I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Steve Grcevich of Key Ministry.  Dr. Steve is helping churches learn how to minister to people with disabilities including mental health. 

He shares about what moved him to begin his mission of connecting churches with families of kids who have physical and mental disabilities. 

  • Different scenarios and social interactions in church that trigger the anxiety in kids and families.
  •  Barriers that make it more difficult for kids and families to be part of the church.
  • How to help kids and families with anxiety and other mental health issues feel welcomed and included in church.
  • Communication strategies and inclusion plan to help people feel more welcome in church.

Links and Resources

Key Ministry
Book: Mental Health and the Church

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Transcript of Episode 25

Hope for Anxiety and OCD episode 25.  Today, I had the privilege of interviewing Dr. Steven Grcevich. I believe that’s how you say his last name. He also told me I could call him Dr. Steve. Dr. Steve is going to tell us about a ministry that God laid on his heart to start that helps churches know how to reach and effectively minister to people with a wide variety of disabilities including mental health. So without further ado, let’s get into the interview. 

Carrie: Tell us a little bit about yourself.

Dr. Steve: Carrie, thanks so much for having me on your podcast. I wear a lot of different hats. So in my tentmaking job, I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist. So I’m with physicians. I went to medical school, actually, I got accepted into medical school when I was 17 years old. It’s a little bit of a Doogie Howser kind of thing through an accelerated program. I have a private practice in suburban Cleveland. I teach at a couple of different medical schools, the child psychiatry fellows. I helped teach evidence-based medicine to medical students. Again, maintain a practice. I do some training for Mental Health Professionals and some of the surrounding counties. And then the other thing that probably takes up about half of my time is that almost 20 years ago, I was involved with starting Key Ministry, which I think we’re going to talk a little bit about today. 

Carrie: So, how did you get to that place of seeing a need for key ministries or a desire to start that?

Dr. Steve: This is probably about 25 years ago. I was on the elder board at my church. This is mid-1990s after the fall of the iron curtain.  We had a whole cohort of families who went over to Russia and Bulgaria and adopted some kids with some really complex emotional behavioral, developmental issues, trauma out of orphanages in Russian Bulgaria after the fall of the iron curtain.

And I’m sitting at an elder board meeting and the person who at the time was our children’s ministry director ended up on our ministry board later on down the road. I came in to do a presentation to talk about some of the struggles that these families were having in terms of staying engaged with church. As you can imagine that these were folks who had been very devoted, highly committed. These are people who are volunteering. They’re serving in leadership roles.

And then kids with other mood disorders kind of in that order. And so not like anything that we would go ahead and submit to a journal or as some sort of formal study. Over the next three months, I just did a survey of families as they were coming through the office for routine follow-ups.

There was one question, “what impact did the challenges that brought you and your child to our practice have on your ability to participate at your church or place of worship?” And I was floored by some of the stories that we started to hear. One in particular that was really memorable was that there was a family that I was seeing where they had a couple of little boys with pretty severe ADHD.

They started describing to me sort of what their experience was like going out, trying to find a church for their family on the west side of Cleveland with these two boys in town. Interestingly enough, they ended up at our church. And we’re giving their testimony at one of the services, talking about the impact that the supports that our children’s ministry was able to offer it had on their family. And the comment that the mom made is the people in the church oftentimes think they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins. And so we oftentimes find that when we have kids with different emotional behavioral issues, and in my practice, I see this a lot, where kids who are anxious oftentimes manifests in anger, moodiness, and irritability.

I’m sitting there, listen to this stuff became obvious that there was an issue. And as God would go about orchestrating things around that time, I had one of the three original research grants for Adderall, which became the most commonly used medicine in kids with ADHD.

I got asked to travel around the country, do a lot of lectures to different medical groups, physician groups. And in the introduction, wherever I went I would say something about the work that our church was starting to do with families who were having some of these kinds of struggles. And the church started getting inundated with requests for help. Basically, Key Ministry came about.

