Q&A: How Do You Serve Families With Special Needs?
[name withheld, Maryland]
To set the stage, we can’t skip over the fact that from the beginning of creation God put his image inside each and every human being. In fact, Genesis 1:27 endows every man, woman, boy, and girl with cosmic importance: “So God created man in His own image; He created him in the image of God; He created them male and female.” This is the impetus for the commitment we must have – as the people of God – to serving families who have the responsibility (and joy!) of raising kids with special needs. Here are five ideas your church family can use in your effort to serve families with kids who have special needs:
- Weekend Programming. We’ve found great value in offering a unique environment on the weekend for kids with special needs. We call it our GRACE class (God Reaches All Children Everywhere), with committed leaders who support dad and mom in their effort to disciple their kids with appropriate curriculum, and sensory-friendly items for kids to play with.
- Buddy System. Even if your church can’t provide a separate designated classroom for kids with special needs, you can designate a leader to be a buddy within existing classrooms. These buddies are able to give individual attention as needed, connect with parents on a more relational level, and can pull a kid out of class if they get overwhelmed with their surroundings.
- Gracious Worship Atmosphere. We want our worship services to be a place where people of all ages can experience the means of grace together. This means being overly welcoming to families who have kids that might make involuntary noises or be in constant motion. There are many ways to go about this and your context / setting will determine what’s possible (sensory bags for kids, viewing room in the back of the sanctuary, special effort to let families know their kids are welcome in worship). And by the way, this is an area where the kids team can cross-train the guest services team, worship team, and staff at large. Make sure that anyone who interacts with families understands the big win and available resources.
- Livestream Available On-Site. It is a blessing to multiple families in our church to have one spouse sit in “big church” while the other plays with their child in a room that’s playing a livestream of the service. We obviously hope parents can worship together consistently, but helping meet families where they are can be a great first step.
- Easy Online Information. One of the most important lessons we’ve learned is that families of kids with special needs rarely visit a church without first researching online whether or not the church is ready for their kids to arrive. As part of your family ministry web presence, consider adding a form and a short explanation for what parents of kids with special needs can expect on the weekend.
As any family at our church will tell you, we have a long way to go. We have much more we can do, and much more that we need to be doing. Little image-bearers and their families are counting on us, the people of God, to show them the type of love that our Father has shown us. As you (and I) read these words, two thoughts might come screaming through your mind: 1) YES!! and 2) I can’t do any more than I’m already doing! Our hearts, as children of a mighty Father, are (super)naturally drawn to a vision of caring for our hurting and needy brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews. And yet the demands of carrying out this kind of task on a regular basis oftentimes pushes us to inaction. I’ve recently been reminded of a great piece of wisdom from a friend of Helen Keller, Edward Everett Hale: “I cannot do everything, but I can do something.”
My prayer for you is that you’ll join us on our journey to do just that. To do something.
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