Responding to at-risk Explorers

Guidelines for handling challenging conversations with Explorers

Brian Knollman avatar
Written by Brian Knollman
Updated over a week ago

Explorers come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. For many, the deep felt needs they are experiencing prompt them to reach out for tangible help and answers. A small percentage of our Explorers will express what we will call an “at-risk situation” which requires extra caution and care.

You may also have questions about liability when interacting with Explorers. Liability and privacy issues are different in different locations, and so we advise you to follow whatever guidelines are in place in your state for things like interacting with minors, criminal activity, etc. You can also view the Terms and Conditions that Explorers agree to when they submit their information.

Whatever an Explorer reaches out to you about, we want you to feel confidently equipped with appropriate next step responses. If you receive an at-risk message, we highly suggest you involve someone else on your team. Reach out to your team lead and let them know. Consider running your response by someone else on your team before sending, leaning into wisdom, discernment and prayer. It’s important to handle this type of message with great care.

In partnership with the American Association of Christian Counselors, we have provided some guidelines below for you to keep in mind.


A minor is anyone who is under the age of 18. Minors will sometimes join chat conversations and, while they may not always self-identify as a minor immediately, this fact can become clear over time. If a person uses language mentioning “parents,” “school,” “mom,” “dad,” “my teacher,” “classmates,” “my youth group”, etc., that person is likely a minor. The chat functionality is not intended for minors under the age of 18; therefore, as a Chat Responder, if you receive information that either establishes that the individual is under 18 (e.g., the individual provides an age or references minor status) or would reasonably lead to the conclusion that the individual is a minor, you should politely disengage.

❌ Do not ask the minor their age, or collect any personally identifiable information (name, age, location, etc.).

❌ Avoid engaging with them further about any topic, particularly sensitive topics such as sexuality, abuse, mental health, bullying, etc.

✅ Do encourage them to talk to an adult they can bring onto their help team.

✅ Do encourage them to connect with school, community, or church resources that bring support and advocates onto their help team.

Physical and Sexual Abuse

Abuse is any action where a person is misused, harmed, or injured. Most often abuse is intentional although sometimes it can be unintentional, especially when it is frequent misuse or repetitive. There are many different kinds of abuse, such as physical, spiritual, verbal, emotional, psychological, sexual, etc. Sometimes individuals in the chat will confess to having experienced some form of abuse and should be directed to additional resources.

❌ Do not dismiss their feelings or experience. Be empathetic.

❌ Do not request details of the abuse.

❌ Do not say everything will be alright.

❌ Do not say you are safe and it will never happen again.

✅ Let them know these situations can lead to a lot of confusing or upsetting thoughts and feelings and it is good to talk to someone specially trained in helping you process all this so you can make the healthy decisions you need to make.

✅ If the individual does not appear to be in immediate danger or crisis, you may walk them through a conversation directing them toward healing. Speak words of encouragement, hope, truth, and love.

✅ If the individual requests specific information about escaping or recovering from abuse or otherwise needs specific additional help, recommend they speak to a licensed counselor.

Criminal Activity

An action is a crime if it is something that is punishable by law. It is possible that a person in the chat may mention or feel guilt over criminal activity and share it with you. Or it is possible that they may have been a victim of criminal activity in the past. Different categories of crime might include things such as theft, violence, assault, rape, murder, damage to property, forgery, etc.

(Note: See section above for information on physical/sexual crimes such as rape or violence).

On occasion, this type of message turns out to be spam.

❌ Do not investigate or dig into details.

❌ Do not say you’ve done nothing wrong.

❌ Do not say the perpetrator will be punished.

❌ Do not personally reach out to law enforcement.

✅ Let them know these situations can lead to a lot of confusing or upsetting thoughts and feelings and it is good to talk to someone specially trained in helping you process all this so you can make the healthy decisions you need to make.

✅ Instead, recommend they talk to a trusted adult like a counselor, other professional or law enforcement.


A suicidal person is anyone who expresses desire or intention to end their own life. They are often extremely unhappy, depressed, in pain, have minimal connections to confide in, or don’t want to live life this way anymore. If you encounter someone in the chat who exhibits signs of being suicidal, or self-identifies as wanting to die, it is very important that you handle these conversations with extreme care and refer them to professional help.

Note: If an Explorer mentions suicide in their first message, we route them to qualified partners. However, if you begin a conversation and suicide comes up in subsequent messages, the system is no longer able to rematch that Explorer with another organization. In this case, follow these guidelines in your conversation, and never hesitate to help connect the Explorer with more professional help in their area. You can also check out our list of National Crisis Resources.

❌ Do not discount their emotions, but also do not validate their emotions in a way that might encourage them on the path of suicide.

❌ Don’t say “I know how you feel”.

❌ Don’t say anything that implies “Just get over it”.

❌ Don’t say anything that implies a simple spiritual action will solve it “claim this verse and it will be ok”.

❌ Don’t compare their situation to another tragedy and say it could be worse – like saying someone just lost their kids and husband in an accident and they aren’t suicidal.

❌ Do not panic and talk in fast, intense, high-pitched, loud, stress inducing voice.

❌ Do not make assumptions about the person and their story.

