Saddleback Pastor Says Every Church Can Crawl, Walk, Run to Create Mental Illness Ministry

(Photo: Saddleback PiCS)An overflow crowd of more than 3,300 people attended The Gathering on Mental Health and the Church at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., March 28, 2014.

LAKE FOREST, Calif. — More than 2,200 church leaders assembled for Saddleback Church's Gathering on Mental Health and the Church were told Thursday that every church — regardless of size or geography — can be involved in ministry to the mentally ill. To demonstrate the opportunity for every church to get involved, attendees were given crawl, walk and run steps to help their congregations develop meaningful ministry to mentally ill individuals.

"When it comes to building a mental health ministry in your church, a mental health strategy can be built over time," said Tommy Hilliker, Saddleback's pastor of ministry. "It can be adapted and implemented in all the areas of ministry of any church. It's regardless of size or location."

While over 2,000 attended the conference on Oct. 8 - 9 at the Lake Forest, Calif., campus of Saddleback Church, another nearly 4,000 people watched the conference online.

Rick and Kay Warren began the conference last year after their son, Matthew, died in 2013 following a lifelong battle with mental illness. Since the passing of Matthew Warren, Saddleback has focused on developing a mental health ministry at the church and, with the conference, training other churches to do likewise.

The second plenary session of the conference was devoted to helping churches develop their own mental health ministries. Using what he called Saddleback's "Continuum of Care" as a model, Hilliker explained that the vast majority (90 percent) of the congregation needs only about one "care" touch by the church to get them going in the right direction. The other 10 percent need extra help.

Hilliker then shared four questions they ask to discover what "care touches" people need when they first connect with the church.

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