These ideas were submitted by various children’s ministry leaders to assist you in Special Needs ministry.
We have several special needs children in our ministry. We provide them with a Special Buddy – An adult who agrees to give them one-on-one attention during one, one-hour worship service. When the children stay two hours, we recruit a different buddy for each hour. We have some buddies that volunteer weekly, bi-monthly, and monthly. Their job description is to devote themselves totally to this child within the main classroom. We keep them in the same class on through the years – they are promoted with the group they begin with. We have found that the children in the class really benefit from getting to know these children, and they begin to minister to the children as well. This program also allows the parents to enjoy worship and be ministered to as well. It is a blessing all the way around. I’m sure there are other thoughts, but this is the way we have worked it so far!
Minister to Children/Christ Chapel Bible Church
In the early 90s, I directed camps for the disabled, mentally and physically.
1. Some of the mentally disabled will act out when they can’t be understood. I have Johnnie in my Kid’s Church. He is Down Syndrome and is very difficult to understand. I have spent some time with Johnnie and can understand his form of communication. When I speak with him, I treat him as I do every other person and take a difficult conversation and make it a normal one. I acknowledge what he is saying and he is happy.
2. The Holy Spirit transcends all barriers. God showed me this when I was confronted with a situation concerning a Spanish speaking individual. He knew no English. As my pastor went to get an interpreter, I was impressed to pray for him. As I prayed, he fell to his knees and began to cry. When someone came to the church that could interpret, he was asked if he gave his heart to Jesus. He said he didn’t know what that meant but something happened when I prayed and that may be it. He gave his heart to Jesus and stayed for a time in our church just to hear the hallelujahs. God spoke to my heart after that and told me, ‘I don’t need you, but if you’re obedient, I’ll use you.’ I’ve found this true with the mentally disabled. Speak to them as though they were like anyone else, and God will do the rest. I’ve seen it over and over.
Essentials for an Effective Special Needs Ministry:
1. One person with a heart and gift for working with Special Needs children can begin and lead a ministry that reaches one child at a time. This person needs to be able to communicate with special needs children and parents in an authentic manner. He/she can then train others to be effective.
2. Do your homework on each child before they come to church–go to the home and observe the child in the setting where he/she feels most comfortable, finding out all you can about the child.
3. Listen carefully to the parents of a child with special needs and ask many questions about what works best for that child. The parent is an expert on his/her own child and is your best resource on what to do and what not to do.
4. Be prepared for the day you have planned for the child to come to church. Have activities planned that you know he/she is capable of enjoying. Make sure you have all the supplies you need readily available in a room that will be pleasing to the child.
5. Work one-on-one with that child for several Sundays until you feel comfortable in knowing what he/she likes, what he/she is capable of, what frustrates him/her, etc. At that point, you may be able to mainstream him/her or train another person to be with the child before adding another child to your Special Needs ministry.
6. Remember that Special Needs children are children–they want to be loved and treated like any other child. Understanding each individual child is the key to providing the care parents seek. When one parent feels safe in leaving his/her special needs child in your care, word will spread, and your ministry will bloom!
Our church also offers a ministry called Respite Care. One Friday a month, a group of people offer care for special needs children and their siblings so parents can have a 4 hour respite from their demanding parenting jobs. The program is widely acclaimed and used by many people from all over the community. It’s a wonderful ministry to offer parents.