The unchurched… Churches don’t welcome people with mental illness

Ed Stetzer and the crew at Lifeway Researchreleased data yesterday from a research project intended to help churches best minister to persons with mental illness. Ed’s blog post with a preliminary look at the data is available here, while the news release from Lifeway is available here.

I found the most striking the differences in perceptions between adults who don’t attend church and adults who attend worship services once a week or more on the topic of how welcoming local churches are to people with mental health issues…

Fifty-five percent of adults who don’t regularly attend church disagreed with the statement that most churches would welcome them if they had mental health issues, compared to 21% of weekly churchgoers.

There were other interesting findings from the study (telephone survey of 1,001 adults, conducted from September 6-10, 2013). 48% of Evangelical, fundamentalist or “born again” Christians believe prayer and Bible study alone can overcome serious mental illness depression, bipolar, schizophrenia) compared to 27% of all Americans.

Ponder this…as a psychiatrist, I strongly suspect the vast majority of adults with mental illness have prayed repeatedly for relief from their condition regardless of whether they attend church or not. If they’re not involved with a church where they’re exposed to good teaching that provides a Biblical context for why a loving God might not relieve their pain and tangible encouragement and support through a caring church family, there’s a good possibility they’ll become embittered and turn away from God forever.

Church… Think about this. 26% of the adult population in the U.S. has been diagnosed with mental illness…more than one in five adults and one in four women currently take medication for a mental health disorder. Over 20% of women take antidepressants. If we (conservatively) assume that half the U.S. population doesn’t attend church and a quarter of U.S. adults experience mental illness, we likely have a minimum of 25 million adults with mental illness who don’t attend church. If the majority of those 25 million adults believe they won’t be welcomed at church, WE HAVE A REALLY BIG PROBLEM.

Our crew at Key Ministry is here to help churches welcome families of kids with mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities.