7 Ways Churches Can Love on Children with Special Needs

 

Throughout the last few weeks, several conversations have occurred in my circles regarding special needs families and church attendance. Much of this is due to the MPS family gathering our family hosted on Saturday and my daughter, Taylor.  One of my favorite statements I heard on Saturday was:

I don’t know what we would have done without our church.

Doesn’t it just make your heart happy when the body of Christ is cared for?

special needs

 

While church should be a place that anyone is welcome, sometimes the medical, physical, or behavioral needs of children make it a challenge for church to be a welcoming place for children with extra needs. Perhaps the church doesn’t have the number of volunteers needed or more training is indicated for the volunteers. Maybe the child is simply not comfortable and that nervousness contributes to parental worries during the service.

Whatever the individual situation, I believe there are ways that every church can love on children with special needs. Every church will not be able to accommodate every child in every single situation, but to use the old cliche, “Where there is a will, there is a way.”
In no particular order, below you will find 7 ways churches can love on children with special needs.

1. Offer an individual class designed specifically for special needs children during at least one service per week.

While this requires dedication and commitment to this ministry by the church and volunteers, many metropolitan churches have well-established classes of this nature. Obviously for smaller churches, this may not be a valid option.

2. Offer a “special needs assistant” volunteer service to afford special needs children the opportunity to enjoy the mainstream classrooms or services.

This option requires planning and commitment for all team members- including the program director, volunteers and parents, but it can be a viable option, no matter the size of the church.

3. Greet families and simply ask if there is anything you might do to assist them.

Something as simple as carrying bags or items while they push a wheelchair, or for first-time visitors, giving them directions to a handicapped-accessible or family restroom, can be a beautiful gesture.

4. Offer a family worship setting outside of the main auditorium.

Many churches have monitors in the foyers or halls, which is nice, but offering a small dedicated room with video and audio accommodations can be just the setting for parents of special needs children to enjoy the service alongside their children. Families of all types can have occasions that can make this room very useful.

5. Hold a parents-night-out to give parents a much-needed break.

The continual demand of caring for a child with medical or special needs is overwhelming. Giving parents the gift of an hour or two away while their child enjoys fun activities is a beautiful way that a church can bless the hearts of special needs parents.

6. Be sure that the parking, entryways, aisles and seating of the church accommodates wheelchairs.

Handicapped accessibility buttons could be located at every entrance, especially those near the handicapped parking.

7. Have a meal program for families who have special needs children.

Whether it is one night a month or quarter, drop-off or pick-up, offering a meal to a family on a day that has been full of doctors’ appointments or therapy can be a huge blessing.

What does your church do to bless families who have children with special needs? I’d love to read your ideas in the comments below!

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22 Comments

  1. Stephanie says:

    I attend Church of the Highlands in Birmingham, Al and our Special Needs ministry is called Highlands Haven. We are 1 church with 7 campuses. My campus is the newest launch (feb 2013) and we provide 1-on-1 assistance to preschoolers/elem age/teens/adults during each service time. The kids are involved in age-appropriate classes (we don’t have space yet for a separate class) and our teens and adults sit together in a designated section with haven team members. But the thing I love most, is that our teens and adults are encouraged to serve at church (whether they love to work with kids, or they like to greet those coming in, or help setup for the service, etc) and a haven team member assists them as they serve in the area that God purposed for them. Each of us has a job, a divine call, that only we can complete. Oh, how I pray we (as the Church, the Bride of Christ) could assist our brothers and sisters in finding and serving in their God-given purposes! Blessings to u all!

    1. What a beautiful work you are doing there!!! Thank you so much for telling us about this incredible ministry!

  2. E Stephens says:

    Thank you! Great ideas!

  3. Great ideas. This is an area more and more churches I think are struggling with. Sometimes in VBS we have been able to provide a 1-1 helper and it worked for some kids. We have one austic child who isn’t able to be in service and can’t really mainstreamed into the kids program. It’s hard in a small church to find volunteers who are willing to miss service on a regular basis so his parents can attend service. At times we’ve been able to do so but right now his parents are having to take turns coming to church with the other 2 kids while the other parent stays home with him. Hopefully that will change soon.

