Special Needs Ministry. What does that look like? Where do we begin? How do we incorporate that into our church? Reasonable questions church leaders are asking as the awareness and popularity of Special Needs Ministries are growing across the nation.
I am very familiar with these questions – along with the feelings of knowing the need but not knowing where to start – because I’ve asked them all before. Before joining Vanderbloemen, I was on staff at Healing Place Church where I helped establish the Special Needs Ministry.
So how do you go about putting a Special Needs Ministry in place at your church?
No Special Needs Ministry will look the same because each church culture and community is different, but here are a few ideas to help jump-start your imaginations, allow you to dream big, and incorporate your Special Needs Ministry into your church culture.
1. Inclusion through the Buddy System
Put together a team of volunteers to buddy-up with an individual with special needs to sit with them during the service. This can be for any service your church offers, whether it’s for the main service or for children’s / youth classes.
This is a good way to establish relationships with these families in your church. It also helps parents know that their children are being well cared-for and safe while they attend service. A great resource to help train your volunteers is a DVD by Amy Fenton Lee, author of TheInclusiveChurch.com, calledSurviving to Thriving.
2. Have a service specifically for Special Needs Families
This is a model that I have seen churches do effectively. Some have their service once a month, and others have theirs every other week. Choose a schedule that works for your church. This will help your church connect with older individuals with special needs – offering a service and teaching specifically for them to learn and grow in their walk with God.
Outreach will look different in each church’s community. Choose the best way to reach out to the families in your community. Outreach is the best way to let the community know that your church is dedicated to caring for those with special needs.
Here are some outreach ideas that I’ve seen work well:
- Hosting a Parents’ Date Night – Many parents of children with special needs have very little time to themselves. Hosting a date night for parents by providing them with babysitters who are trained in caring for children with special needs can be an incredible blessing.
- Classroom Visits – Visit local Elementary, Junior High, or High School’s Special Needs classrooms. Consider setting up a weekly schedule among your church volunteers where you can send someone to tutor or read to the children. You will likely have to make arrangements with the principal or teacher.
- Family Fun Day – Host a completely free family fun day event at your church inviting the families with children who have special needs.
- Special Needs Easter Egg Hunt – As we near Easter, your church should consider this type of event where you can reach out directly to families with children who have special needs.
4. Partner with established Special Needs Organizations
If you don’t need to reinvent the wheel, then don’t. Sometimes it’s easier and more efficient to partner with an organization that is already established. This can be something like the Special Olympics, The Buddy Walk hosted by the National Down Syndrome Society, or Walk Now for Autism, etc. These are some nationally-known organizations that are always looking for volunteers to help partner with them. Get a group of volunteers from your church together, and start serving with existing organizations in your community.
5. Incorporate a classroom in your Children’s Ministry
If you have the space available or can make the space available at your church, then having an actual classroom(s) specifically designed for children with special needs can help be a place of retreat when other classrooms feel overwhelming. They can still participate in the same activities they would in any other children’s ministry class but within a less stimulating environment. A great resource for this is to check into Lakewood Church’s special needs ministry called Champions Club.
What is your church going to do to reach the special needs community?
Whatever it is, dream big, be creative, and know that there is no perfect model. Do what is best for your church and your community.