Late this past summer, I received a call from Denise Petek, an experienced and highly regarded leader in the local special needs ministry community, currently serving as children’s ministry director at Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC). She was extending an invitation to meet with CVC’s leadership team to talk about mental health inclusion. I put together a very abbreviated version of the training we typically offer to churches, in which we highlight the extent to which mental health disabilities reduce the likelihood that families are able to attend church, introduce our model for mental health inclusion and talk about the process involved in developing an inclusion plan.
Did the staff and volunteers of CVC ever pick up the ball and run with it!
We don’t expect that a mental health inclusion plan is going to look exactly alike in any two churches. With that said, there are five marks of a mental health-informed church we would look for if a friend or family member in another city searching for a church they could attend with a loved one with a significant mental health condition.
The third of the five marks is that churches develop a mental health communication strategy. A LifeWay research study demonstrated a majority of unchurched adults disagreed with the opinion that churches would welcome them if they had a mental health issue. In our trainings, we often talk about the importance of changing perceptions of the church in the communities they serve with respect to mental illness. An especially powerful tool is for churches to create social media content for members and attendees to share with their friends and neighbors who might be struggling with mental illness.
This is a video that CVC shared last month during mental health awareness week. It’s the single best mental health-related post I’ve ever come across from a church. In the video, Rick Duncan (the founding pastor of CVC) extended a powerful welcome to individuals and families impacted by mental illness, addressed many of the hurtful comments they may have experienced at church, and spoke about the impact mental illness had upon his family. CVC’s media team shared this through Facebook and promoted the post to ensure it would be seen by as large an audience as possible.
As part of the inclusion planning process, I had been invited out to CVC this past Sunday by Denise to do a training for the church’s staff and volunteers in children’s and student ministry following their second service focused on helping them better serve kids with common mental health conditions. I headed out to the church early and was able to check out most of a worship service.
A related LifeWay study to the one I shared previously noted that families of adults with serious mental illness reported one of the most valuable supports their church could provide was for pastors and other leaders to talk regularly about mental illness so that existing stigma is diminished. A few minutes after I settled in, they shared this video with Chris Matetic (a graphic designer on staff at the church) in which he spoke of his experience with an anxiety disorder.
Chad Allen serves as the lead pastor at CVC. I happened to come on a Sunday when he was preaching the second message in a five-part series on what the Bible teaches about anxiety and the peace of God. In this message, Chad is on Matthew 6:25-34, addressing specifically our fears that our needs won’t be met.
I had learned from the church bulletin that CVC serves as a host site for mental health education and support groups offered by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and also hosts Celebrate Recovery. They also have a full-time Pastor of Care and Connections on staff who is a trained Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. They also announced several church meetings hosted by Dr. Walt Broadbent to talk about mental health-related issues and shared a Facebook video featuring Dr. Broadbent discussing the role of therapy and medication.
I found it most remarkable that over 75 staff and volunteers took the time on a Sunday afternoon while the Browns were playing at home 15 minutes down the road to come learn about including and supporting kids in their ministry with emotional and behavioral challenges.
I met with the leadership team on September 19th. The service I attended took place on November 10th. When I think about our five marks of a mental health-informed church and apply them to CVC…
- An intentional mental health inclusion planning process. Check.
- Educating staff, volunteers and members about the impact of mental illness. Check.
- Implementing a mental health communication strategy. Check. Check. Gold Star!
- Offering practical help to individuals and families impacted by mental illness. Check.
- Hosting mental health education and support groups. Check.
I think I left feeling more encouraged than anyone else in the worship service. I don’t often get the opportunity to attend worship services at churches where our ministry has offered consultation or training. I wrote a book describing a model for doing mental health ministry without having ever truly seen what it looks like. God gave me the privilege of seeing it in action last Sunday at CVC.
In Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions, Dr. Stephen Grcevich presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles. The book is also designed to be a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.