety like to be (ie. the back rows and the sides). Some of us (me included) don’t sit on the sides to hide but because it is where we feel we can better deal with our anxiety. I also understand that it might mean that an usher has to walk a little more to pass the offering plates. I don’t think this is too much to ask to help the people struggling. I often get asked when I speak if I want to have the pastor of that church “move people forward”. My answer is always, No. Let them sit where they want to sit. I am just glad they are there to hear me speak. I want people to feel comfortable.
- Move to the Middle: Sometimes when a service gets to be filled someone gets up to the front and asks all of the people who were there early to make room (move to the middle) for the people who are coming late (or just in time). Again, for those of us with anxiety many of us come early to guarantee we don’t have to sit in the middle of the group of people.
If you have any more thought of how we can help support people who are struggling with anxiety or other forms of mental health please add a comment to this blog.