How to Become a Trauma-Informed Church

All over, the church is answering the call to become a place of love for children and adults that have suffered trauma and loss. My home church is streaming into every jail in our state, and many of these recovering inmates find themselves at home during our morning services. It’s beautiful seeing the gospel absolutely transforming the lives of people that otherwise may not hear the loving hope that the bible gives us. God starting a revival in our state and beyond through the prison system is just awesome! 

In my personal life, we have felt called to become foster parents and have opened our home to children that have experienced deep losses. Our beautiful children’s brains are affected by the trauma that has been inflicted upon them. Trauma affects everyone differently, but one thing is certain it always has an impact. Trauma can make it tough on children and adults when they are in social settings and can make parenting a little trickier too. 

Churches need to understand the basics of what science has revealed to us about how trauma affects the brain, as well as become educated on the best ways to create a welcoming space for those impacted by trauma, how to support those parenting through trauma, and how to respond when a child or adult is struggling because of the trauma they have endured. Thankfully there are some great resources helping churches, schools, parents, and more become better equipped to handle the wounds those we love and are serving are carrying. 

Some Ways Trauma Impacts the Brain 

Recently I was sharing with my social worker how I feel like I would like a how-to manual when it comes to responding to trauma. She laughed and reminded me that trauma looks different in every situation. It’s important that as we learn, we don’t put people in a box. First of all, our minds and bodies are incredibly resilient and capable of healing. Progress and change are always possible. Also, every person has a unique story, and how they are impacted, what brings them comfort, and how their brain is changed depends heavily on their unique set of circumstances. While that is all true, it is helpful to understand some basic ways we may see trauma impact our church communities and how we can best respond to these needs. 

Trauma can interfere with the regions of the brain that govern fear and stress responses, emotional regulation, and executive functions. When a person has experienced trauma, they are more likely to struggle with emotional, behavioral, and mental health problems, especially when this trauma occurs in childhood. 

Over the long term, trauma affects the amygdala causing it to become overactive. When this occurs, those who have experienced trauma may become overly sensitive to threats and more prone to stress and anxiety. The hippocampus is also impacted, which assigns meaning and associations to memories as well as helps with emotional regulation and stress responses. Making trauma survivors more likely to struggle with mood disorders, mental illness, and other emotional problems. 

The medial frontal cortex is the most impacted by trauma. It’s responsible for executive functions, which include the ability to plan ahead, think things through, make good choices, and more. Trauma can lead to impaired executive functioning due to an extended amount of time being stuck in fight or flight mode, which causes the prefrontal cortex to become less active and survival instincts to kick in.

3 Resources to Become Trauma-Informed

Now we know for sure that trauma impacts us in very significant ways. It’s important that pastors, children ministry workers, youth group leaders, small group leaders, and more understand how to best help those who have been impacted by trauma, especially childhood trauma. Thankfully there are some great resources churches can draw on in order to better serve their community.

1. The Spiritual First Aid Course

Spiritual First Aid is an 8-session certificate course that teaches peer-to-peer spiritual and emotional care and trauma-informed best practices. This course helps to equip us all to better respond when emotional and mental health needs arise in our faith communities. This course gives ways to support adults, teens, and children. 

2. Trauma-Informed MD

This website outlines some goals churches can strive towards in order to become more trauma-informed. I love the description this site gives of what a trauma-informed church should look like. Some of the highlights include realizing the impact of trauma, recognizing the signs and symptoms of it, responding to needs, and avoiding re-traumatizing others. These “R’s” are a great starting point for a church staff when addressing this issue. 

3. Justice Coalition

This ministry reminds us that most of the people in our churches have experienced pain, and many of us are under-resourced in our ability to support those we love. This can lead to re-traumatization and, sadly, can make the church an unsafe place for hurting people. The resources they offer help us to do better at loving each other. 

Healing is possible! Jesus is a waymaker and miracle worker, and he never gives up on us. The church should and is a refuge for those of us that are carrying around heavy wounds from our past. Let’s be ready and equipped to assist people.

Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/fizkes 

Amanda Idleman is a writer whose passion is to encourage others to live joyfully. She writes devotions for My Daily Bible Verse Devotional and Podcast, Crosswalk Couples Devotional, the Daily Devotional App, she has work published with Her View from Home, on the MOPS Blog, and is a regular contributor for She has most recently published a devotional, Comfort: A 30 Day Devotional Exploring God’s Heart of Love for Mommas. You can find out more about Amanda on her Facebook Page or follow her on Instagram.

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