  4. {Kathy} This is such a needed conversation! Families with children with special needs should be treasured and nurtured, not isolated. I especially like #7. The entire church, even our older folks, can help so practically here.
    Thanks!

  5. Thank you for these! A special class has worked well in our small congregation. Our special needs kids attend regular Sun school classes – my son has a buddy to help him. Then during the church service, volunteers have a small class with special needs kids just during the sermon. I don’t think there is one way to do this – it’s about relationships with the families and knowing what they need.

    Do not be afraid to ask about the special needs child. One friend simply said, “I don’t know anything about Down syndrome but I want to.” That opened up an opportunity for her to learn and me to share that wasn’t awkward for anyone.

    We actually had a Special Needs Sunday a few weeks ago, giving the congregation an opportunity to know our kids. We had “normal” activities that our kids like to do that other kids could do with them – Legos, dancing, golf putting. I had information sheets about each child that gave a brief bio and information about their special needs including ways to interact with them (since they are non-verbal). Our prayer is that this helped break down barriers with those who were afraid to ask or engage …

    1. Thank you for your wise words. I love that your friend was so bold as to just state that she wanted to understand about the special needs child. What an awesome church you must attend!! 🙂

  6. Teresa U. says:

    My son is on the Autism spectrum and our church has a special needs ministry called Bridges offered at both services. We’re a fairly big church so we usually have a full class. Our volunteers are great and range from Grandpas to Special Needs Teachers. It’s been a blessing to not have to answer the pager with every little meltdown because the volunteers are trained and keep getting trained about 1x a quarter. There’s also a support group on Thursday nights. Churches with this option are rare but with the increase in Autism and all special needs its a needed ministry!

    1. Would you share the name of your church? I would love to get some ideas for training volunteers!

  7. Rachel, what an awesome post – I love that you’re inspiring ideas for churches. Ours does such a great job and one thing I really love is their twice/month support group for parents. They have mentor couples who lead it and pray with us and then the kids get to play in the gym together and have fun.

    1. Kim, that is so great!! I know of some churches that do a FAB job with special needs children ministries- Prestonwood Baptist Church in TX , First Baptist in Orlando, FL, and Upper Arlington Lutheran in Hilliard, OH are all three examples of wonderful programs. A wonderful idea for a church is to “copy” what other churches are doing. 😉

  8. These are great suggestions, but unless you have a large group of special needs kiddos, the first suggestion would probably more offend parents. It would offend me. My son (who has autism) came to our MOPS group a few times a few years ago (normally he was in preschool when I attended) and he just seemed to not fit in with the class (would cry and “scare” the littler kids, although he wasn’t ever physical, he’s just a large boy, crying). So what did they decide to do with him? Put him with his own teacher in his own class – alone or with his brother. That’s it. That’s called segregation! That’s called my son being a second-class citizen who can’t be with the crowd. I was appalled and very very hurt. So again, maybe this would be a viable option but you can’t just put the “special” kids all by themselves most of the time.

    1. Randi- I totally understand your perspective- however, as a special needs parent and advocate for many years, I know that a special class is a great option for some families. One of the issues that makes it difficult for churches to minister effectively is the vast variety in the desires and needs of the families. I’m sorry that it was a tough situation for you and your son. Our family has experienced all different settings with our daughter and I know that some have not been so great for us either. On the other hand, we’ve seen God work in HUGE ways also. 🙂

  9. Nancy Miller says:

    Thank you! I shared it with our Children’s Ministry pastor.
    Greeting and carrying bags is one thing I’ve seen firsthand. I’m sure there are others. 🙂

  10. My sister has 2 sons with autism and attending service with them is challenging. Their church has video and audio available in the fellowship hall so my sister or brother-in-law can go in there if the boys are being too disruptive during the service. Each of the boys also each has a buddy for the whole week of VBS that follows them around and assists them. This allows their parents to be helpers and use their skills to minister to others, too.

  11. Mary Geisen says:

    Thank you for the practical ideas. My son is a youth and family life minister and I will be sharing this with him.

  12. Heather P says:

    I am going to share this with my children’s minister. Any suggestions for promoting to the youth group?

    1. hmmm. that’s tough- again, so individualized. But open conversations with the family are critical to the process. Informed decisions are always better than evasive ones. But I’m sure you know that.

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