Our current mission statement is that our mission is to help connect churches and families of kids with disabilities, for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. At the core of that, and sort of our original focus on what we saw as the unmet need was that our focus was on helping churches welcome and include families of kids with quote, unquote hidden disabilities, emotional behavioral, developmental neurologic conditions where the disability wouldn’t be obvious, say in a still photograph of that child. Johnny is just an absolutely wonderful lady. She did great work in terms of helping folks with physical disabilities be part of that. Around that time, the early two-thousands, we began getting like more and more awareness of some of the challenges. For example, families face when they had kids on the autism spectrum as more and more kids got diagnosed.

So, the next wave of this is that churches became very proficient or many of them became proficient. There were good models for serving families where they had kids who quote-unquote special needs. Basically kids with more severe intellectual or developmental disabilities, but by far and away, like if you take a look at the child population in the United States, 75% of kids with disabilities have primary mental health disabilities.

And there’s some fascinating research that came out a couple of years ago. Andrew Whitehead, who was a sociologist at Clemson University, went through about a quarter-million interviews with parents from three waves of the National Children’s Health survey. It’s done every two to three years by the federal government.

This is where they get these statistics that like one in 46 kids has autism, stuff like that. And interestingly enough, one of the questions that they ask as part of this is, “has your family attended a church or a place of worship at any point in the last year?” And what they found was that families who had a kid on the autism spectrum were 84% less likely than other families unimpacted by disabilities to ever set foot in a church. But it was 72% for families where they had a child with depression, 55% for kids with a disruptive behavior disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, conduct disorder, and 45% when we’re talking about kids with anxiety disorders. There’s actually 19% for kids with ADHD. In comparison to that, when they looked at other disabilities, like for example, Tourette’s disorder, kids with intellectual disabilities that didn’t have much of an impact in terms of church attendance at all.

And so when you start talking about sheer numbers and so in the population we serve, children and teens, probably about one in 10 meets criteria for a significant anxiety disorder. The number of kids and families who are impacted by these mental health concerns is far, far larger than the number of families who struggle with what we have traditionally referred to in the church as special needs.

So within the context of what we do in our ministry, there’s a lot of stuff that we do that we put on an annual basis. We couldn’t do it last year because of COVID, but the largest disability ministry conference in the United States.

We have a group that we moderate for 2100 special needs and disability ministry leaders from around the country. So we do all kinds of training consultation, offer all kinds of free support to churches.

My role specifically had been to work on developing a model for churches that are interested in doing mental health inclusion. So we have other folks on our team who will consult and work with, again churches that are looking to serve kids with sort of the traditional intellectual developmental disabilities.

[00:10:44] My piece has been developing a mental health inclusion model that churches can follow if they want to serve this larger population of families. That is probably, and it’s interesting, there’s guy Lamar Hardwick who’s up. Fascinatingly, he’s an African-American pastor of a mixed-race church in Atlanta who was diagnosed with autism in his mid-thirties, wrote this book called Disability in the Church.

And one of the points that Lamar made is that the largest minority group in the United States are individuals and families affected by disability. With all the conversations that are going on in terms of talking about diversity and the need for our churches to become more diverse, one of the places we need to start is by thinking about folks who have this range of conditions. Where many of them, the presence of their mental health condition or the presence of a family with that condition has made it impossible for them to be part of church.

Carrie: Can you talk a little bit more about that as far as what specific things were they encountering that were keeping them from being able to go to church? Like lack of feeling welcome maybe because their child had a disability or just their child being too anxious to be in a group setting. 

Dr. Steve: So what if we take a look at sort of mental health, if we think about sort of mental health collectively as a whole, in the model that we put together, part of what we train churches around is the idea of there being seven barriers. The first one is stigma. In that, for example, there was a study. This is maybe six or seven years old from Lifeway research, where when they interviewed quote-unquote unchurched adults, 55% of them endorsed the notion that people with mental illness aren’t welcome at church. 