✅ Pray for wisdom.

✅ Keep your emotional cool.

✅ Calm, slow, soothing, decisive and knowledgable voice. Not high-pitched, rapid, intense.

✅ Short sentences, simple instructions, affirmations, encouragements, connecting comments. Avoid disjointed and rambling, complex sentences and instructions.

✅ Listen to them, speaking words of hope, truth and love.

✅ Thank you for reaching out to me and being willing to share some deep and personal struggles with me.

✅ I know it took courage and you moved out of your comfort zone to reach out and contact us.

✅ Listen to their story and be empathetic.

✅ Thank you for sharing your pain/story/emotions with me.

✅ I know life might look very difficult or painful right now, but there are people who are interested in coming alongside and helping.

✅ You do have value and purpose, and although it might be hard at times to see that, it is true.

✅ Let them know you want to help them. You want to connect them to someone who can help them with next steps.

✅ They are important as God loves them.

✅ Do you want to kill yourself right now? Do you have a plan as to how you would do it? Do you have those things available to you? Is a gun in the house or of easy access to you?

✅ Do you have another adult around that can help you get to a safe place right now.

✅ Some people are tempted to use substances to feel better, but they accentuate the distress and make it worse, so if you can, please try to not use any chemicals until you can connect and get guidance from a professional to help you.

Mental Health

A person’s overall behavioral health includes their physical, emotional, psychological, social, and spiritual well-being. It determines how a person thinks, feels, and acts, as well as how they handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy decisions. Jesus has perfect brain chemistry, a perfect mind, and perfect psychological functioning. All the rest of us are markedly defective in these areas when compared to Jesus. On a scale of 0-100, Jesus is 100, thus the rest of us are between 0-0.5!

Even though Jesus is perfect, He still experienced many upsetting emotions - anger (Temple money changers), stress (leading a bunch of imperfect people who didn’t get it), sadness (wept after Lazarus died), anxiety (sweating blood and asking for another way the night before arrest), and forsakenness/abandonment (on the Cross). Us, being imperfect, will experience this and more. Some of our struggles have a psychiatric diagnosis as a mental illness or addiction issue. Some of our struggles don’t have an official diagnosis – low self-esteem, people pleaser, conflict avoider, victim mentality, self-sabotaging, etc.

Explorers are messaging with a myriad of psychological and spiritual struggle in their inner being; we call these psychospiritual issues. They manifest in various ways that are often difficult for our Explorers to understand or explain. Handle each of these conversations with love and care, using some of the principles below. You can also check out the AACC Hub in your Discover tab for guides on how to tackle different mental health issues.

❌ Do not dismiss their feelings or throw Bible verses at them in a way that might communicate their feelings are wrong/must be fixed.

❌ Do not claim Jesus will make all their struggles go away if they have more faith or pray.

❌ Don’t compare their situation to another tragedy and say it could be worse – like saying someone just lost their kids and husband in an accident and they aren’t suicidal.

❌ Do not say you know exactly how they feel + Listen to them and encourage them. In many situations, they may just want someone to talk to about their struggles.

✅ Tell them you are not a licensed counselor but would be happy to listen. Also, tell them that a licensed counselor may be able to provide additional assistance, helping them understand better what is happening inside them.

✅ Recommend they seek psychiatric attention if they seem to be struggling with significant psychological struggles (significant distress or significant impairment in functioning, serious consequences have occurred, or potential danger exists) using the following type of response:

Example: “You are going through some stressful and stormy times, and a good next step to take is a reaching out to a professional who can guide you through the stress/storm you. Here is the number to a licensed therapist (include number). I’m here to continue listening to you but encourage you to take a step towards getting professional help. Would you be willing to do that?”

NOTE: Substitute psychiatrist for licensed therapist if significant distress or significant impairment in functioning, serious consequences have occurred, or potential danger exists.


An internet “troll” is someone who communicates online in a way that is intentionally meant to be inflammatory, off-topic, or upsetting, for the purpose of their own amusement. A troll will usually have no intention or interest in having a conversation of substance, and may not want to engage in dialogue that coincides with the goals of these campaigns. Instead, they might post memes/images, make off-hand comments, write in as a made-up character, or say things meant to elicit a frustrated response from you as the chat responder.

❌ Do not encourage them. Their goal is to get you to respond with alarm or frustration. Do not entertain the conversation for longer than needed.

❌ Do not completely ignore them or “ghost” them. Respond, but in a professional and courteous manner.

❌ Do not get upset with them. Remain calm and polite. Many conversations will end automatically once they realize they can’t get a frustrated response from you.

✅ Be professional. Say a prayer in you mind that they will realize God’s love and purpose for them, with His forgiveness, grace, and peace.

✅ If their comment/question is not relevant and not something you can help them with, let them simply, kindly, and straightforwardly know what the intention of this chat is and that their responses are not falling in that purpose.

✅ If the person will not stop, and it becomes clear no meaningful conversation will occur, you can close with something like the following:

Example: “I’m sorry, but your message is not relevant to the purpose of this chat. I’m here to answer any questions you have about life challenges or faith. This present chat is now over, have a nice day.”

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