Many of us say we are ready to welcome new people to church and ready for growth, but the reality is we are not committed to doing the work. Sometimes, it’s a fear of change, but it can also be an issue of not being equipped to welcome people struggling with battles that we don’t know or understand. One of the big signs that a church is not welcoming is when they have given up on investing in new people. When churches close themselves off or become about personal preferences, they have lost sight of the mission. Luke 9:11 says, “When the crowds learned of Him, they followed Him, and He welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who needed healing.” If we are Christians called to follow Jesus’ example, we should be welcoming as He is here. In this instance, Jesus treated the crowds with kindness by not only healing but also welcoming them. When we welcome new people to our church, it’s more than just saying “hello.” We are invited to find ways to bless them. Here are five ways the church can welcome people with anxiety.
Understand the Different Ways Anxiety Manifests
Anxiety shows up differently in people’s lives. We are programmed to respond to fearful situations by fight, flight or freeze. Generally, one of these responses will dominate over the other. Someone who comes to your church may be someone who responds to their anxiety by freezing. They would rather bury their head in the sand than deal with situations that stress them out. Some will become more irritable or excessively rigid when they feel stressed. When we understand that those dealing with anxiety respond in a fight, flight or freeze mode, it’s easier to find compassion for them. You may even relate to what they are going through. When we pay attention to how anxiety manifests in the people around us, we can better learn the patterns and help those in need.
One of the core characteristics of anxiety is avoidance. There are times when we may be drawn to help out by doing things for our avoidant loved ones and inadvertently feed their avoidance. The same goes for those dealing with anxiety in our church family. This can show up differently depending on the person and the situation. For example, if your anxious friend finds talking to people in front of the church or on Zoom extremely stressful, and you end up doing it for them, they can never push through their avoidance. One good general principle of support means to help someone help themselves. Now, this doesn’t mean doing everything for them, but it does mean you can point them in the right direction of the support they need.
We tend to stigmatize those who have anxiety, particularly those with more serious issues of depression. We must refrain from doing this. We can avoid stigmatizing and be supportive in many ways. One of the ways we can do this is to reassure them that your perception of them hasn’t changed. They are the same person. The anxiety they are dealing with is temporary that has simply gotten out of their control. Communicate that they are not broken and who they have not changed. If you can, try to help the person suffering from anxiety to see the positive aspects of their identity. For example, you may encourage them to participate in a small group that encourages their interests and values.
Focus on Jesus
A great way we can welcome people with anxiety to church is by focusing on Jesus. We have to trust that the Lord is right there with us, guiding our words and actions, even if we can’t see Him. Anybody who has dealt with anxiety or knows someone battling it is aware that it takes people away from what matters the most. Anxiety can be crippling. The same anxiety limiting you from welcoming your neighbor may keep them from truly committing to the church. Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication and thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Jesus Christ.” When we focus on Jesus, He can direct our paths. He can increase our understanding of anxiety so that we are properly welcoming those suffering in silence.
Pray For Them
There is a reason so many people say that there is power in prayer. They have seen it transform not only their lives but also the lives of those around them. If you know that someone is dealing with anxiety, don’t hesitate to pray for them. Scripture tells us directly that Jesus was sent to heal the brokenhearted and that He will restore our health. Our Lord carries our pain and has the power to heal those with wounds beyond our vision. Even when situations are difficult or surpass our understanding, God has the power to intervene and change the course of that person’s life.
We must remember that our God is welcoming. No matter what you’re going through or the sin you have committed, Jesus welcomes everyone who believes in Him into His family. During Jesus’ earthly ministry, Jesus was bold about welcoming others. We should keep that same welcoming attitude because that is a reflection of God. All of scripture is about how God welcomed all of humanity. If you are struggling to welcome someone into the church or are not sure how to welcome them, turn to the Bible and call on God for His guidance. You have no idea how your invitation or welcoming spirit could change someone’s life.