Carrie: That is so sad. 

Dr Steve: And interestingly, in some of maybe the more theologically conservative denominations that are more focused on outreach and inclusion, like going back to theological devotee, sixties, seventies, and eighties tend to be the ones that have less insight and less understanding about the nature of mental illness. But no, this stuff is not necessarily a sin problem. There are things that people are born with. And as you know, in your practice, that there are ways in like the lives of individual people who wrestle with this so that there are ways that God uses this stuff in terms of drawing people into closer relationships and deeper relationships. So the churches that are most interested oftentimes in doing outreach and inclusion are the ones that in some instances are the places where maybe mental health concerns tend to be more stigmatized. So that’s the first one. 

The second one is anxiety. And I would argue that that in and of itself. Of all these barriers that’s probably the most common one and the anxiety disorders out of all the different mental health disorders are the ones that are most likely to keep the most people out of church. But we’ll talk about that a little more in detail. 

The third has to do with executive functioning and self-control. Pretty much every mental health condition that you think of ultimately, or to some degree will impact people’s capacity to self-regulate emotions, to modulate impulse control, to be able to plan to exercise self-discipline. And folks with conditions like ADHD would be sort of the prototype of this.

Again, there are many other mental health conditions, significantly impacted. If you’re a family and if you have a kid who has a hard time sitting still, or not shouting out in the middle of a worship service. I had a very memorable case. This was a family that came from out of State to see me.

This may be 15 or 20 years ago where the father was a Southern Baptist pastor in Appalachian, West Virginia, Virginia, somewhere like that, where he came up to see me. And actually, his family doc gave him the money to come on up to our practice where they had adopted a little boy who had pretty severe issues with ADHD and impulse control or aggressiveness.

Shortly after they adopted this five-year-old boy, he punched the son of the guy who was the chair of the elder board. And they fired the father for not having appropriate spiritual control over his family when it was obvious that they adopted this kid who had been through very traumatizing situations.

But when you think about like in the Bible and you think about scripture, like the book of James, self-control is very closely acquainted with sort of godliness and spiritual maturity. Ability to demonstrate that especially for kids becomes like really important. If they’re going to be able to fit into a lot of activities at church.

The fourth is sensory processing. Folks think about this as being an issue with folks on the autism spectrum, but it turns out that folks with pretty much every condition and DSM can experience issues with sensory stimulation. And it’s particularly common, in addition, autism among folks with anxiety disorders and ADHD.

And so that for some people like the bright lights, the very loud music, the very sort of stimulating worship environments. You see in a lot of the contemporary churches, for some folks becomes absolutely overwhelming to the point that it’s aversive. 

The fifth is social communication. We think about churches by nature are intensely social places.

And so if you’re somebody where maybe you feel uncomfortable with self-disclosure with other people or you have a more difficult time picking up on tone of voice, inflection of voice, body language, facial expressions, you’re really going to struggle in terms of like the interpersonal stuff that goes with those being active at church. 

The sixth is social isolation because as you know, think about folks with common mental health conditions, people with depression isolate, oftentimes as a symptom of that depression. Folks with social anxiety oftentimes they’re going to avoid situations where they’re going to come in contact with and meet a lot of people and make a lot of new friends. Families who have kids with mental health issues.

The kids are less likely to be involved with athletic activities are less likely to be involved in extracurricular activities. They are less likely to be in situations where they meet other families who will invite them to church. Not to mention the fact that for a lot of the kinds of families that like your practice serve and that we serve, mental health treatment can be fairly expensive.

And a lot of times, I mean that there are lots of treatment costs that these families are incurring either for themselves, for their children, and either finding babysitters or childcare is too expensive. Or when you have a kid where you just can’t let any 14 year old down the street come over and watch them. It was very hard to become part of the social fabric of your neighborhood or the community. 

