Part of the responsibility of the local church is to care for people. People inside and people outside.
What that looks like and how that works, is different for churches of various sizes and contexts. The most important thing is to put in place a plan. A system that will allow you to serve the people who look to you with countless expectations. The purpose of this article is to help give you a framework for it.
The truth that no pastor wants to hear is – YOU CANNOT DO EVERYTHING. No matter how large you are, it is impossible to be able to do everything. That is why partnership is of great importance. Most of the “care” that you provide must be done creatively with partnerships with experts who focus on a particular area of care and social services.
Don’t be ashamed to refer. Don’t think that if you refer you will “lose a person” to another ministry or church. In fact, most people who are referred grow closer bonds to the person who referred them in the first place.
Nothing runs smoothly without ownership. In each of the areas of care that your church offers, you must give ownership to a staff member or a volunteer person. If its not being done well, change ownership.
Budget and Boundaries
You must set a budget for care that is appropriate to the size of church you have. If you don’t, care can eat 50% or more of your church budget. You must set boundaries of what you are able to do as a church that is equitable and fair for all who turn to you for need. While you will need to be flexible to help one person over another, you need to set guidelines for staff and volunteer people.
Make it simple. For example: gift cards are easier that food pantries.
I have found that if you divide care in the following categories, it makes it easier for you to put in place a system, assign people, and create manuals to help run your process. Below each one I have given you examples of strategies to adequately care for your people.
Food – Some churches operate food pantry’s or keep gift cards on hand for those who are in need of food. Decide what you will do and who will oversee this area. Decide how much to give and how many times. Decide how this is administered. If you refer out, partner with other social services like food banks or private agencies like the Salvation Army who can also help.
Clothing – Some churches operate clothing racks. Decide if this is you or if there is a local thrift shop that you can partner with to help with vouchers per donation. Also work with outside agencies who can help.
Shelter – There are a variety of types of shelter available. I would not recommend referring to local congregation members to provide this service due to liability issues. I would recommend partnering with local shelters in case there is a need for this.
Financial Help – We make it a policy to offer goods or gift cards but never cash that could be spent for other things. We have paid one time bills that people have who we know are in desperate need. The key is to put a policy in place in accordance with your budget.
Furniture – Local furniture banks often help people in need. Develop a partnership with a local organization rather than trying to meet this need on your own.
Health Care – While health care is free in Canada, people often run into situations where they have needs outside of government services. These can be quite costly. We try to connect people to outside services or a list of professionals in our church / christian community who offer discounted or complimentary services. Build a list of these people – especially dentists and optometrists and glasses dispensaries. Do not abuse the generosity of these people.
Detox & Rehab – Build a relationship with your local detox centre that is government funded. Do build a relationship with a christian rehab centre for adults and teen rehab. I highly recommend as a church that you find ministries like Teen Challenge and Freedom Villiage and support them through Missions. You can then call on them when you have need.
The key to all mental / spiritual counselling and care is to develop a tiered approach to create maximum impact. Don’t do it all one way – otherwise you or your care pastor will get tired and become ineffective.
List – Develop a list of all the areas that you need to help with and how you will do it. Lay good paths out with good solutions. Pre Marriage, Marriage, Post Marriage, Young Children, Teen Children, Empty Nesters, Addictions, Depression, Death, Disorders, Identity, Anger Management, etc.
Conferences – Be preventative by hosting or partnering with conferences that focus on marriage, raising children, financial management, etc. You can prevent a lot of reactionary care by connecting with Dave Ramsay, Focus on the Family, Family Dynamics, Marriage Enrichment, Marriage Today, Plan and Prepare, etc. You don’t have to do all the work. Simply advertise the opportunity and partner with someone doing the work.
Resources – Offer a connection to resources for married couples, parents, etc through connections to outside resources that will pour into their lives. Several ministries offer magazines, e-zines, email updates, and more that people can sign up for. These resources are great preventative measures to decrease counselling needs.
Support Groups – Outside: There are a variety of outside support groups that you can partner with to help you build a care network for your church. Celebrate Recovery, Exodus Canada, Dave Ramsay, Focus on the Family, Living Waters, NACR, Alcoholics Victorious, 12 steps for Christians, 2equal1.com, GreifShare and more. Inside: If you feel called as a church to start support groups inside your church, many of these same organizations can help you. Also connect with your denominational centres and other pastors in your region. You may be able to partner with them and they may be able to point you to organization that can help.
Building Teams that Lead Small Groups – One of ways that you distribute the call of care is to create teams who are trained to take care of specific issues. You can build a team for marriage preparation, marriage enrichment, helping teens, helping with sexual identity. This provides a long term solution in partnership with outside organizations. There are organizations that also train prayer ministry teams (cleansing flow, healing house ministries) and ones that will train skilled people in counselling at beginners level (http://www.biblicalcounseling.com, http://www.emergeeducation.org)
Pastoral Counselling – Develop a system for pastoral counselling for those trained. A specific length of time you meet, appointment times, number of recurrences, threshold of topics comfortable with, intake form and release forms with clear expectations of those getting counselling, referral network in place, adequate training.
Professional Counselling – With your budget in mind, develop an alliance with outside counsellors who can provide professional counselling for your congregation. You may be able to develop an internal fund to supplement counselling costs for those in great need. Try to find local counsellors whose services can be paid for by workplace employee benefits.
Visitation & Prayer Team – Develop a visitation / prayer teams. Put training in place about visitation times, locations, methods of bringing goods, etc.
Emergency Line – Develop a care system voice mail system that people can call / leave a message to receive care. Voicemails can be sent by email to person “on call”. This elevates pastors from 24 hr care but provides prayer support and a system for supporting people in need as well as a trained intake worker to figure out the situation.