Online community…component of a mental health inclusion strategy?

Online groupsIn the ninth installment of our series, Ten Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion at Church, Steve explores ways in which churches can creatively establish online communities and incorporate strategies to use these communities as part of an overall plan for building relationships with families impacted by mental illness.

“The key to this business is personal relationships.”

The sage advice given to Tom Cruise’s character by “the late, great Dicky Fox” in the movie Jerry Maguire is foundational to any intentional strategy to reach out to and include children and teens with mental illness and their families.

If I had it to do over again (and I might), I’d relabel Key Ministry’s Front Door initiative as “online community” as opposed to “online church.” When we put church services online, we weren’t trying to create an alternative experience of church so much as we were trying to create an additional pathway to relationship with the help of some cutting edge technology. The goal of any online ministry effort of ours is to create relationships that move families impacted by disability one step closer to an experience of “church” in the physical presence of other Christ followers.

More and more churches are live streaming services or establishing online campuses. Even more are diving into social media and for good reason…that’s where the people are!

99.9% of churches will enter into online expressions of ministry for reasons other than outreach to families with disabilities. As your church builds an online presence, I see several compelling reasons for your church’s mental health/disability ministries to go along for the ride…

  • It’s an easy way to lower the resistance to engaging church attendees and members in evangelism and outreach.
  • It levels the playing field for persons who struggle with social communication or social anxiety.
  • Technology allows you to inexpensively target underserved families (such as families impacted by mental illness) and increase the likelihood of connecting them with people in  your church who can help them take the next step toward worshiping in the physical presence of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

How might a mental health inclusion project use existing/developing resources for ministry online as part of a plan? Here are six ways that churches can use tools they’re already developing to reach…

  • Online Church 060115Worship services: As the cost of live streaming online video content continues to fall, more and more churches are making available online access to worship services in real time. Other churches are archiving the content of sermon messages on video hosting services like Vimeo. Facebook is now seeking to compete with YouTube for viewers (and advertising dollars) and at the time of this post allows page managers to upload videos of up to 45 minutes duration. If your church is producing video content, the mental health inclusion team might ask how that content could be used to help persons with mental illness and their families connect with the members and attendees of your church? How would use your video content to promote conversation and relationship?
  • Small group experiences: Videoconferencing technology has progressed to the point that interactive, online small groups represent a potentially effective strategy for including teens and adults in small groups when work or school demands or the lack of availability of child care would otherwise present insurmountable obstacles to group participation. We’ve seen the future and it works. How could you reach and include families your church isn’t currently serving (including families impacted by mental illness or trauma) through launching online groups?

Not every group needs to take place in real time. Private/closed online groups hosted on Facebook have been effective for our ministry in creating dialogues around topics of interest. As more churches offer adult education and Bible studies online through Facebook, blogs and other platforms, how would your church seek to engage and include families without a church home, including families impacted by mental illness?

  • Serving: Online ministry provides ample opportunity for “reverse inclusion.” How could your church’s volunteer team use people with a background in mental health or personal experience with mental illness through representing your church’s ministry online?
  • Prayer: Does your church have a prayer ministry? How could your inclusion team come alongside your church’s prayer ministry to extend themselves into the surrounding mental health community?

Our team realizes that thinking about mental health inclusion when online ministry technology is still in its’ infancy is more outside the experience of most church leaders than any other intervention we’ve discussed. We’re also convinced that online ministry offers the potential for contributing to an effective mental health ministry strategy where very few strategies exist. Here’s why…

  • Online ministry is outwardly-focused.
  • Online ministry provides an inexpensive opportunity for churches to overcome the relationship deficits common among many families impacted by mental illness.
  • Online ministry levels the playing field for persons who struggle with social anxiety or social communication.
  • Online ministry allows families to connect with church in a sensory environment of their choosing.
  • Online ministry eliminates the need for individuals and families to self-identify with a mental health disability in order to get the accommodations they might need to participate in a ministry event or activity.


Steve NilsWe’ve developed a resource page on the topic of online ministry that contains several video presentations from Key Ministry including video from two of the church’s most prominent thought leaders in online ministry (Nils Smith from Community Bible Church and Jay Kranda from Saddleback Church) and helpful links to just about every resource a church might need to learn more of how technology may be applied to reach families impacted by disability.

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.
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2 Responses to Online community…component of a mental health inclusion strategy?

  1. Monica Kirby says:

    I do hope you get a chance to “re-label” it. I struggled with directing people to on-line church with the fear of portraying the persona “we don’t want you in person so attend church online.” While I know that was not the heart of the intention, it did seem to be missing the relational draw. Thank yo for all you do! We will continue on our knees on your behalf as you keep standing in the gap. : )


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