And then the seventh one is past experiences of church because I don’t know about you, but about 30 minutes into child psychiatry school, I think I figured out that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree and that the kids who have these struggles oftentimes have parents who have these struggles.

And so part of the challenges is if the parent had an issue that kept them from being part of church, when they were younger, it’s highly unlikely that any of their children in particular kids who may have a similar mental health condition are going to be part of church. So those would be sort of the big ones that we ask churches to think about. Stigma, anxiety, executive functioning of self-control, sensory processing, social communication, social isolation, and past experiences at church. 

Carrie: One thing I will say about that, that’s interesting is there’s this thing with church, it seems like with leadership and wanting to reach people where you either get one of two situations with a church.

You either walk in the door and it’s almost like everybody attacks you. Like you have the football like it’s “so we’re so excited to see you and, oh, it’s such a great day. Have a good Sunday. Here’s your bulletin.” You know that you either get that response or you kind of sneak in the door and then you sneak out the door and no one talks to you. But then maybe you go home and you go, “No one talked to me at church today” you know, I guess they really don’t care about me.” So how do churches like find this balance and this fine line between reaching people and letting them know that they’re loved and cared for in that environment without overwhelming them? 

Dr. Steve: One of the first things that we try to help churches to do, because the level of understanding, again, from church to church, depending upon what kind of education the pastors have had, the people who are serving on staff at that church can vary so much. One of the places that we’ll start is by helping to kind of educate them about some of the things that they would anticipate being struggles in folks with common mental health issues and to kind of try to put them in their shoes here. I’ll give you an example of a little exercise that we would use as sort of like a little starter, like if we’re going in and if our team we’re doing a big training or if we were training an individual. 

Let’s imagine that Samantha’s family lives down the street from your church. Samantha’s a single mom. She has a nine-year-old son and a seven-year-old daughter. The nine-year-old son got invited to vacation Bible school loves it, wants to go church every week and is begging mom to take the family to church. The nine year old son has ADHD and dyslexia. His seven-year-old sister has a separation anxiety disorder and the mom has social anxiety disorder and agoraphobia.

Think about all of the potential places where something could go wrong and where they might encounter a problem the first time that they would go to attend a church. And so one of the ways I talk about this with families in our practice on the church leaders is that as you know from a lot of the research has been done in terms of neuroimaging. To try and understand what’s different in the brain in folks who struggle with anxiety disorders is that we know that they’re basically hardwired to overestimate or distort the level of risk involved with entering into new or unfamiliar situations.

And so think about what that’s like if you’re visiting a church for the first time. For their family, one of the places that’s going to start is I would bet that mom is going to be looking on that church’s website before she even thinks about putting her kids in the car and going, because the kinds of things she might be worried about would be, “Am I going to stand out?

Will I be dressed differently than everyone else? Will my kids be dressed differently than anyone else?” But there are enough sort of strange stories floating around. It’s interesting, my son-in-law and my daughter in medical school, down in Alabama. And I heard stories from my son-in-law when he first moved down there, it was like looking for a church and, “oh, he was a newcomer.”

And so everybody stood up in the church and came around him to lay hands on him, to welcome him. Yes. So again, if you’re a mom with social anxiety, even the most remote prospect of something like that, or having somebody walking around during prayer time, handing you a microphone, and asking you to introduce yourself, it would be terribly overwhelming.

So you get over that. You figure out how you’re going to dress and you get to church. How many social interactions does mom have to navigate the first time she goes before, she herself, is able to go into the worship center and sit down. So you have the greeter in the parking lot. You probably have like the greeter or the person at the main entrance or the entrance for children. Now because of there for the first time, she has to register both of her kids.

So that there’s like the children’s ministry volunteers who are at like the check-in and the worship center. And of course, they’re going to want to introduce them to the volunteer people who are teaching their Sunday school class. And maybe if the church isn’t too large, probably the guy, the children’s pastor or the student pastors probably going to come over and want to introduce themselves.

