Special Needs Ministry: How Can Churches Meet Needs?
To overcome obstacles that keep children with special needs from worship, churches must evaluate their physical property, making sure vans, wheelchairs, and other devices have easy access to all areas. Congregation members need to be encouraged and reminded to be welcoming at all times, remembering that first impressions are crucial for families who are accustomed to negative responses. Leaders, as well as laypeople, must take the initiative to interact with families, asking specific questions to discover what help is needed. And churches should review their programs, adjusting as necessary to make them appropriate for children of all ages and abilities.
Many resources are available to equip churches interested in developing a special-needs outreach. Key Ministry provides free downloadable resources, video conferencing, and free onsite training, when possible. The group’s mission is to ensure there’s “a church for every child.”
Sandra Peoples, Key Ministry’s executive editor, provides a free downloadable filled with prayers for special-needs parents at SandraPeoples.org. The seminary graduate and author says, “This isn’t the ministry I thought I would be called to, [but] I’m so thankful God’s plans prevailed.
Other organizations assist churches with establishing respite care, providing much-needed relief to parents and other caregivers. The Christian nonprofit organization 99 Balloons, founded by parents whose son lived just 99 days, offers “rEcess” respite-care curriculum and other resources for $25 per month or $250 per year. Scholarships are available.
Providing quality respite care “is something you can do that has a real effect in your community,” says Matt Mooney, who founded 99 Balloons with his wife, Ginny. Through the brief life of their son Eliot, who was born with a chromosomal disorder, the Mooneys say they learned so much about the value of every single human life.
Churches also can consult a variety of books by experts in the field. Titles include Leading a Special Needs Ministry by Amy Fenton Lee, The Special Needs Ministry Handbook: A Church’s Guide to Reaching Children with Disabilities and Their Families by Amy Rapada, and Special Needs Ministry for Children: Creating a Welcoming Place for Families Whose Children Have Special Needs by Pat Verbal.
By being intentional about reaching out to families with special needs, churches can have a major impact on many lives. When children with disabilities are welcomed, included, and loved, their parents are more likely to return to your church—and to join in your mission of ministering to all of God’s children.