6 Healthy Ways to Recover from Church Trauma

Vivian Bricker

Contributing Writer
Published May 10, 2024
6 Healthy Ways to Recover from Church Trauma

Church trauma, also known as religious trauma, is more common than one may think. Statistics show that 27-33% of Americans have religious trauma. With numbers as high as 33%, it is not surprising that many people choose to stay away from the church. 

Church trauma or religious trauma is defined by Therapist.com as, “Religious trauma occurs when a person’s religious experience is stressful, degrading, dangerous, abusive, or damaging. Traumatic religious experiences may harm or threaten to harm someone’s physical, emotional, mental, sexual, or spiritual health and safety.” As sad as it is, church trauma is very common and can affect anyone of any age, socioeconomic class, gender, or ethnicity. 

Leaving a church because you suffered from church trauma is completely okay. You are not less of a Christian by not going to church. Nowhere in the Bible are we told we must go to church to be saved. Rather, we are given salvation by placing faith in Jesus—not by doing good works or attending church service every Sunday (Ephesians 2:8-9). 

Recovering from church trauma can be quite difficult, but it is not impossible. There are many things you can do on your own as well as there are many things you can bring to the feet of Jesus. Know that it is okay to take time before you are ready to process the church trauma and move forward. Healing from something as traumatic as church trauma will take time, and it is nothing to rush. 

As you are going through this healing journey, lean on Jesus. Trust Him with the outcome and know that He will never leave you. Through every valley, He will be walking beside you (Psalm 23). God can provide healing to every wound and restore your broken hope in churches. 

When you are ready to start the healing process, consider taking part in a few things that will be able to help you. Here are six healthy ways to recover from church trauma.

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man sitting against wall with Bible praying

1. Leaning on God & Listening to Him in His Word

Church trauma should not be treated lightly, nor should it be shrugged off. It is a very traumatic experience that can affect many areas of your life. This is especially true if you were highly involved in your church and felt a sense of identity tied to the church itself. Before you can heal, it is important to let go of any identity attached to the church or to the people at the church. This church and these individuals hurt you. Never feel bad for cutting them out of your life. 

Nevertheless, as you are recovering from church trauma, it is important to lean on God and listen to Him speaking back to you in the Bible. The Bible is the main way God talks to us as it is the complete revelation of God. As wonderful as it would be if God talked to us directly out of the sky, it is not this simple. We have to read the Bible in order to hear what God wants to tell us. Even if you only read a passage or two each day, know that it is God speaking to you directly. 

Lean on Him during this time and know that He will give you comfort. The Bible tells us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Psalm 46:1). Remember this truth when you are healing from the wound inflicted by the church trauma. God is your help, refuge, and strength.

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a person walking to a therapist, reasons Christians should go to therapy

2. Seeking Out a Christian Therapist

Sometimes after we go in prayer to God for a problem, He directs us to get professional, medical help. When it comes to church trauma, the best place to get help is a Christian therapist. There is much misinformation in Christian cultures surrounding therapy, but there is nothing wrong with going to therapy. I have personally been in therapy for many years, and it does not make anyone less of a Christian. 

Going to therapy doesn't make you “crazy” or “unstable” either. In truth, therapy is a brave step and shows your desire to heal from your trauma. Through working with a Christian therapist, they will be able to help you recover from church trauma. CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy), CPT (cognitive processing therapy), music therapy, and equine therapy are all different forms of therapy that can help in recovering from church trauma. Therapy can take many years, yet it will help you heal from your trauma. 

If you have trouble seeking out a Christian therapist, know that a regular therapist is okay too. Most therapists are trained to respect all religious beliefs, therefore, they should not disrespect your faith in the Lord. If there is ever a time that you feel they are trying to pull you away from Jesus, then it would be best to step away from the practice and continue searching for a Christian therapist. Ask around and see if any of your friends have good suggestions. Sometimes, our friends and family members have already had a positive experience with a therapist, and they can refer us to them.

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Woman sitting by the water; a prayer to stop mourning people who let you down.

