4 Ways that Churches Can Help Special Needs Families
The body of Christ is made up of several parts, and according to 1 Corinthians 12:12–27, “God has positioned each member in the body exactly as he wants it to be” (v 18). God has a place for everyone of us in the body, which we are all a part of. Although unintentional, churches frequently fall short in providing assistance to those with special needs, which prevents the body as a whole from functioning properly. The body’s components that appear to be weaker are actually the ones we can’t live without, according to verses 22 and 26, and if one portion suffers, every part suffers along with it. Every part rejoices when one portion is appreciated. The shared delight of the body functioning as a whole is something that our churches, communities, kids, and we as adults are all missing out on. We are suffering as a result of the underrepresentation of people with special needs in our churches, and we must address this out of love.
Being the mother of a child who has multiple disabilities, I can speak from personal experience when I say that it is truly beautiful—and regrettably uncommon—to attend a church where we feel like our son’s needs are accepted and not an interruption, where we are not a burden, and where the childcare staff are aware of delays and accommodating with him. Creating a diverse culture is the key to fully integrating people with special needs and disabilities within the church. It will work, but it will require some time, talk, and deliberate practice. The finest place for people to feel loved and welcomed is in a church. Here are four doable measures to take if creating or expanding a space where individuals with all needs are accepted and included is on your heart:
4 Ways Churches Can Support Families with Special Needs
The first step that churches must do in order to assist families with special needs is to embrace them as full members of the congregation. This seems simple, but the absence of special needs in our churches suggests it is not taking place. Nearly all Protestant churchgoers questioned, according to Lifeway Research, think that a person with a handicap would feel welcome in their church, yet less than one-third of those congregations provide seminars or events expressly for individuals with disabilities.
We need to normalize the presence of all types of God’s children in our churches, including those who scream, rock, drool, wear headphones, or use medical devices. Those without distinct requirements must be prepared to lend a hand when necessary in a loving and respectful manner, treating everyone with dignity. All persons should be welcomed, shown unconditional love, integrated into partnerships, and involved in all activities.
People with exceptional needs can, should, and desire to participate. In your church, look for volunteer possibilities for them. They can serve as greeters, hand out bulletins, restock the toilets with paper towels, fill coffee cups, and check the pews between services for any items left behind. Their skill set is limitless! This group has been restricted for far too long. Find out how they would want to assist by having a conversation with the individual and, if appropriate, their family. If necessary, they can fill the roll on their own or with assistance.
The buddy system is a fantastic approach for youngsters to get involved in the children’s ministry. Of course, adults might also serve as good friends for younger children, but high school students are excellent in this role. A highly hands-on friend who encourages most, if not all, areas of participation will be necessary for certain children. The knowledge that there is a specific person in the class they can turn to if they are feeling overwhelmed, need support, or a break helps other kids do better. If the family wishes it, allowing special needs kids to enroll in a younger class might be beneficial. In comparison to his friends his own age, my second-grade kid does better in the 3-year-old class. But rather than the church deciding that the kid belongs in a different age group, this should be a choice made available to the family.
Making an Individualized Spiritual Plan (ISP), though you might call it anything else, is a terrific concept for working with people with special needs who will participate in a group at the church, regardless of their age. This plan aids churches and families in collaborating to address the needs of the person, much like an IEP in public schools. In the nursery, the youth group, or an adult Bible study, the ISP determines needs, objectives, and the most effective ways to interact with the individual. A simple ISP is provided by Key Ministry as an example, but your church is free to develop its own using any data that your team thinks pertinent.
Key is accessibility. Getting out of the home on time every Sunday morning is challenging enough. It becomes scarcely worthwhile if there aren’t adequate parking places, automated doors, or corridors and doorways that are accessible to wheelchair users. Although churches frequently have wheelchair access, this does not imply that they are accessible to people with disabilities. It is challenging to maneuver in a parking lot that is full with potholes. Do the doors to the various rooms inside the building have the same automatic open feature as the exterior doors? Think about providing sign language interpretation or closed captioning on the sanctuary’s screens, if either is accessible.
Restroom accessibility is a big problem in most public locations for families with special needs. Your church can think about converting a restroom into a family restroom rather than a gender-specific one to make it easier for caregivers of the opposing gender to help. For some families, having an adult-sized changing table is essential. This choice simplifies the process and grants everyone associated with the encounter dignity. The amount of families that are changing diapers on the floor because they have no other choices will startle and sadden you.
Offering sensory-friendly alternatives is another crucial factor to take into account. It is possible to rename “cry rooms” to include anyone who requires a peaceful area. People entering the sanctuary might be given headphones to reduce noise. During the service, sensory packs containing stress balls, fidget spinners, and other items should be accessible for usage as needed. If there is an empty room in your building, you may turn it into a sensory-friendly space by adding dark lighting, soothing music, and comforting toys.
It’s critical that we avoid making assumptions about what people need and wasting money on initiatives they might not genuinely desire. In order to make their church as friendly as possible, church leadership has to identify families in the congregation and the community and collaborate with them on the best course of action. A lovely inquiry that respects families and will foster genuine connections and personal development is, “What would make it simpler for your family to fully access our church services and events?” Families are aware that not all ideas will be adopted, but even the simple act of asking helps us feel noticed and welcomed.
Hold gatherings geared exclusively at attendees with various requirements. Make an effort to connect with the locals and let them know that you value and welcome them. Start with sensory-friendly movie evenings, a special needs birthday celebration, or a parents’ night out with daycare offered by the church.
Soar Special Needs provides several resources, including training programs for church leadership, if your church is interested in starting or growing a special needs ministry. Your community and church will undergo a significant shift as a result of intentionally incorporating all of God’s children with our diverse needs and abilities.