Let me first say, this is a very sensitive subject. Suicide is gaining more and more public press with high profile people in the media spotlight committing suicide. Along with that, mental health is becoming more of a normalized topic where people feel they can openly talk about this as we demystify suicide and get the facts about it. If you are worried about yourself or others struggling with suicide, please familiarize yourself with several resources to help support you. Further, if you know someone has suicidal ideation, we ask you review this sheet and take proper precautions.

Also, for churches who have not created a Church Suicide Prevention Policy, go steal that one and copy/paste it into your church policy manual today so you can implement it immediately.

This article actually started because of a research study that was conducted last year that I just came across by Lifeway where they interviewed pastors about what their church is doing for mental health as they support and protect their congregation and community. They paralleled this research with a second one that looked at the views of churchgoers and suicide. I wanted to share some really tough statistics that I think churches need to consider when looking at how their compassion or outreach ministry is doing as well as training of staff and volunteers and the budgets of churches as they look at where they can grow.

The Hard Truth of Those Who Committed Suicide

55% of churchgoers agree people are more likely to gossip about suicide than reach out to the family in support.When we talk about people who have committed suicide, there is this stereotype that it just people who had no hope, were addicted to a drug, not connected to the church, lost their family or job, and didn’t have Jesus in their life at all. Here are some facts that may change your mind.

  • 35% of loved ones who committed suicide attended a Christian church at least once a month. 22% were once a week or more.
  • 52% attended the same church as their loved one who committed suicide.
  • Only 17% of church leaders and members offered support to the loved one who committed suicide in the months before their death.
  • After the loved one committed suicide churches missed the mark in following up with the family: 29% called the family, 11% connected family to a professional counselor, 10% helped with logistical needs, 7% did not respond at all, and 5% didn’t even know the person had died.
  • 55% of churchgoers agree people are more likely to gossip about suicide than reach out to the family in support.

So How Can Churches Help Respond Well?

Below I’m going to share some research from the pastoral research of what resources pastors have considered as well as the percentage of churches that actually have these services available. 92% of pastors believe their church is equipped to care for a family that experiences the suicide of a loved one, but as we saw above and will see below, that simply is not the case.

  • A small group ministry that encourages people to support each other (82%)
  • A list of trained mental health professionals (51%)
  • The National Suicide Prevention Hotline number where staff can access it (50%)
  • A procedure to follow when a staff member learns someone is at risk (46%)
  • Regularly speak about mental health issues to remove any stigma (46%)
  • A lay counseling ministry (36%)
  • A trained counselor on our church staff (29%)
  • The policies of the local emergency room regarding suicide risk (20%)
  • A crisis response team (18%)

It should be noted the churchgoers were asked what was available and the numbers were a lot lower. Maybe these exist, but they are not getting communicated to churches.

Where Do We Start?

(Editor’s Update: Since this article, we have created 10 Free Ways Your Church Can Stop Mental Health Stigma that is perfect for this section.)

You start by changing the culture. No one pastor is going to be able to fix this. You need a team. And it needs to be preached about from the pulpit. Ed Stetzer has a great quote that reflects this.

Sermons break stigmas. When pastors are willing to talk publicly about mental illness, they take away some of the shame associated with these conditions. Churches need to be much more willing to acknowledge and destigmatize the presence of mental health issues in their faith communities.

– Ed Stetzer

From here, find people, whether volunteers or staff, and have them start to figure these pieces out. This is not a “wait until Thanksgiving service is over,” this needs to be finished now. Please have your church make this a priority to be a resource.

What do you find works well for your church?

Published by Jeremy Smith

Jeremy is the Co-Occurring Program Coordinator and a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor at a community mental health center. Jeremy has a history of working as a ministry director for Youth for Christ for 8 years and then working as a mental health and substance use adult counselor in Colorado and Ohio, specifically running an Opioid Residential Treatment Center.

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