This post was guest written by Carlton McDaniel.
Every person, regardless of their age, has been impacted by the rapid changes in the special needs community.
The media has created a new awareness in our society by highlighting success stories about individuals with special needs.
Medical advances and assistive technology are expanding a child’s once-limited world.
Educational trends are reshaping classrooms to better serve the needs of students with all levels of abilities.
And through the web, parents of children are more informed and better connected than ever before.
What Do Ministry Leaders Do?
It is not surprising that leaders feel overwhelmed at the thought of ministering to children with special needs and their families.
The feelings and concerns of ministry leaders are understandable.
The term “Special Needs” encompasses a long list of medical, physical, and cognitive disabilities.
The definition broadens even more when you include children with multiple disabilities and different functioning levels.
More than likely, the children and their families who respond to an invitation will need varying levels of support.
It is impossible to know every diagnosis or disability that a visiting child may have.
It is also impossible to prepare your workers and your facilities to accommodate every need that may arise.
But using the following steps, leaders can turn obstacles into opportunities and begin the process that will reach children with special needs and their families.
Increase Your Understanding
Increase your personal understanding of special needs ministry.
Here are a few ideas to grow your knowledge:
- Contact your denominational leaders or survey local churches to identify existing ministries locally.
- Talk with someone involved in a current ministry who can answer specific questions.
- If possible, schedule a visit with a few churches that are already doing special needs ministry well.
- Enlist someone from your church to accompany you and share their observations with you.
- Search the internet to find current special needs resources and training both in the educational and ministry space.
- Look for helpful articles and request samples of curriculum and resources whenever they are available.
- Observing existing ministries and current resources is a practical way to better understand special needs ministry.
Evaluate Your Ministry
Evaluate and improve your existing children’s ministry program.
Look for potential problems by answering the following questions:
- Where are the weaknesses?
- What requires additional attention?
- Are there enough teachers/volunteers for the number of children in each class?
- Are learners active and engaged in the lesson?
- Do leaders rotate? If so, what is the rotation schedule?
This evaluation should expose problems before they become obstacles.
Some pastors readily admit that obstacles within their ministry have prevented them from effectively reaching out to these families.
A robust and healthy ministry will be able to adjust when changes are needed to help a child with special needs be successful.
Share the Gift of Time
The final step in turning obstacles into opportunities is sharing the “gift of time.”
This gift is for you, your leaders, and these families.
For you and your leaders, this gift allows the time to transition, rather than abruptly change, needed adaptations in the existing programs.
For families with special needs, time is an opportunity to fully invest in the life and ministry of the church.
And for a child with special needs, time is a measure of patience as he/she is confronted with strange faces, new schedules, and new experiences.
For families in chaos, there is nothing you can offer greater than the gift of time.
Changes in the special needs community will continue to influence society.
But society includes the members of our congregation and they are changing as well.
The media attention has stirred a great movement in churches and sparked a new curiosity about special needs ministry.
Request for special needs training and resources are increasing.
Medical and assistive technologies that allow children more freedom and mobility are being used in some churches.
Members who are parents or school teachers are providing valuable insight to help ministry leaders better understand a child’s educational needs.
And of course, members who are web savvy are using the internet to invite families to their church.
Change is coming; let’s turn our obstacles into an opportunity for God to use your ministry to reach children with special needs and their families.
Carlton is the Special Needs Specialist for LifeWay Church Resources. He coordinates and leads national training for individuals ministering to children with physical and cognitive disabilities. He has worked in this field for over 15 years.