When planning a formal special needs ministry, pastors and volunteers often wonder where to begin. Questions and concerns can bring the planning process to the point of being overwhelming, leaving everyone frustrated. But there’s good news: We’ve compiled a list of “Frequently Asked Questions” (and answers!) designed to minimize frustration and create space for God’s leading.
1. Space is at a premium in our church! Do I need a separate room?
A separate space isn’t always possible or necessary. Special needs ministry is less about the location of rooms and more about the location of people. Often, a child with a disability needs a buddy within his or her age-level programming. The support of a patient, caring volunteer can make the activities more manageable. When a separate space is necessary to calm a child or manage more complex behavioral, emotional, or sensory needs, a separate room can be extremely helpful. If your church has available space, by all means, claim it. However, always give strong consideration to keeping children with their typical peers when possible.
2. Should we buy a separate curriculum?
Not necessarily. Most of the time, the curriculum can be modified to meet the needs of most learners. By making simple changes, such as enlarging print, reducing the amount of writing, or simplifying crafts, kids can enjoy lessons while keeping pace with their typically developing peers.
3. My church gave me a budget for this ministry. What’s the most important resource?
Your human resources are your most important resource, and a ministry staff person would be a very wise investment. Having someone on staff dedicated to this role emphasizes to the church and community how important your special needs ministry is. Also, this leader can participate in planning for children’s ministry events and represent the unique needs of families affected by disabilities. (Of course, a salary may not be available—even when a church has funds to spend on a new ministry.) Other important purchases can include sensory equipment, fidget toys, and special needs-friendly toys and games. Also, invest in equipment that makes the church accessible and safe for all families.
4. What if we advertise for our special needs ministry and we get 50 new families? How will we accommodate all of them?
Starting a new initiative can feel overwhelming—a bit like the disciples trying to feed the 5,000. Take heart. When a church begins a special needs ministry, families who need it will usually “trickle” in. As they do, take the opportunity to learn their needs and support them. These families will provide great training as the ministry begins. And don’t forget—the disciples were able to feed everyone with the supplies on hand once they looked to Jesus.
Want more articles regarding children with special needs? Check out these posts!