So by the way, when the daughter finds out that the expectation is that she will be hanging out with like other girls in the first or second grade Sunday school class, and not with mom on the other end of the building in the worship service, the daughter starts to have a meltdown because of her anxiety at the prospect of being apart from mom.

So by this time, they’re already like five minutes into the worship service, Mom gets to the worship center. And mom with agoraphobia finds there are only middle seats open in the front five rows in the worships. 

And then is there some time during the service where people are expected, like pre-COVID to greet each other and people are shaking hands and hugging on your way out. You have people who are a lot of places have like a welcome center for like new visitors. If you fill out the card, somebody may go ahead and give you a phone call afterwards.

And what if you find out that like people who joined the church, one of the things that you’re expected to do is you’re expected to very shortly thereafter become part of a small group with a group of total strangers in which there’s an expectation for folks to disclose fairly personal things. That’s why you tend not to see so many anxious people oftentimes at church.

And so part of what we’re doing when we’re working with churches is that, in contrast, to something like special needs ministry or something that’s a standalone program. This is not a program. This is a mindset. And so that we’re trying to get pastors and folks on staff at churches to understand some of the things that are going to get in the way, because like the best inclusion strategies are going to be things that are going to help everybody.

And in particular, one of the reasons why the ways that we had traditionally done disability ministry didn’t work and don’t work for the folks that we’re talking about is it the last thing that my patients want to do is to be part of something that’s going to single them out as being different.

And in fact, my kids and teens, what they want more than anything else to be treated just like everybody else. So, you can’t put them in a special needs ministry or you can’t expect the folks who we’re working with kids with autism or developmental disabilities to have a good handle on what do you do with the kid with profound social anxiety or the kid on the autism spectrum with 147 IQ who has no social skills and is very awkward in terms of how they interact with other folks.

Carrie: Have you had churches that did certain things to help with kind of getting people through that front door. That’s probably the scariest part is kind of the whole process of entering the worship area for the first time, dropping off your kids, those types of things that you just mentioned. What does that look like in a more anxiety sensitive, I guess. 

Dr. Steve: Okay. So coming back to like what we were talking about before. The more people with anxiety can visualize an experience, especially if they’re going to an unfamiliar place, the easier it may be for them to be able to get over that hurdle. So one of the things that we talk about when we’re working with churches and one of the components of what we have them think about doing is a communication strategy.

One component of that is to take a look at your website. And you want as many pictures, video. You want folks who are exploring the website to be able to have a good picture in their mind of what it is that they’re going to be able to experience. And so this is where this would be especially true is that I have kids in my practice where for example, they’re okay at going to church. And by the way, one of the ways that you figure out who the anxious kids are at church is walking into the worship center of the sanctuary, like when it’s time for the sermon and see who’s still sitting next to their parents. That’s probably like a pretty good bet. I have kids where maybe they can get to church and, you know, they can sit with mom or dad, but the prospect of going to like Sunday school would be overwhelming.

One really memorable kids. So there was in like third grade. This ADHD separation anxiety, some dyslexia kid ended up doing well with some cognitive behavioral therapy ended up in a private school that specializes in working with kids with learning differences. Didn’t hear anything from the family for three years.

Kid is in sixth grade and at the church where the family’s going, he’s not part of Sunday school, but he is going every Sunday with mom and dad. And the biggest event of the year for middle-school ministry was this weekend retreat. And the mom and dad were friends with the middle school pastor who put a great deal of pressure on them to have their child go.

Well, the kid was still struggling with lots of separation anxiety. And when the kid came home one day and considerably larger at this point, when mom informed them that they needed to go to the retreat, the kid became extremely agitated and aggressive. And if mom’s brother had to have just happened to drop by the house, this boy was so upset that she might’ve gotten seriously hurt.

So, the kid has separation anxiety. If we added the details that the middle school retreat is for a full weekend on an island in the middle of Lake Erie that you can only reach by ferry that only runs during the daytime. Can you imagine?

