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” one high-needs church member. With a ministry ratio of 25 to 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 high-needs members ensures 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-to-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-needs 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?
Chuck Warnock is pastor of Chatham Baptist Church in Chatham, Virginia.