Our special needs ministry reaches entire families -- not only
the children with special needs -- because entire families are
impacted by a child's disability. As children's ministers, we know
how important it is for families to attend church together. But
families also need the opportunity to go to Bible studies, church
events, and other activities together. They need our church's
acceptance, support, and assistance. So we've designed these
special needs programs specifically around families.
Sunday School -- The goal of our Sunday school
is to allow families to attend church together. Parents don't have
to worry about who'll take care of their child or who'll have to
stay home. Each child has the option of our contained special needs
classroom or the buddy program, where he or she can attend regular
Sunday school with an assigned buddy.
FunFest -- This is our respite program, and it
gives parents the opportunity to recharge and relax. Parents drop
off all their children with us on the first Friday of the month --
leaving adults with four hours of alone time. Siblings of kids with
special needs get to hang out with other siblings experiencing the
same struggles and joys. Children with special needs get to see
their friends and have fun.
Sibling Saturdays -- During one potluck our
families mentioned that often the majority of their attention must
be focused on a child with special needs, resulting in less time
with the other children. After that conversation, Sibling Saturday
was born. Sibling Saturday allows families to spend quality time
once per month with their other children while our ministry
provides a free, fun-filled day of activities for children with
special needs in a safe, loving environment.
Moms Night Out -- Moms can fellowship and
network with other moms of children with special needs through Moms
Night Out. This program lets moms refuel, relax, and share with
other moms living in similar circumstances. During our first Moms
Night Out, we worked on a scrapbook and enjoyed one another's
Support -- We support families in other ways as
well. We minister to families -- including those outside our church
-- by hosting speakers who address topics relevant to special needs
families. We have an additional respite program called
Drop-and-Shop in December to give parents time to finish Christmas
details or take a break from the season's hustle. Each summer our
ministry offers an adapted VBS program the same week that our
church sponsors regular VBS so children with special needs aren't
left out. Each year our ministry also sponsors one family for a
one-week special needs family camp.
I once thought it was necessary to have a structured program
completely set up and prepared for every child with every special
need known before the first child walked through the door. Here's
the real-world wake-up call to that thinking: You can never be
totally prepared for every person who attends your church. Each
child is unique, and each child's needs are unique. It's impossible
to be prepared for everything that might come up. But as long as
you accept and love everyone who enters God's house, he'll provide
the help you need.
So if you've ever considered starting a special needs program,
be encouraged by our experience. You don't need a long list of
programs and activities to start a special needs ministry. What you
do need is to start with what God's given you. Here's how.
- Pray. First, pray that God will lead your
church in creating this ministry. Pray for the right people to
coordinate and volunteer.
- Survey. Survey your church. Learn your
church's current needs. There are already people in your church and
community who can benefit. Begin with their needs.
- Recruit. Look for the right volunteers and
train them to minister to the people in your church. Sponsor a
special needs awareness Sunday to help educate your congregation
and spark interest.
- Research. Visit other churches with special
needs ministries. Interview the people involved to learn more. Do
research. There are a variety of resources available that can give
you sample documents, schedules, curriculum, and ideas.
- Trust. This special needs ministry is God's
ministry, not yours. God provides volunteers, materials, funds, and
most importantly, the amazing families who will minister to you
every bit as much as you will minister to them.
- Plan. Create a strategic planning team for
your special needs ministry consisting of parents, volunteers, and
leaders from your church. Together we've completed a strategic plan
to guide our ministry over the next five years.
- Envision. Draft a clear mission and purpose
statement to use everywhere in your ministry. Our mission is to
minister to those with special needs and their families by leading
them into a deeper relationship with Jesus while helping them
discover and exercise their spiritual gifts. Our purpose is to
minister to the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of people
with special needs and their families.
- Reach out. Support other churches with their
special needs ministries. We work with our community to minister to
our neighbors with special needs.
- Focus. Focus on four main areas: individuals,
families, churches, and community. We support and meet specific
needs of individuals so they can become church members while
fulfilling their purpose. Our church continually contributes to
these families' lives and needs. We provide accessibility to church
activities to help provide spiritual growth while their physical
and emotional needs are being met. Finally, we work to increase
awareness and acceptance of people with special needs in our
- Protect. -- Ensure that your church is covered
by insurance before implementing a program. One vital aspect of
this is release and information forms that are signed by parents.
Consult your church attorney and senior pastor to go over any legal
and liability issues. Research your current policies and procedures
and revise as needed to control risks.