A concise guide to congregational care

February 14th, 2022
Available from MinistryMatters

The Concise Guide to Congregational Care is based on resources that are part of The Caring Congregation Ministry system. The Caring Congregation Ministry is a proven model that works for person-to-person care in small and large churches across the United States. It is a laity-centered ministry, where laypersons receive rigorous training and then are commissioned to serve as congregational care ministers, caring for others in their own congregation and their extended community.

You will find a holistic view of The Caring Congregation Ministry system, training modules, and more in The Caring Congregation Ministry: Implementation Guide and The Caring Congregation Ministry: Care Minister’s Manual. The Implementation Guide is the main book for getting started. It introduces the ministry model and explains the five essentials that form the ministry’s foundation. It is practical, full of checklists and other tools to help pastors and other leaders understand (and explain) this way of providing congregational care.

The Care Minister’s Manual is the personal training workbook and reference guide for congregational care ministers (CCMs), who serve a central role in the caring congregation ministry. CCMs receive in-depth training, where they learn the theological foundations of congregational care, plus the behaviors, habits, and practices they will need to follow in order to serve others well. Each CCM-in-training should have a copy of the Care Minister’s Manual. It serves as their training workbook, which then becomes the CCM’s personal reference guide.

The Concise Guide to Congregational Care, is an essential tool for CCMs and others who provide care. It is the portable resource that quickly and appropriately provides caregivers with the right words to say in any situation.  As a practical example of how the Concise Guide can help any caregiver, the following excerpt offers a handy checklist when establishing boundaries while listening to people who need or seek care and help from your congregation.


Boundaries are the limits or borders we place on relationships that allow us to balance closeness and freedom. Boundaries can exist to safeguard as well as to delineate what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior. When you are ministering to another person, not only do you need to respect their boundaries, you must also set boundaries for your relationship with them.

Remember as a pastor or lay care minister, you are legally considered to be the person of authority, which means you must consider every interaction.


  • Clear your thoughts.
  • Do not try to think of answers ahead of time.
  • Provide a non-anxious presence.
  • Face the person when listening.
  • Make eye contact.
  • Lean in.
  • Remind the person this is a safe place if they seem hesitant to share.
  • Eliminate distractions—no cell phones, loud noises, or people chatting outside your door.
  • Allow them to speak without interruption.
  • Be attentive; no yawning. Don’t look around the room.
  • Listen to how something is said.
  • Observe the person’s body language and what might be left unsaid.


  • Allow the person to express their emotions.
  • Acknowledge the person’s pain, fear, anxiety, sadness.
  • Sitting in silence can be a gift.
  • Do not make assumptions.
  • Offer feedback, but resist giving advice.
  • Repeat or rephrase what is shared: “What I’m hearing you say is . . .”
  • After the story has been told, allow time to reflect briefly on what you have heard.

Actions and Reactions

  • Be cautious about sharing your personal information.
  • Personal information will confuse your role—you will be seen as a friend, not a caregiver
  • The person may take on your concerns.
  • Do not share about yourself because you feel the need to talk.
  • Only share information if it would be helpful for encouragement or as a teaching example.
  • Use physical touch sparingly.
  • Touch can be a powerful tool—it can be healing and comforting, or confusing, hurtful, and unwelcome.
  • Use touch only when it serves a good purpose—the person’s needs, not your own.
  • Ask permission first.
  • Stay mindful of your tone and words.
  • Stay mindful of how you respond.
  • A person’s strong emotions may trigger your own.
  • It is normal to feel sadness, annoyance, fear, attraction, frustration, protectiveness, or sympathy.
  • It is not helpful to express or act on these reactions.
  • Give care and attention regardless of an emotional reaction. This takes practice!

Basic Rules

  • Never allow yourself to be in an unsafe or compromising situation.
  • Understand that you are in a position of power when you are caring for someone.
  • Never “set a date” for a meal or coffee; never travel with a person for whom you are caring.
  • Never care for someone alone in your church.
  • Never go to a home visit alone if it may put you in a dangerous situation.
  • It is never appropriate to be in a romantic relationship with a person for whom you are caring.
  • Never share a person’s personal information.
  • HIPAA protects the privacy of a person’s health information. Churches are exempt from HIPAA, but as caregivers, you must diligently guard their confidentiality.

Setting Your Own Boundaries

Some carring experiences offer surprising challenges. People can become frustrated or start digging into things that are hurtful or scary as they remember them. Try your best to remain a listening presence, but do not allow their emotions to pull you into extra drama. A skilled pastor or care minister realizes that most people aren’t even aware of the mechanisms they use to cope. It is as if they learned from childhood that this is how to get their way or get their points advanced. Be alert for any patterns or manipulation. Help people grow by showing them other ways of communicating.

Know Your Limits

  • As a care minister, you can provide a listening ear, empathy, and spiritual care. Recognize that you may not be able to provide care for someone who is struggling with mental illness.
  • If you are not a licensed counselor or mental health professional, do not attempt to diagnose, treat, or use your meeting times as counseling.
  • Keep a list of phone numbers of places and persons in your community that provide mental health care, suicide-prevention help, and other professional services.
  • Refer that person to someone who can offer the professional medical help they need.
  • If you sense danger of self-harm or of harming others, do not hesitate to call 911. If you are on the phone with them, remain there and have another person call 911.
  • If you are finding yourself triggered by a particular person’s story, issue, or experiences for whom you are offering care, it may be time for another care minister to take over care. Say something to your director of congregational care.

Communicate Your Availability to Those for Whom You Offer Care

  • Do not share personal contact information if you do not feel safe to do so.
  • Identify when it is appropriate and when it is inappropriate for them to reach out to you.
  • Do not be on-call every day of the week. Take a sabbath!
  • Communicate clearly, concisely, and without apology. This can be done with kindness and grace!
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