Ministry to high-needs members

Every church I have served has had some high-needs members.  These are the folks who have personality disorders, mental-challenges, or barriers to living that require the help of others regularly.  Your church probably has some of these folks who are made in God’s image, and yet for whom life is extremely difficult.

High-needs members deserve our patient loving-care.  Yet they also need a support group around them so that the burden of caring for them does not fall on one person.

Dr. David Augsburger suggests that it takes 25 church members to “buffer” 1 high-needs church member.  With a ministry ratio of 25:1, the responsibility for arranging transportation, trips to the doctor, or just being a listening ear does not fall on the pastor alone.

Having a wide ministry support group for a high-needs members assures that no one individual gets burned out with the persistent demands on time, energy, and resources.  “Sharing the caring” for someone with high-needs spreads both the burden and the joy of loving-care throughout the congregation.

As a pastor, I have mistakenly taken on ministry to high-needs members single-handedly in the past.  In each instance, both the care receiver and I, the caregiver, wound up frustrated.  I disappointed the high-needs members, not because I did not care, but because I did not invite others to join with me in caring for them.

High-needs members can be served by a combination of pastoral care, church member support, and outside resources such as counselors, mental health therapists, medical personnel, and local helping agencies.  By maintaining a ratio of 25-to-1, the church shares ministry, supports the neediest members, and does not overload the church’s own caring system.   Exceptions to this 25:1 ratio might include intentional ministries such as structured classes for the mentally-challenged if they are staffed properly.

What is your experience with high-need members?  Did you find that others shared their care, or did you do it alone?  Does your church have a model for ministry to high-needs individuals and families, and if so, would you share that with us?  Thanks.

3 thoughts on “Ministry to high-needs members”

  1. How to you handle the issue that if you buffer a high needs member with other church members they may get in over their heads with dealing with issues that are not necessarily related to the task they are doing.

    My experience is that even if a church member is just providing transportation to a high needs member that they may get pulled into a position to being expected to offer financial resources and counseling that they are not equipped to do and end up doing more harm than good to either the high needs member or to themselves.

    I agree that it is necessary to take a team approach when you are dealing with high needs members, but their are risks to be considered

    Is there a model that we can use to help us be effective in our help to these high needs members.

  2. In one of my congregations, I see a significantly higher frequency of high-needs members. I could identify four or five in a congregation that rarely exceeds 45 on a Sunday morning, partly as a result of aging, historic de-emphasis on education, and a chronically very weak local economy.

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