Carrie:  There’s all these barriers.

Dr.Steve: Yeah. So for example when you’re asking people to do something, that’s like a little out of the ordinary.

So with a middle school retreat or a high school retreat, or like churches where people go on mission trips, the same thing applies that an anxious kid would want to know. What am I going to be doing? Where am I going to be eating? Where am I going to be sleeping? Or they’re going to, you know, are they cabins?

Are there going to be bugs around? What’s going to be happening all day long? So that, to the extent that you can go ahead and help folks to visualize that whether they’re serving in a soup kitchen or going on like a weekend or like a week-long retreat to like Appalachia, or whether it’s like two days with other kids from middle school and high school. The more you can envision of what you’re going to be experienced and the more you can prepare folks the better. So, the same thing when you think about this with, in terms of say kids who might be dealing with some degree of anxiety. Making sure that you have maybe other kids around who are greeters, who come from a number of different schools.

So the kids are likely to see familiar faces when they come in the same way. Like for example, I think about some of our kids with anxiety who have difficulty transitioning when they’re going to a new school. Giving them the ability to come and check the church out, maybe in the middle of the week, when there aren’t a lot of people around and either to like meet in person or maybe meet by video their Sunday school teacher so that, here’s where your room is at.

Here’s where you’re going to be going. Here’s what you’ll be doing. The more preparation you can do with someone, for example, who struggles with anxiety, the easier time they’re going to have with it. 

Carrie: These are really good ideas. I think in terms of being able to visualize things I used to have before COVID and I went fully online.

I used to have all kinds of pictures on my website of the office. And I actually paid a professional photographer to come in and take pictures so that people could kind of see the journey from literally like the parking lot to the waiting area, to the hallway where my office was in the suite.

And it was really neat because the photographer actually told me that whenever his wife goes to a new restaurant, she looks up the pictures online just to kind of familiarize herself with the area. And I thought that that was really interesting. So, I think it’s a great idea for churches to use things like pictures or videos, which is a pretty simple solution.

To snap some different pictures and put it on the website to help people feel more welcome or they know what to expect when they’re walking in the door. 

Dr Steve: Yeah, I would add, I mean, there’s some very simple things that churches can do in terms of implementing a communication strategy that are very helpful when you’re dealing with families that are impacted by anxiety, other mental health conditions. In an earlier Lifeway survey, when they asked family members of adults with serious mental illness what they most wanted from their churches was for their pastor to talk about mental health-related topics from the pulpit. It gives everybody else permission to talk about it.

There was a fairly large, interestingly enough, Southern Baptist church here in Northern Ohio that we worked with, who they ended up developing an inclusion plan, where they won the regional award for cultural competence from the National Alliance for Mental illness.

So like some of the things that they did speaking into this is that they did a five-week teaching series on what the Bible has to say about anxiety to address the issue of people feeling more comfortable about self-disclosing. I was there on a Sunday at their worship services because I was training about 75 of their children and student ministry volunteers about how, what they could be doing in terms of interacting, including kids in their ministry.

So I went to a worship service and they ended up renting a video about three minutes long that day with one of the guys who was in their worship band, who talked about his experience with panic attacks and how that impacted his faith for a period of time and how he worked through it. The guy who is a founding pastor of the church did this wonderful. It’s about five minutes long. It was a Facebook video that they produced specifically for folks in the congregation of the church to share with their friends and neighbors who might be struggling. And he started off, “Hi, I’m Rick Duncan. I’m the founding pastor of Kyla Belly Church. And I want you to know that those of you who are struggling with mental health concerns are welcome at our church.

