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Special Needs: Ministry Questions and Answers

Read on for insightful answers to some of the most common questions children’s ministry volunteers have about special needs.

Years ago, we were part of a special needs seminar for leaders who each serve more than 1,000 children per week. As we marveled at the potential sitting in the room, we knew that only two or three 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.

You can also give each volunteer a copy of Children’s Ministry Pocket Guide to Special Needs which is a handy tool that contains relevant teaching techniques, age-appropriate ways to inspire positive peer relationships, tips for partnering with parents, and more!

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.

For more special needs tips, check out Special Needs Ministry for Children. This training book is full of practical tips to better equip you to share the love of Christ with kids with special needs. Want more articles regarding children with special needs? Check out these postsAnd for even more ideas and daily posts of inspiration, follow us on Facebook!

4 thoughts on “Special Needs: Ministry Questions and Answers

  1. Matt Jefferson

    Trying to start a Special Needs Ministry need help

  2. As an adult with a cddisability, I can tell you that there is a lot of stigma about disability, even among parents and medical professionals. I don’t like it, but it’s the truth. In regards to the last question, I would focus more on how to support the child well rather than the diagnosis. For example, instead of saying “Johnny is extremely hyper during class and seems unable to pay attention; could he have ADHD?” say “Johnny seems really hyper during class and does not seem like paying attention; has his kindergarten teacher found any techniques that work well for him”. Ask what has been tried at home and school, what worked, and what didn’t. This would probably be best over coffee instead of a meeting at church. While a diagnosis can help by allowing access to services through school and insurance as well as medication, the diagnosis does not define the child or the supports they need. It’s also important to remember that females are frequently underdiagnosed with disabilities like ADHD and autism.

    • If you have a parent that does not want their child to have a buddy due to stigma but the teacher needs assistance engaging them, you can provide an extra Youth Assistant for the class. They can also be trained as a buddy and have the same resources (such as fidget toys) as you would give to a buddy, but they wouldn’t have the title of buddy and could assist the rest of the class if the child is doing well.

      One more thing, I have seen a few churches include a question about special needs on the yearly registration form. One question says :does your child need a special needs buddy” and the other one says “Does your child/family have any special needs we should be aware of?” This way, you are asking for relevant information upfront. The second question encourages answers about medical, behavioral, academic, and family concerns, so it does not directly address disability but also encourages parents to disclose with a safely-worded question.

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Special Needs: Ministry Questions and...

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