3. Sitting with Your Feelings & Not Passing Judgment on Them

A key aspect I learned from therapy is the importance of sitting with my feelings and refraining from passing judgment on them. Sitting with your feelings can be hard, but also very healing. While I have not gone through church trauma, I have gone through other traumas that have deeply affected my life. Similar to my own trauma, if you have church trauma, sitting with your feelings and allowing yourself to feel them without judgment will help you heal.

If you are sad, know that it is okay to cry. If you are upset, know that it is okay to be upset. If you don't feel like meeting up with friends this weekend, know that this is okay, too. Church trauma is hard to navigate, and you need to give yourself grace. Don't expect yourself to be “back to normal” in a few weeks or a few months. 

Simply sit with your feelings and allow them to pass. No feeling will endure forever as they will become easier to pass through our hearts when we are not judgmental to them. Being non-judgmental to your feelings means that you don't tell yourself you “shouldn't” be feeling a certain way. As an example, if you are feeling deep sorrow over the church trauma, don't gaslight yourself into thinking it is not a big deal. Instead, give yourself grace, accept your feelings, and allow the feelings to pass on their own.

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woman praying prayer sad tears crying upset mourning

4. Knowing Crying Is Part of the Healing Process

Similar to allowing yourself to feel your feelings, it is also crucial to know that crying is part of the healing process. Crying by itself is a healthy way to heal from church trauma because you are releasing all of your pain in the form of tears. Crying has been demonized by society and seen as a “weakness” when it is not. God created us with the ability to cry and it actually helps regulate our emotions. 

Think about the last time you cried. It probably helped you feel better in the aftermath. Trying to push our feelings down or drown them out with other things won't do us any good. They will only make our pain grow worse. Choose to allow yourself to cry and process all of the difficult feelings.

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people praying for each other to signify reconciliation

5. Seek Out Support from Other Christians

We should always seek out help from God as well as other Christians. As mentioned earlier, we need to lean on God and listen to Him in His Word. In the same way, we need to seek out support from other Christians. The Christians you seek out need to be people you can fully trust. Don't choose someone you just met or someone you don't know very well. 

Choose a friend you've had for a long time, a parent, a sibling, or a partner. Any of these individuals will be able to give you the support you need. Many people are often afraid to speak out after undergoing church trauma, but there needs to be more safe places for these individuals. They don't need to be forced to go into hiding or to be blamed for their own trauma. 

If you have undergone church trauma, know that it was nothing you did. You did not deserve the pain they inflicted on you. The people and church who hurt you were not good people and God will hold them accountable for their actions. For every hurtful word and action they did against you, know God will bring them to account and repay them (Romans 12:19).

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Virtual church service, should churches host only online services?

6. Try Visiting an Online Church Before You Consider Joining an In-person Church Again

As a final step to your healing and recovery process, you can try to visit an online church. It might take some time before you are ready to go back to an in-person church and that is okay. If you never feel up to going back to an in-person church, know that it is okay as well. God's purpose for your life is not only to go to church. His purpose for your life is for you to grow more into the image of His Son and to help more people to come to know Him. 

Technically, church is not required for this; therefore, do not allow others to tell you otherwise. If you feel up to it, try to visit an online church by searching their webpage and watching their livestream. Some churches have recordings to watch, too. Dr. Charles Stanley’s church (First Baptist Church in Atlanta), with InTouch Ministries, is a great place to start if you are looking for an online church. Dr. Stanley was very kind, caring, and warm-hearted as he shared deep truths of the Bible. He has since passed away; however, his sermons are still available on InTouch Ministries website, https://www.intouch.org/watch

If you decide on another church, know that is perfectly fine, too. Choose whatever works best for you and where God leads. You will heal from your church trauma, and in time, you might even want to help others heal as well. God can work out all things for His good and bring beauty from ashes (Romans 8:28; Isaiah 61:3).

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Vivian BrickerVivian Bricker loves Jesus, studying the Word of God, and helping others in their walk with Christ. She has earned a Bachelor of Arts and Master's degree in Christian Ministry with a deep academic emphasis in theology. Her favorite things to do are spending time with her family and friends, reading, and spending time outside. When she is not writing, she is embarking on other adventures.

Originally published Tuesday, 14 May 2024.