10 Ways Churches Can Partner With Mental Health Services

Here’s a list of best practices describing how churches can make connections with local community mental health services.

Finding Partners

1. Identify Who in Your Church Works in the Mental Health Field.

The reason for this is that you can ask them to make connections for you with local mental health organizations. Having a person who works at the intersection of faith and mental health (one foot in the church and one foot in the system) will help you have someone who knows the resources and can make introductions for you to other potential partners.

2. Identify Local Organizations Such as Your Community Mental Health Center.

In many counties, there are multiple centers with at least one in each area of the county. Working at these centers will be psychiatrists, therapists, case managers, and other professionals and services. Knowing where this center is will allow you to reach out to them to partner. In addition to the advice in #1, a way to learn which center is local to you is to contact your county’s Office of Mental Health (or Behavioral Health) to find out what services are in your area.

3. Explore Whether There Are Any Local Faith-Based Organizations Serving People with Mental Health Struggles.

Many churches say that they “don’t know whom they can trust” when it comes to referring a congregant to a mental health professional. Due to this challenge, finding an organization or professional with a holistic vision of support will be invaluable both for referring needs (like employment or counseling) as well as receiving consultation and training. The only challenge here is that many Christian counseling organizations don’t have strong ties with the Public Mental Health system and, therefore, won’t be able to help you partner with serving many outside the church who are hurting.

Starting the Conversation

4. Ask Them About Them.

Most organizations want to tell you about their different resources. By starting the conversation with what you want to learn about them (rather than what you want to say about your church), you are more likely to get a responsive willingness to sit down and meet.

5. Offer to Help With Their Needs.

Instead of focusing on your agenda as a church, find out from the organization how your church might be helpful to them or the people they serve.

6. Be Bilingual.

Speak in a language that will make sense to unchurched human service professionals. For example, use words and phrases like “socialization” rather than “fellowship,” “service,” rather than “ministry,” “spirituality,” rather than “religion.” Speaking with a universal language will help you meet the person where they are. By speaking this way, the person may better understand what you offer isn’t just about your mission (making disciples and evangelism) but their purpose as well (community integration or integrated health). Paul models this use of culture-informed language in Acts 17.

Collaborate

7. Offer to Meet With Participants Interested in Exploring a Faith Community.

Most mental health professionals see the value in participants getting connected to a faith community but don’t know what faith communities exist in the area. By offering your help in speaking with participants who are already interested in a faith community, you are making the professional’s job more comfortable while also helping people who may be interested in exploring your church.

8. Offer to Provide Transportation for People—Whether it be to Your Church Gatherings or Other Locations.

Many people receiving services require transportation. The need for a ride creates an obstacle for organizations because they often can’t bill for transportation. When your congregants offer to help with transportation, you’re meeting the person’s needs and potentially helping someone explore your church and the gospel as well.

9. Reach Out For Consultation or Support When Someone in Your Church is Struggling.

For example, I have seen pastors and parishioners find it very helpful to call their county’s mobile crisis team when someone in their church is experiencing a crisis such as having thoughts of suicide.

10. Request Training For Your Church.

There are specific skills like suicide intervention (suicide first aid) that congregants should have to minister effectively to one another within a church. Local organizations may offer these skills and others. Training could include “Mental Health First Aid,” “Youth Mental Health First Aid,” “QPR – Question, Persuade, Refer,” and ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training). Churches must be trained in such matters since research shows that clergy and congregations are among the first places people go to for support when they’re in a mental health crisis.

This article was first published here. Rev. Dave Eckert, MDiv, CPRP, serves as Director of the Intersect Initiative, Access Services in Pennsylvania. You can reach him at deckert@accessservices.org.

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