In the seventh installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve discusses how churches can enhance their ability to attract families impacted by mental illness through their website and social media sites.
Websites increasingly serve as the front door to our churches…a tool for introducing the church to first-time visitors and a strategy for communicating information about ministry opportunities and events to a population more likely to attend to their smartphones and tablets than to a traditional church bulletin. Websites and social media platforms will often represent the initial impression a family on the outside will form of your church…and may be especially important to families dealing with the social isolation frequently associated with mental illness.
This post has been the most challenging of the series for me to write because I’ve had a difficult time finding a prototype of a website I really liked, and readers view these posts months and years after they’re initially published…any links I post may be hopelessly dated. One of our ministry colleagues suggested The Village Church in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex as an excellent church website…I’ll borrow a few examples from there.
I’d prefer to share three general concepts for teams to consider in evaluating their church’s web presence as part of an overall inclusion plan for kids, teens and adults with mental illnesses and their families…
- The more people can see, hear and experience of your ministry environments online, the better.
Anxiety disorders are the most common form of mental illness experienced by children, teens and adults in the U.S. When I’m asked questions regarding the causes/treatment of anxiety, the most important idea I seek to communicate is the observation that many people with anxiety have brains that come “hard-wired” to overestimate the level of danger or risk in a new setting or experience. The more they can discover in advance about a new situation, the easier it will be for them to enter into the situation.
Let’s consider this concept when it comes to church. One common fear many experience when visiting a new church is of being inappropriately dressed…too formal or too casual. Without communicating anything specific about the style of dress, this website includes pictures that help tell a story.
It’s casual, contemporary and kids/students can expect to hear someone teach while being seated comfortably on the floor. Parents can see a number of “official-looking” volunteers in green t-shirts intermingled with their kids in an open environment.
Many churches emphasize involvement in small groups. Some might fear what to expect in a typical small group environment…Here’s a group that meets in homes where kids appear to be welcome.
They also offer recovery groups at their “bricks and mortar” campuses, list the scope of the groups they offer, and offer this picture that may reflect upon the size of a typical group and the privacy of the group (held in a room with a closed door)…
The Village Church clearly endorses Biblical Counseling on a prominent page containing links to eight counseling groups based in the surrounding community endorsed by the church, and has links to specific books they’ve found helpful, including a book on overcoming fear, worry and anxiety.
They also offer some video to help parents of preschool-age kids anticipate what to expect when they come to visit…
If I were serving on staff at a church seeking to welcome kids, teens and adults with mental illness into the full scope of the church’s ministry activities, I’d have LOTS of video on my webpages and social media…
- Video of worship services
- Video of small groups
- Video of mission trips/service activities
- Video of weekend activities in age-appropriate ministry activities
- Video of special events…VBS, retreats, picnics, gatherings, outreach, camping trips
- Consider creating an obvious link/portal on your homepage to help families plan their initial visit(s) to your church or connect with an “inclusion concierge.”
People with common mental illnesses and many high functioning adults with autism spectrum disorders struggle greatly with social communication. I’ve mentioned before in our blog series on anxiety that many of the kids and families we serve are very dependent upon electronic communication (e-mail and text) and struggle greatly to use the phone. I started using the ratio of texting to talking as a screening question for social anxiety in teens.
We had routinely made use of electronic registration for families signing up for respite events in churches where we trained. Why not offer families the opportunity to e-mail a church they plan to visit where someone from the appropriate ministry areas could help arrange for an advance visit/tour for kids or adults who struggle in unfamiliar environments, preregister families for appropriate programming and (perhaps) connect them with an “inclusion concierge” to quietly arrange for appropriate accommodations…a seat on an aisle near the door for an adult prone to panic attacks and agoraphobia, preferential entrances for kids and adults with sensory processing issues, hand sanitizer for persons with OCD, etc. Here’s a download from our resource kit your church could modify if putting together an online registration form for advance visits.
- Use your church’s social media platforms to share links/posts with resources your attendees can share with families with mental health needs.
Earlier in the series, we discussed the importance of the messages teaching pastors communicate about mental health from the pulpit or stage to attendees or guests within the church. Your church’s blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter and Instagram accounts all play a vital role in communicating a sense of welcome to families outside the church. They are also tools that leaders place in the hands of church attendees to share with families within their social networks in need of a church home.
Where can churches get quality content to share from a Christian perspective on mental health-related topics? I’d hope this blog would offer more than enough resources to keep any social media director busy for a long time…just kidding!
If I were putting together a short Twitter list of people/organizations to follow for mental health resources with a Christian worldview, I’d include…
- My personal account @drgrcevich (I share lots of mental health related articles and studies that aren’t necessarily shared by Key Ministry)
- Mental Health Grace Alliance @mhgracealliance
- Jolene Philo @jolenephilo (co-author of Every Child Welcome, upcoming book on PTSD)
- Amy Simpson @aresimpson (author of Troubled Minds, with Christianity Today)
- Rhett Smith @rhetter (author of The Anxious Christian)
In summary, your church’s website and social media platforms are powerful tools in any mental health inclusion strategy…be strategic in making the most of them in any plan!
Next…Identify and respond to practical needs.
Missed the interview Vangie Rodenbeck did with Steve on Mental Illness and the Church? Check out their entire interview here. Vangie and Steve discussed…
- The biggest obstacles children and adults with mental illness face in attending church
- Why family ministry approaches make sense in implementing intentional mental health inclusion in your church
- The available research on how churches are doing in supporting families impacted by mental illness
- Helpful resources for those involved in children’s ministry, youth ministry and family ministry in better serving families in your church and your surrounding community impacted by mental illness.