40 million adults in the United States have an anxiety disorder. Thirty percent do not even know they have a disorder or do not seek help for anxiety. These are important numbers for church leaders to know because for many people it is not about a lack of interest or desire to participate but the fear of judgment and social interaction. Sitting in the car in the parking lot before an event a person can talk themselves out of getting out of the car.
What room is this meeting in? Where is the “SJP II gathering space in the narthex”? What’s a narthex? Hmm, the parking lot is a little empty. Is this the right night? If I leave now they won’t even know I was here. It’s not that big of a deal.
For people with anxiety, negative thoughts can flow like a torrential down pour in mere seconds. How can we help people get from the car to the door?
Let us do our best to put them at ease before they even get to the parking lot. Make sure that all correspondence, flyers, websites, and bulletins, have details like time, date, location, and room locations. Sounds simple but look at your promotion from the eyes of someone with anxiety or someone who has never been there before. Spelling out the name and location of the room will help get them from the car to the door. For example, a reminder email could state, “Please join us in the Saint John Paul II gathering space located to the left of the church doors when you enter the lobby, or narthex, of the church building.” How many steps do they need to take to get the info they need from your website. More than three steps in the process and some people may give up. So, make it as easy as possible for people to find the information to know where to go and how to get there.
They made it to the parking lot. Congratulations! Some things to consider making it easier to get out of the car and into the building. Is it easy to identify buildings? Are there directional signs for the event or meeting that are visible from inside a car? The answers to these questions can be “make or break” for some with anxiety or new to the ministry. How can you and your team make this this a bit easier for someone to step into the space?
Social Anxiety Disorder is “the extreme fear of being scrutinized and judged by others in social or performance situations.” The average onset of this form of anxiety is 13 years of age. Even when people make that brave step inside the building, anxiety can continue and even grow stronger.
They are going to totally know that I didn’t go to Mass this weekend. I didn’t know what a “narthex” is; does that make me a bad Catholic?
Are you using insider language that might be confusing or misunderstood by people (i.e. narthex)? Is there a safe space for them to ask questions or to find answers? Do they have friends in the room? Are those on the leadership team willing to build intentional relationships with others in the ministry?
Going the extra steps to welcome and show care for people builds trust and deepens friendships. These continually growing relationships strengthens our mission to bring people closer to Christ.
What steps do you, or could you, be taking to help people not only get from the car to the door, but through the door and into a positive, enjoyable, formative experience?