My father was a pastor. He struggled with depression. We know what this is like.” So something as simple as that, that that’s. So de-stigmatizing put in the hands of the people of the church to share it with their friends and neighbors who they know are wrestling with this. I mean, they’ve done a fabulous job. So, in addition, they have, they actually have a licensed therapist

who’s on staff at the church to be able to see folks who have issues. They have a celebrate recovery group. They offered NAMI groups. We are seeing like churches in our area. There are a couple of wonderful ministries that we work with. One is called Fresh Hope and the other one’s called Mental Health Grace Alliance. Where there are now networks like hundreds of churches that are doing Christian-based mental health support groups for teens, college students, and adults with mental health issues and support for their families.

And so, I mean, it’s just wonderful to see the way that like the resources are exploding. And, and I think that it helps that there probably enough folks on staff at churches with personal experience of this firsthand. That they get how it can be an issue for other people.

Carrie: I love that. I love that because what you said about. Some things being said from the pulpit or from the stage, it gives permission for everyone else to talk about it. And if we don’t talk about these things in the church, it just makes us feel like, okay, well we just, we just don’t talk about that here. It’s kinda like parents when they don’t talk to their kids about sex.

It’s just kind of like, well, that’s a taboo subject, I guess that’s off the table. And we don’t realize a lot of times how impactful that is. And especially because too often, we put people in leadership on pedestal pedestals and think they don’t have any problems, but they have problems too just like everyone else.

They have struggle and sin and things that God’s working on in their life. It’s so powerful when we’re able to have authentic vulnerability in the church. And I hate that so many times there’s too many barriers to respite to be able to do that. But it’s life-changing when that happens in a positive and healthy way. Too many of these things that you listed and this, the seven things, really keep us from being able to connect in community with other believers, the way that God has designed us to be in community and to stay connected and to grow closer to God and grow closer to each other.

Tell us about a little bit about your book, the Mental Health and the Church. 

Dr. Steve: Okay. So mental health of the church is basically sort of the detailed version of our inclusion model that we share with churches. The first part of that, we talk about that there are seven specific barriers that oftentimes make it more difficult for families and individuals impacted by mental health illness. 

We also give them seven. We also give them seven specific strategies or ways that they can like, think about how they might think about like responding. And so that, so that some of the things that are like really essential would be like having the church commit.

That they’re going to do an inclusion plan and that there’d be some education of the leaders of the church. The second has to do with the little acronym is teacher. So the first is setting up an inclusion team. The second is looking at sort of the ministry environments or the nature of the physical spaces in which ministry takes place.

So are there ways of making them more sensory-friendly? Are there ways, for example, to design we’re involved with a church where we were like helping them redo their middle school and high school ministry area so that kids who have attention issues would take away more from the teaching and the experiences that they have?

A stands for focusing on activities that are most essential to spiritual growth. So that if you want folks to be in part in a small group, it’s very important to train the leaders of your small groups, in terms of like how you welcome someone who might have issues with anxiety or someone who might be withdrawn because they’re struggling a little at that point in time with the exacerbation of depression.

C has to do with the communication strategy we touched on. H has to do with offering practical helps that in the Lifeway study. 

One of the largest disconnects between what pastors believed about their churches and what family said about their churches was that most pastors believed that their church had a current list of mental health facilities and professionals that they could refer people to. But 70% of families said that that wasn’t the case. One of the things that like the church that I go to does is that before COVID we had large respite events where we would have like 85 kids at the church on a Friday night. And probably the majority of them had a primary mental health issue, where again, the parents were able to get an evening out and then.

Our most popular blog post a couple of years ago was entitled, We had no casseroles. And it was about 60 minutes segment that was done, where they were talking about the struggles that parents in Virginia were having like the teens and young adults getting mental health service. And so the whoever from 60 minutes was interviewing the one mom and she goes, “You know, when our 13-year-old daughter broke her leg in a skiing accident and was in the hospital for a week for surgery every single night, somebody from our church brought us food. Six months later, when she overdosed and was on a psychiatric ward of the local hospital, we had no casseroles.” And so like, why do we, as the church think about like treating those things so differently.

So what are some practical things that we can do to help them? There is education and support, offering like a fresh hope group, offering like a grace group through Mental Health Grace Alliance, having NAMI doing their education and family support groups, making sure that the folks who are in leadership positions in the church get the training they need to understand.

