As a busy children’s ministry leader, I often missed a lot that went on at church even when it was happening all around me, especially when it came to needing a special needs ministry. If you can relate, here’s an idea that might help. Recruit an assistant to follow you around for one purpose only—to take notes on what he or she sees and hears. You may be surprised, as I was, by all you’ve missed, especially when it comes to children with special needs and their families.
5 Signs You Need a Special Needs Ministry
1. Parents are roaming the hall with their children in tow.
These parents constantly explaining their child’s needs to rotating volunteers in the classroom gets tiring. Kids with disabilities are more comfortable seeing familiar faces each week and having teachers take time to get to know them.
2. Some families are always late for church services.
Sunday mornings can be a challenge for children who don’t always sleep well and require extra time for eating and dressing. Families must be truly committed just to get to church, especially single parents with more than one child. Imagine their delight when special needs volunteers greet these families in the parking lot and help them get from their car to the classroom. This small act of love can be a tremendous blessing.
3. Children are more anxious or stressed in class.
Sensory input such as loud noises, bright lights, odors and crowded spaces can negatively affect children on the autism spectrum. Trained volunteers who understand these children’s unique needs can restore calm so the teacher can teach.
4. It’s hard to recruit and keep teachers.
Teachers spend quality time preparing Bible lessons and get frustrated when children don’t seem to comprehend God’s truth. As public and private schools have discovered, a growing number of students have some kind of physical or intellectual disability and adapting lessons and schedules to engage this diverse group will make learning (and teaching) more fun.
5. Families visit once or twice but don’t return.
Families are looking for a church with open arms. They are often isolated because social events are not designed to include children in wheelchairs or children with short attention spans, hearing impairments, restricted diets, and behavioral issues. Children and parents need acceptance and friendship so they can come to know our Savior, Jesus Christ. He always stopped to touch the blind, lame, and deaf along the road and left us with specific instructions to invite those with special needs, “so that the [church] will be full” (Luke 14:21-23). Blessings will flow from welcoming everyone into the church.
I’ve been privileged to help launch a number of special needs ministries. These children and their families have been some of my most profound teachers, dearest friends, and greatest blessings. Give it a try—you’ll see!
Pat Verbal is the Senior Manager of Curriculum Development at the Christian Institute on Disability at Joni and Friends. Pat is the editor of Special Needs Ministry for Children (Group).