Read on for insightful answers to some of the most common questions children’s ministry volunteers have about special needs.
Recently I led a special needs seminar for leaders who each serve more than 1,000 children per week. As I marveled at the potential sitting in the room, I knew that only 2 or 3 of the churches there were reaching out to families affected by disability. All the ministries shared their stumbling blocks when it comes to special needs ministry. Here are three questions you might recognize.
Q: “Parents drop off kids for class without telling us their child has a special need. Why would they do that?”
A: This happens with children who have hidden disabilities. Maybe parents have suffered the embarrassment of explaining their child’s needs repeatedly to strangers who don’t seem to “get it.” They might be afraid of missing worship or of being turned away again, which happens more than you might imagine.
What to Do: Post signs in your children’s area and throughout your church highlighting your special needs ministry. Train your registration team to mention it to guests, and offer welcome brochures at check-in.
Q: “Volunteers often hesitate to work with children with special needs. How can we inspire them?”
A: People fear and avoid what they don’t understand-that’s why families affected by disability feel isolated. Education is your answer.
What to Do: Train volunteers on specifics of the child’s special need. Assure them of these things: They only need to learn about one child’s needs, parents are great teachers, they’re embarking on a journey that’ll change their lives, and they’ll touch an entire family for Jesus. Invite volunteers and the families to your home for a meal. Fellowship breaks down walls and inspires loyalty.
Q: “When I suspect a child has a disability, how do I approach the parent?”
A: When parents know you care, they’ll listen. Even so, be prepared for one of three reactions: They may be concerned and listen, they may be offended and shut you down, or they may change the subject entirely.
What to Do: Your initial response is prayer and friendship. In casual conversation away from church, bring up the specific behavior you noticed and let the parent take it from there. Do not attempt to diagnose a child-your role is to encourage the parent to get a physician’s assessment.
Rather than letting questions such as these cause us to stumble, let’s let them be an opportunity to answer with Jesus’ amazing love.