Updated: Nov 3, 2022
Becoming a church that helps people heal from trauma is a process that takes INTENTIONAL work. It requires a culture shift directed towards creating a safe place where people who are carrying the weight of past and present trauma feel like they don't have to carry their pain alone.
Trauma disconnects people from themselves, others, and God. The church's job is to help people get back in touch with these three core areas by showing them the love of Christ and walking with them as they heal.
The churches that effectively accomplish this employ a holistic approach that solicits involvement from the entire body.
The top 5 traits of a trauma-healing church are:
1: The pastor talks about trauma in their sermons.
The Bible is full of stories about trauma. Whether we think of the many war stories in the Bible, the horrible rape of Tamar, Abimelech's suicide, or the death of Jesus Christ, the sacred text has a trauma narrative. But the faith community doesn't always talk about how trauma affects our lives today. Pastors can begin to change the culture, by referencing certain Biblical text from a trauma-informed lens. A pastor's acknowledgement of trauma and the church's responsibility in supporting trauma survivors sends a message to the entire congregation. It says to someone in the pews that "your pain is important to Jesus and to us, and we want you to know that you are not alone." When a pastor gives a sermon about hard topics like trauma, they want to make sure the congregation knows about other resources they can turn to if they need additional support. Reiterating the significance of healing through community—whether a counselor or small group—can help someone take the first courageous step toward receiving the proper care.
2: The Church hosts educational events
When churches host educational events and activities about trauma, it helps the congregation to become more informed, supported, and equipped to help others who've experienced trauma. Educational events like webinars, retreats, and workshops bring to light trauma related issues that members might have experienced but kept secret. It is common for a person who has experienced trauma to feel alone and isolated in their pain. Having educational events can remind them that they are not alone and that help is available. It also builds trust, as some of your members have put up an emotional wall due to previous church hurt. As the congregation becomes more trauma informed, it also reduces the chances of the church being the source of someone's trauma. The Trauma Healing Institute has already made some workshops that members of your church can use. These workshops can be quickly adopted by your church. This is a small step that a congregation can take to move quickly toward becoming a church that helps people heal from trauma.
3: Creates a safe environment for sharing stories
It's emotionally and physically draining for a person to keep going to church and acting like they're "okay" when they are struggling inside. After pretending for so long, the weight of carrying their trauma alone can often lead to other health, relationship, and spiritual problems. When safe places are created for people to talk about their trauma, it helps them finally give voice to their pain and start the healing process. Sharing also helps a person get a real look at how their trauma has impacted them. Those in attendance should not be pressured to talk, but instead invited to share. When someone tells their story, it's not unusual for them to find out that other people in the room have been through something similar. This helps them remember that they are not alone.
Churches can create these spaces by setting up retreats, support groups, small group meetings, or other places where people can get together. Before sharing begins, the group leader needs to set ground rules with the attendees about:
Being a place where people can share without fear of being judged
Good habits for listening
Don't tell others what they "should" do. Don't try to fix other people. Instead, try to be there for them and let them know you care about their pain.
Respecting other people by not using electronics or technology during the meetings.
It's important for the people in charge of the group to have some basic training so they can properly respond to any situation that might come up. A group leader can take part in high-level group facilitation training to help them lead a group in a way that is safe for the people who are there. The group leader should also have resources on hand for those who have been affected by trauma.
4: Offers internal or external resources
When someone tells their trauma story for the first time, it is critical to follow up with them. If not, the person has to deal with all of these raw feelings on their own, which can have unintended negative effects. To stop this from happening, the church must have resources available to point people to. This can be done by referring someone to an internal or external resource. An internal referral is when you already have the resources you need to help someone inside your congregation. For example, your congregation may already have a counseling ministry or a healing ministry that can help people who are in need. Because the resource is already in the church, this can be an easy transition for someone. However, you don't have to have these existing ministries in order to refer someone to a counselor or group. Instead, you can have a pre-identified external counselor or partner that you can refer someone to for help. External partners can benefit all churches, regardless of if your church has an established counseling ministry or group, because some churchgoers may feel uncomfortable sharing their personal issues with other members and prefer to work with an outside party.
Remember, your congregation doesn't have to do everything on its own. As explained in the free Trauma Healing Church Resource Guide, sometimes the best form of support we can offer is to refer them to a qualified professional. Inside the guide, you can download a free list of resources.
5: Adopts healing rituals and practices as a norm
Never forget how powerful rituals can be. Rituals provide the opportunity for reflection, remembrance, and expression. When done in the framework of community, it can be extremely effective because it also allows those involved to support one another. This can be beneficial when your church is experiencing a communal crisis or trauma. Healing practices like a community lament, which is a service where people cry out to God for help in their time of grief, can help those who were affected to express their feelings in a safe environment that promotes healing. Prayer meetings, as well as memorial events can also be a powerful way to give people who have been through trauma hope and encouragement. These events don't have to be sad in nature. Rituals can also take form in a celebratory form. For example, a group of people can participate in an annual 5K walk in honor of someone who died. Be creative in the ways you utilize rituals to help people remember and honor their losses.
These are just a few steps that your congregation can take to begin to become a trauma healing church. If you are interested in learning more, download our free guide HERE.
About the Author
Rev Jocelyn J. Jones
Rev. Jocelyn J. Jones is an author, speaker, and entrepreneur. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa in journalism. After earning her B.A., Jocelyn worked for channel 20, WYCC. She left the television industry to serve as the Executive Director of the ARK of St. Sabina, a youth center on Chicago’s Southside. While at the ARK, Jocelyn earned her master’s degree from the University of Chicago in social work. Tragically, the lives of several families she served were shattered due to gun violence. Those experiences and her own quest for emotional healing inspired her to establish her company, Faith on the Journey Counseling. Jocelyn earned her master’s degree in theological studies from McCormick Theological Seminary. She is an ordained minister, a training facilitator with the Trauma Healing Institute, and the author of the book Breaking the Power of the Mask.