And then our has to do with releasing your people for ministry. For this to work, folks on staff at churches have so much on their plate that they’re overwhelmed that the people need to take ownership of this because God has positioned all of us in terms of where we work, where we go to school in our neighborhoods. We all know people who struggle with.

And I actually think the best inclusion plan is having a trusted friend coming alongside you the first few times that you go to a church. Who can help to navigate the overly exuberant door greeters and some of the other challenges and help their friends and help their loved ones to be able to navigate some of the things that might make them a little more uncomfortable.

Carrie: Yeah, that’s good. That’s really good. I think all of this information is really helpful and I’m glad that you started this ministry and God put it on your heart because I’m sure it’s grown and there continues to be a need for it as more churches are becoming open to how can we include all people.

As we’re winding down towards the end here, at the end of every podcast I like our guests to share a story of hope, which is a time in which you received hope from God or another person. 

Dr. Steve: Well, I think that the thing that brings me the most hope is seeing the way some of the churches that we serve and other like-minded ministry servers are embracing and understanding this cause. That when we started doing this, there, I mean, there’s literally nothing out there that we have a group that we moderate for mental health inclusion, ministry leaders that not as several hundred members. We’re seeing churches implement plans and we’re seeing them welcome more people.

We’re into the hundreds now in terms of churches that are hosting Grace groups and, and, and, and, and hosting fresh hope groups. And when we get invited to like different conferences and have the opportunity to train, there are more people signing up for this mental health stuff than for any of the other things on the program, but these conferences.

And so it’s really encouraging that after a very long time when we see churches get it. I was at a very large church, training over 200 volunteers, one weekend it’s a church people would be familiar with that was very interested in doing this. And so I stayed for worship on Sunday and it was interesting because the lead pastor wasn’t there, but he knew what was going on. At the beginning of the worship service, he starts it off by saying “I’d like to start by praying for anyone who’s with us today who might be struggling with depression.” He didn’t have to do a whole sermon on it, but simply by doing, just simply by saying something like that the folks who were there that day, who may have been wrestling with stuff knew that they would be welcome and knew that it was okay to talk about.

Carrie: That’s good. That is very hopeful. Thank you for coming on and sharing your wisdom. And I’ll put all the links in the show notes to Key Ministries and the book and how people can get in contact with you. 

Dr Steve: Well, yeah, that would be awesome. And you know, I’d like to get together and say, hello. My daughter goes to Belmont University in Nashville, and she’s hoping to become a psychologist.

We have issues with anxiety and depression and things like that. So, I do get a chance to be in your neck of the woods fairly often. Ms. Carrie. 

Carrie: You’re welcome to sit down with me for lunch anytime. We’ll get together. 

Dr Steve: I’ll look forward to it. Thank you. 


My hope really for this episode is for people to share this type of information with their pastor or ministry leaders, small group leaders, children’s ministry leaders.

Your church really may not know that this help and support is available. And so this episode may be an open door for you to start to talk with the people in your congregation about some of your own mental health struggles. So, if it helps to share the episode with them and say, Hey, sometimes this is my experience at church.

I hope that this episode helps you do that as well. So I promised for our 25th episode that I would be giving something away and I am, I am giving a $25 Amazon gift card away to one of our email subscribers. So if you’re saying, “Carrie, how do I get on the email list?” It’s super easy. You go to www.hopeforanxietyandocd.com.

There’ll be a box up at the top where you can put in your name, and your email address, and then you will automatically get a free relaxation download. It’s something that I use with clients that people have found particularly helpful. You have two weeks to become a subscriber to qualify for the Amazon gift card.

And I will be letting the winner know by email and also posting about it on Facebook and Instagram as always. Thank you so much for listening. 

Hope for anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing is completed Benjamin Bynam. Until next time.  May be comforted by God’s geat love for you.