Home Outreach Leaders Articles for Outreach & Missions 3 Ways the Church Can Better Serve Special Needs Families

3 Ways the Church Can Better Serve Special Needs Families

An accessible, caring church is a church that reflects the love of Jesus.

Luke 14:15-24 has been referred to as the “Lost Great Commission” or the “Lost Mandate.” In this parable Jesus tells a story of man who is hosting a large banquet. He sends out the usual RSVPs. Much to his dismay, each of the invitations was refused. The man then turned to his servant and asked him to go find the poor, maimed, blind and lame and bring them to his celebration. When room is still available he instructs the servant to go further out of the city and bring those along the highways and lanes. The desire of the host was that his great banquet would be filled.

One implication taught through this parable is the inclusionary nature of the Kingdom of God. Those who are marginalized by society because of disability find themselves welcomed by the Master. This story challenges the church today to model a similar acceptance in a cold and calculated culture where value and significance is measured by appearance and contribution. These measurements leave those who have a disability feeling unwelcomed and alienated. I believe a church that takes seriously this mandate will engage in three important practices.

1. Create a climate of inclusive hospitality.

Many churches have a plan for creating an attractive environment that immediately welcomes visitors. They have strategically placed parking lot attendants, greeters and representatives in order to produce an inviting atmosphere. Yet, this plan does not often consider that the newest visitor to the congregation could be a person with a disability. An accessible church will formulate a plan so that a visitor who has a special need will be easily, conveniently and enthusiastically accommodated in a welcoming atmosphere.

If a family has a child with a cognitive disability, who will be responsible to welcome the family, access the need through parental conversation and suggest a suitable plan for the service? If a visitor arrives who is visually impaired, what plan is in place to ensure that he is included in corporate worship? The simple gesture of having a braille Bible available would go a long way in making the guest feel at home. Strategically placed handicapped seating that is not confined to the back of the sanctuary and also allows for families to sit together in worship also demonstrates an expectant welcome.

When a church has a plan in place to welcome those with disability, they are demonstrating a generous and inclusive hospitality. It is a hospitality that says, “We have been waiting for you.” As the number of people with a diagnosed disability continues to rise, it is essential for churches to thoughtfully consider how hospitable they actually are.

2. Minister to every member of the family.

Disability ministry is family ministry. This concept often eludes those who are implementing a disability ministry program in their church. The intention is to focus solely on the one whose life has been touched by disability. They invite interested church members to form a “buddy system” for the disabled child. Perhaps a specific Sunday School class is established for those who attend church and have a disability.