How to Start a Special Needs Ministry
Part 2 of 2
In our last blog, we discussed how children with special needs can present unique challenges to ministry that has been geared toward able-bodied youth. This may be due to a lack of resources and preparedness, or because the community doesn’t understand the need to create an inclusive ministry. Either way, the Bible is clear that a church or ministry that is functioning as Christ to their community will recognize that we are all created in God’s image.
Around the world, there are places where education is limited and children may not have the opportunity to go to school. Where resources for education are limited, it may be a great hurdle for a community to embrace the idea of including children with extra needs in traditional programs. We have three suggestions for adapting your ministry to effectively reach out to children and youth with special needs, and their families.
- Share the vision for a ministry that is one of inclusion, rather than exclusion.
If you have a heart for including special needs children and youth in your church or ministry, we want to encourage you that it is both necessary AND possible. If you share your heart and the vision for a special needs outreach, we believe that God will send people your way. One of the key prayers shared by Rob Hoskins, CEO of OneHope, is “Lord of the Harvest, send forth laborers.” OneHope prays Matthew 9:38 over their ministry. Rob said, “This is God’s work and He’s going to do it. We need only pray for the people we need to become part of the OneHope vision of catalyzing a movement to reach every child and youth in the world with His Word.” This applies to special needs ministry, as well. We encourage you to share the vision with your community, and to pray Matthew 9:38 over your ministry’s future.
2. Find partners who can offer guidance.
There are organizations who have dedicated their entire mission to special needs ministry. Find a an organization that specializes in providing tools and resources, and learn everything you can about how to incorporate those tools for your own ministry. One online resource we recommend is Key Ministry, an organization that focuses on resourcing and supporting churches to welcome, serve, and include kids with disabilities and their families. Another organization with many online resources is the Ability Ministry, which offers an online curriculum for purchase, along with a robust blog with free articles and tips on ministry. Other organizations that we’ve found include the All Faith Ministry for DisABILITIES, an ecumenical ministry dedicated to serving people with disabilities and their families; and the Engaging Disability with the Gospel.
3. Develop a plan for adapting ministry to fit children and youth with special needs.
Create materials that illustrate teaching to cognitive, memory, attention, and language development needs. There are many online teaching resources via youtube, vimeo, and Pinterest that can be utilized to create these types of lessons. Again, Key Ministry offers online video resources that recommend teaching tools and where to find them.
We also recommend the excellent resources from Engaging Disability with the Gospel, which offer recommendations on making strategic adaptations to existing ministry to make it more inclusive for people with disabilities. They encourage ministries “first to consider the existing age and stage-of-life programs for everyone. Think about ways to adapt the programs instead of starting new ones.”
When considering how to adapt existing programs for children with special needs and their families, they encourage leaders to assess the following:
- What physical, intellectual, spiritual and social skills are required for children with disabilities to participate in ministry?
- Of these skills, which ones could pose a problem for someone who has a disability? What are some strategies that could address those potential problems?
- What is the goal for children with special needs in your ministry (i.e. a relationship with God or relationship with others?) and how can that goal be met?
Engaging Disability offers a Planning Chart for Adapting Church Programs, which outlines many of the questions above and more! In addition, their website has a free online training for churches and ministries.
We pray that wherever you are on your journey towards creating a special needs program in your church or ministry, that God will meet you there and provide the vision, the workers, and the resources to do so.
WellConnected is an initiative of OneHope, and is a gathering place for children and youth ministers to access resources, research, and content to raise up the next generation. It’s a collaborative platform to equip leaders and influencers to effectively reach the kids in their communities. We invite churches and ministers to join one another in coming up with innovative solutions for today’s realities. We are continually learning and growing from each other — sharing knowledge, insight, and best practices.