Across the country, many churches and denominations are dealing with declining attendance as they see fewer and fewer people showing up for Sunday services. There is one group however that is experiencing tremendous growth in record numbers.
You probably have several of these churches in your home town. I’m talking about the Church of the Lobby.
Never heard of the Church of the Lobby? Its numbers are swelling.
The Church of the Lobby is home to a staggering number of individuals with special needs and their family members. On any given Sunday, a tremendous number of special needs families will take their seats or line the walls in the lobby of their respective churches.
Because of the attentive needs of their child, or perhaps because of the sensory needs, or behaviors, they often flee the regular service for the sanctuary of the lobby. So another week goes by without an opportunity for the family to worship together with the rest of the congregation.
When our son was much younger, and our previous church did not offer a special needs ministry, my wife and I would have to alternate who would leave the service with our son for the safe, non-judgmental confines of the lobby whenever his autism manifested with inappropriate sounds, vocalizations, and stimming.
For a while we tried distracting him by feeding him bagels. But as he grew and got older I was afraid I was going to have to put an omelet bar in the back row!
I will never forget the time a church included every child in its Christmas play except one.
Or the Sunday when my wife scooped up her purse and with my son in her arms, fled to the car, saying, “Sometimes my reality is just too real.’
Finally, when that holy discontent consumed us, my wife and I helped start the special needs ministry at that church.
We have made tremendous progress in the last decade as more and more churches are establishing special needs ministries. These churches recognize that special needs families are a massive unreached people group- a vast mission field. So they have sought training and equipping to become accepting, welcoming communities for special needs families.
But here’s the glaring issue that still requires our attention. The phrase “special needs ministry” has become associated with children’s ministry. What about our middle school age and high school age individuals and then young adults and adults who are disabled or challenged? What is being done to address their spiritual needs? In this arena, there is still much work to be done.
Our son is now nineteen years old and still requires a self-contained classroom. But to put him in the same small room with toddlers and younger children does everyone a disservice and isn’t a safe environment, much less conducive to learning.
The church Jesus described in Luke 14 embraces everyone with disabilities regardless of age. Don’t tell our families that your church is special needs friendly or has a special needs ministry. Instead, show us that welcoming and embracing the whole special needs family is just part of your culture and DNA. Then you will be a Luke 14 Church!
I’ve been a special needs dad for almost twenty years now. Special needs families are “my people.” I have a heartfelt message for the church. My people are dying- relationally, spiritually, and emotionally. We crave community and a feeling of belonging to your church.
Show us that the doors to the Kingdom of God are handicap-accessible. Put the Church of the Lobby out of business and announce a merger with the rest of your congregation.