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5 Ways Special Needs Families Enrich Your Church

Often when talking about families living with special needs, we focus on the side of practical disability ministry—programs, needed resources, volunteers. That’s all good and necessary, but it’s only half of the equation. There’s a flip side: Families of children with special needs immeasurably enrich our congregations. Here are ways I’ve experienced the blessing of these families.

5 Ways Special Needs Families Enrich Your Church

Your church becomes inclusive.

When you include families impacted by disability, it provides others the unique opportunity to be vulnerable and real. Our last church had a thriving disability ministry. One Sunday after the service, a guest said, “When I looked around and saw so many people with disabilities who were loved and accepted, I knew this was a place where I would belong and find community.” People with disabilities allow others who might feel forgotten or marginalized to recognize that within the church, they belong.

Your teaching grows stronger.

When you have children with disabilities in your children’s ministry, you find creative ways to ensure all kids understand your lesson. You have to make the message applicable, relatable, and tangible. The extra effort it takes to make these changes benefits kids with disabilities—and all the kids you teach. Special needs expert and author Katie Wetherbee says, “Good teaching for kids with special needs is just plain good teaching.”

You gain new active members.

When kids with disabilities have a place where they belong, it frees their parents to become more active members of your congregation, using their gifts and talents to serve in other ways. And when a church is a place where everyone belongs and everyone serves, we all experience the beauty of a fully functioning body of Christ.

Your priorities become clearer.

Ask any parent of a child with special needs about how his or her life has changed, and most will say one of the biggest changes is the rearranging of priorities. That’s not to say the priorities were wrong before, but disability has a way of showing us more clearly what truly matters. When we intentionally include families impacted by disability, we all experience that shift in our hearts.

Your church is more loving.

Jesus instructed us to love our neighbors as ourselves. As we learn to embrace and love those impacted by disability, we become more loving; not just of those with disabilities, but of all people.

What Does an Enriched Church Look Like?

We know families impacted by disability enrich our churches and make us love better, change our priorities, and include all people. But what might it look like?


We had several children and adults with disabilities who loved music and wanted to be more involved during worship time. We knew having them join the worship team wasn’t a reasonable option. The solution? We provided egg shakers for anyone who wanted to participate. Eventually, other members of the congregation joined in. I certainly did!

Children’s Ministry

Having a group that included several kids with disabilities meant we needed extra help, so we invited their peers to be role models and assistants. Our children’s ministry became so cohesive that kids helped each other without being asked. We had typical peers inviting and including those with disabilities—the beauty of the body of Christ portrayed in children.


To provide fellowship, we began having “Discussion Sundays.” These were Sundays where we had a short message and then broke into small groups. Questions related to the message, but they also made it easy for everyone to join in the conversation. This provided a great opportunity for members of the congregation to get to know adults and families who are impacted by disability.


Adults and families affected by disability are not just people we do ministry for, but people we do ministry with. Imagine a Sunday where your greeters are the parents or siblings of a child who has Down syndrome and he’s helping his family welcome everyone to your church. I don’t know about you, but that makes me smile.

Ellen Stumbo is a speaker, author, and the founder and director of Disability Matters, where she encourages every church to embrace disability.


Looking for more ideas for families? Check out these articles! And for more special needs tips, check out the Children’s Ministry Pocket Guide to Special Needs. This small resource comes in a pack of 10, each booklet full of quick tips to create a classroom that welcomes kids with special needs.

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