The unchurched…Churches don’t welcome people with mental illness

shutterstock_205691281Ed Stetzer and the crew at Lifeway Research released data yesterday from a research project intended to help churches best minister to persons with mental illness. Ed’s blog post with a preliminary look at the data is available here, while the news release from Lifeway is available here.

I found the most striking the differences in perceptions between adults who don’t attend church and adults who attend worship services once a week or more on the topic of how welcoming local churches are to people with mental health issues…

Lifeway 1

Fifty-five percent of adults who don’t regularly attend church disagreed with the statement that most churches would welcome them if they had mental health issues, compared to 21% of weekly churchgoers.

There were other interesting findings from the study (telephone survey of 1,001 adults, conducted from September 6-10, 2013). 48% of Evangelical, fundamentalist or “born again” Christians believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness depression, bipolar, schizophrenia) compared to 27% of all Americans.

Lifeway 2

Ponder this…as a psychiatrist, I strongly suspect the vast majority of adults with mental illness have prayed repeatedly for relief from their condition regardless of whether they attend church or not. If they’re not involved with a church where they’re exposed to good teaching that provides a Biblical context for why a loving God might not relieve their pain and tangible encouragement and support through a caring church family, there’s a good possibility they’ll become embittered and turn away from God forever.

KM 2ChurchThink about this. 26% of the adult population in the U.S. has been diagnosed with mental illness…more than one in five adults and one in four women currently take medication for a mental health disorder. Over 20% of women take antidepressants. If we (conservatively) assume that half the U.S. population doesn’t attend church and a quarter of U.S. adults experience mental illness, we likely have a minimum of 25 million adults with mental illness who don’t attend church. If the majority of those 25 million adults believe they won’t be welcomed at church, WE HAVE A REALLY BIG PROBLEM.

Our crew at Key Ministry is here to help churches welcome families of kids with mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities.


cropped-key-ministry-door.pngOur Key Ministry website is a resource through which church staff, volunteers, family members and caregivers can register for upcoming training events, request access to our library of downloadable ministry resources, contact our staff with training or consultation requests, access the content of our official ministry blog, or contribute their time, talent and treasure to the expansion of God’s Kingdom. In addition to our downloadable resources, those who register for our resource kit can view any presentation from our Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summits “on-demand”. All of these resources are made available free of charge. Check out our website today!

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
This entry was posted in Controversies, Depression, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to The unchurched…Churches don’t welcome people with mental illness

  1. pj says:

    Your response is fully received. Two comments on the specific questions to which you responded. These “agree-disagree” scales (I believe) often return bad results when the responder is reacting to a statement which has a sense of “oughtness” (e.g. “this ought to be something that is agreeable). The wording can produce confused responses (as to what the person is agreeing or disagreeing to ). The second question is even more confusing because there is a vast difference between believing prayer can heal–and that most persons who pray can/will experience healing.


  2. The important question is really, “how comfortable do Christians with a mental illness feel in church?’ This survey may provides data that is not really helpful for those within the church, seminaries, or evangelical community to help deal with the stigma of mental illness. It is profound. With over 30 years of clinical practice, consulting with the SBC and churches, the anecdotal evidence is clear – there is shame and a feeling of being unwelcome in the Church among those with mental illness, not to mention, the struggle of family members.


    • I must concur. I have sufficient personal/family experience but also have encountered both personal and on-line horror stories. This is self-deception at its worst, which the modern Evangelical is quite adept. Sociological honesty would see through this survey as a propaganda ploy. For, in truth, the question should be asked of the suffering Christians themselves and their families or those who attempted to get help from the church.

      The reality is that such persons are considered defects and the ‘faithful’ would prefer desired lock them in the attics of the church and tell them to keep the decibel level down. The Evangelical Church practices a Ken and Barbie Christianity (reference 100 Hundred Huntley Street). The problem is also with their counseling methods. While I reject the medical model of mind (i.e. use of drugs), which is a necessary philosophical tenet of naturalist materialism and which “works” only by disabling brain subsystems (“destroying a village to save it”); the predominant Christian counter-response is Nouethics (now recently renamed), which presumes that everything is to be dealt at a sin level.

      Moses was about sin. However, Christ is about truth. And counseling must begin at the deeper truth level. Mental distress is primarily a function of variance from objective realities, which become too great that a person cannot function. Those variances have consequences, often and including psychological ramifications. This is not necessarily a function of sin. It could be just simply not knowing or having the wrong understanding of things. And those who might think they could help are themselves not playing with a full deck of understanding neither. And therefore, humility and willingness to learn is required on part of both the distressed and those who would help because the world is bigger than our pet philosophies/theologies/notions. This is probably why mid-century 19th Century Quaker psychological retreats had the best rate of success in American history; without having to fudge the definition of success.

      This is not claptrap. This is a summary of 37 years of psychosis and into the deepest trenches of its battlefront. Amongst the things I had to learn is about Cartesian certitude, epistemology, subjectivism, and the precise definitions of presumably theological, although actually universal, themes like the nature of faith, which all humans have. (They just faith in different things.) None of this is about sin. These are philosophical concepts that I knew little of, but where they became psychologically important. You are not going hear about this in the churches in any coherent way. Even the nature of faith is not talked about.

      Those who undergo psychosis and overcome are more likely to be useful in the Kingdom than their negligent, internally judging, obtuse and self-deceiving peers. Two of the best vanguards of Baptist history were so so afflicted in the worse way (Spurgeon and Bunyan). And for centuries, the Evangelical church, seeing their example, mature Evangelicals were reticent in calling these psychological distresses as necessarily consequences of sin and letting the devil in.


  3. Dr. Jeff Scott says:

    AMERICAN GOTHIC CHURCH: Changing the Way People See the Church, a new book by Jeffery Warren Scott suggests that the unchurched are not likely to be reached unless believers change the mental image of Christians embedded in the minds of the unchurched. Churches which are encouraging, joyful, and compassionate are more likely to reach and retain the unchurched.


  4. Stephanie says:

    This is an issue I about which I am passionate. I am an ordained pastor as well as the parent of a children being treated for mental illness. Thank you for your work in this area. It was a surprise to see the difference in perceptions between the two groups in the study. I share your concerns about the affected families, who are already struggling with God’s role in suffering, and who seek refuge in the church community only to receive more judgement. I have written on the topic of the church’s role in response to mental health issues here:


  5. Charlotte Becker says:

    Hello. My 31 year old daughter died by suicide on March 3, 2023. She believed Jesus was the son of God and was resurrected but did not walk with him. She had a learning disability but could read at fourth grade level. She had huge impulse issues, as she could not control them well. She had major cognitive issues. She was like a 9 year old in a woman’s body. She had no friends as no one could tolerate her severe mood swings. Her choices in life caused pain to her. She had substance abuse and abuse from men, later in life. Her last days left her broken. She would cry out there was no “Hope”.

    She would attempt Bible study with a group of older women. Intellectually, it was above her. She would understand a few things but never saw the big picture or perceive the future. She could barely function in the moment. She had this pride in her. She would go to great lengths to hide her disability and mental illness from others.

    The good in my daughter was an inner sweetness at times. She was child like, too vulnerable.

    She is dead now. She died with unrepentant sin because she wasn’t walking with Jesus. Many people tell me she is in heaven.

    This torments me at times. I pray that she is with Jesus. I pray his blood covers her sin.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.