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Meeting a growing need in the community

When Living Word, Waukesha, Wis., opened the doors to its own building in May 2021 after 18 years in a rented space, the congregation knew it wanted to meet a need in the community that was complementary to, but different from, the ministries offered by other WELS churches in the area.

“Professional Christian counseling has been one of our dreams at Living Word for about a decade. We always wanted to have a counseling presence,” says John Borgwardt, pastor at Living Word. “As a mission congregation, there’s always a need for an outreach mechanism, basically a reason for people to be coming to your building.”

After the church was open for worship, there was still space in the building that hadn’t been finished. With rising construction costs, the congregation already had to scale down the original plan. The unused space had to sit unfinished until a need was determined and funded.

Coming out of the pandemic, the need for professional mental health and counseling care was exploding. At the same time, Christian Family Solutions (CFS) was looking for a congregation to begin a proof-of-concept counseling model, where Christian counselors work out of churches instead of a centralized office.

This was the time for Living Word to open its doors for counseling services. “It’s a place for them to do their work, but for us it is absolutely an outreach ministry and something else we can offer our members,” says Borgwardt.

Borgwardt procured grant money, and Living Word finished off its empty space with input from Christian Family Solutions regarding its needs. The first Christian counselor to meet with clients at Living Word was able to take appointments.

“When we started in July [2023], we had one counselor two days a week. By early September, we had four counselors rotating four days a week,” says Borgwardt. “CFS fills a very important need in the Christian community, and we’re able to offer that to people.”

Counseling also is a huge need in the United States. Dan Nommensen, who served CFS as the director of Congregational and Community Partnerships when this plan got underway, says CFS Christian counselors conducted a record number of sessions in 2023 with nearly 87,000 sessions for 7,100 clients. Post pandemic, mental health diagnoses in the general population have increased significantly. The largest growth has been in people ages 25-44, with parents, as a group, seeing the highest increase in stress and stress-related mental health needs.

Living word lutheran church outside building

Another staggering statistic, according to Nommensen, is approximately 50,000 people died by suicide in 2023, more than any year on record. He says that it’s miraculous that number isn’t higher considering that 12.3 million adults have reported seriously thinking about suicide.

“It’s time to bring people to the church using [counseling] as a tool,” says Nommensen.

One of the first things a Christian Family Solutions counselor does when meeting with a new client is conduct a thorough assessment, which includes the spiritual life. If a client indicates his or her faith life needs improvement, the counselor can suggest meeting with the pastor at the church where the client is already coming for counseling appointments.

Having counseling offices in the church also gives members an opportunity to connect more people to the church. “We want to see members talking to their friends, family, and neighbors. Whenever those people talk about challenges in life, the members can say their church has Christian counselors available,” says Nommensen.

He continues, “Everyone in a congregation can establish caring relationships with others. And when they do this, they develop a connection through which the Lord will present opportunities for them to share the gospel message or invite people to worship services or to see a counselor at their church.”

CFS has similar partnerships with other congregations and has plans for more as congregations search for new ways to serve their communities. Mike Helwig, a licensed professional counselor in training at CFS, is now managing this growing area of ministry.

Learn more about Christian Family Solutions, a WELS-affiliated ministry, at christianfamilysolutions.org.

Author: FIC
Volume: 111, Number 04
Issue: April 2024

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