As I work with churches to help them develop, implement, and vision for special needs ministry, I’m finding there are often many misperceptions or myths about special needs ministry that initially need addressing and dispelling.
Unfortunately, these myths have so penetrated churches that too many are hesitant or reluctant to do special needs or disability ministry. So when we talk to churches, one of the first things we have to do is dispel those myths up front before we can even begin to take the next steps.
Here are my TOP 10 CHURCH MYTHS about special needs ministry that churches believe . (In no particular order.)
1) We are already “program-heavy.” We just don’t have the resources to start a new program. The reality is that you won’t be starting any new program. The goal is to take your existing programs, children, youth, adult, and family ministries, and simply expand and modify them for inclusion to embrace the disabled community.
2) We already struggle to find volunteers for existing programs. This will just cannibalize the volunteers already serving elsewhere. The reality is that a special needs ministry raises up an entire new class of volunteers not currently serving or engaged in your church. Teenage peer buddies from your youth group, for example, are a great resource. Grandparents, who originally felt their time of service has passed but now have grandchildren with special needs, are finding a passion for working in special needs ministries.
3) We don’t have the financial resources to start a special needs ministry. The reality is that you can start programming with a few basic sensory-based elements and adaptive resources. A sensory room can be started for around $500-$750 and then grow as your ministry grows. You don’t have a resource problem; you have a vision problem.
4) Special needs ministry is just childcare isn’t it? The reality is that children with special needs can learn and grow spiritually. They may have disabled minds and bodies, but there are no disabled souls. They can learn! But it is incumbent upon us to learn how to teach them, and to modify and adapt our methods to reach each child individually. If all you are doing is providing childcare, you are doing a disservice to that child and that family.
Also, don’t discount the fact that you are giving that child’s mom or dad the only chance they may have all week to be fed spiritually and connect with God while you take care of their child.
5) The end goal is to start a special needs ministry. The reality is that the end goal is to NOT even have a special needs ministry. The end goal is for you to just be the church. The church is supposed to be inclusive. If it’s not inclusive, then is it really the church? When serving and reaching those with special needs is so encoded into your church’s DNA that it just comes natural, and it’s integrated into every aspect of your church, then you have achieved the goal. Special needs ministry may start with the children. But, funny thing about kids, they grow up. What about your youth group, your young adults, your adult programs for the disabled, and every other aspect of church life?
6) We aren’t trained or equipped to do special needs ministry. There are wonderful organizations out there that have made it their mission to train and equip churches. You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to be able to work a phone or get on the Internet to find one of us willing to help your church.
7) It’s just a small, niche audience; we can’t serve or accommodate everyone. Good luck with that one when you stand and give an account before Jesus for how you shepherded his sheep. That “for as you do for the least of these, you do unto me” thing he said? He probably didn’t mean it. If you are going to start a list of those you will exclude, tell me who else is on the list? Who else doesn’t make the cut into your church? Is there a master list of which people to include and which people to exclude?
8) We already have a mission field and support so many missionary efforts. The reality is that families affected by special needs are 90% un-churched. That makes them one of the largest unreached people groups, and you don’t even need a passport to go serve them. Just walk across the aisle at work or the yard in your neighborhood. By the way, when studies are done asking these families “which institution is the least tolerant and understanding of your family’s needs,” the church is usually at the top of the list. Reaching special-needs families should be a component of your overall missions strategy , outreach and budget.
9) All it takes to start is someone with passion to step up and volunteer to help lead the ministry. All the great volunteers and ministry leaders won’t make it work without one key endorsement. The reality is that unless the senior leadership of the church embraces the vision, and clearly articulates the vision, to the congregation, the ministry will ultimately fail. It must have the passionate, visible support of the senior leadership and senior pastor in order to survive.
10) Working with those with special needs can be so draining on our people. The reality is that working with those with special needs will be one of the biggest blessings, joys, and fruitful experiences you could ever imagine. People who volunteer in special need ministry receive a far greater blessing and reward themselves than they are to others.
“ He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14, NLT)