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FAQ’s: How Can We Train our Church Leaders to Start a Special Needs Ministry?

Today’s guest post is from Katie Garvert, Access Ministries Coordinator for Woodmen Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Woodmen Valley Chapel currently serves 70 individuals affected by special needs.  Over the past six years Katie has helped WVC establish special needs inclusion programming for this multi-site church.  She is also responsible for overseeing the church’s deaf ministry.  Prior to joining the WVC staff, Katie was a special education teacher in the Colorado public school system. 

 Katie is one of my favorite go-to sources, especially when I’m contacted with a complex issue.  Similarly, many other churches have found Katie to be a wealth of knowledge.  Katie has graciously agreed to answer the top three “FAQ’s” or frequently asked questions other churches pose to her as they seek guidance in starting their own special needs ministry.  ~ Amy Fenton Lee


FAQ #1:  My church would like to start a program to serve the special needs community.  How should we go about training our church leaders and members?

Katie:  Initiating a training event for a church and their staff may be unnecessary.  Inclusion ministry sometimes starts best by working alongside existing ministries.  For example, take a good look at the programs that are being offered in children and student ministries and then identify the few people in those areas that are affected by differences or disabilities.  Investigate what is needed to include those individuals into their respective ministries.  Are there environments, activities, or curriculum that need to be modified or changed?  Focus on meeting the impacted individuals’ needs first and do it well.  From there the special needs ministry will evolve.  Come alongside the existing ministries teaching, supporting and encouraging their leaders and volunteers.  Ultimately, we want to equip the ministries to seamlessly welcome every child or student that wants to participate, including those with special needs.

At the same time, creating awareness through the church staff is also equally important.  Try to coordinate a time with your church’s leadership where a couple of families impacted by disability can meet with the staff and share their stories.  Coach the families to be authentic and real.  Ask them to provide two or three ideas for easy ways the church can better serve their child.  Encourage the invited parents to see this meeting as an opportunity to cast a vision and to carefully refrain from relaying their suggestions as complaints.  Even though these families may have valid disappointments with the church, they’ll get further if they keep the tone of the meeting positive and future-focused.  I often remind other special needs champions and families that we must intentionally exude a grateful tone so that others will want to walk alongside us.  The importance of maintaining a cheerful and appreciative attitude is so important in attracting others to partner with us in including our special children. ~ Katie Garvert

Stay tuned for the next two posts where Katie addresses FAQ’s related to using parents as volunteers and how to supply a ministry on a low or non-existent church budget.  

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Amy Fenton Lee is a writer and speaker focused on helping churches successfully include children with special needs. She is a regular contributor to children’s ministry publications and a variety of other Christian and secular magazines. Amy is a passionate children’s ministry volunteer and the daughter of a church senior pastor. Amy is a frequent speaker at children’s ministry conferences. Amy blogs about special needs inclusion at The Inclusive Church.