Did you know that the largest unchurched people group in the United States is families who are touched by special needs?
What is your church doing to try to reach this oft-neglected segment of people in our neighborhoods?
Most of us who regularly attend Sunday school and worship like to think our congregation is a welcoming one. We try to greet guests warmly and provide an atmosphere of friendliness to everyone who comes to visit.
But are we really conveying an all-inclusive attitude toward those who might happen into our midst?
Here are three questions to help you determine whether your congregation is truly showing God’s love to all your guests:
1. Are the buildings on your church campus handicap-accessible?
Are there ramps into the building? Is there an elevator if the building is multi-storied? Do the restrooms have stalls that can accommodate a wheelchair? Most buildings now have to meet certain code requirements and offer these accommodations. But if your building is an older one, you might need to consider making the necessary renovations to bring it up to modern codes.
2. Do you have teachers who are trained in meeting the needs of children, teens and adults with special needs?
In the distant past, such folks were never seen. Many people with special needs were routinely warehoused into institutions where they lived out their days. The conventional wisdom of that time was to assume these folks could not learn and so only basic physical needs were met.
Fortunately, such warehouses are no longer a part of our world here in the U.S. Still, some folks think that those with special needs cannot learn. Such thinking is false.
3. Has your church ever thought about providing some sort of respite care for the parents of those with special needs?
Taking care of such children requires patience, commitment and plenty of money. Doctor appointments, medications, therapies and special equipment are time-consuming and financially challenging.
Caregivers do not get many breaks to take care of and foster their own needs.
Here are five ways you can show Christ’s love to families who are dealing with special-needs children:
1. Offer a Parents’ Night Out event on a regular basis.
This provides parents with free or low-cost childcare so that they can have some quality couple time, even if only to go grocery shopping together.
2. Consider having a parent support group.
The monthly meetings can rotate from enjoying fellowship and refreshments to bringing in speakers to help parents understand legal issues or navigating the school system.
3. Train church members to be effective Sunday school teachers or to serve as “shadows” for our special-needs friends.
Have your members volunteer to sit beside a special-needs person during the worship service, especially if one of the parents would like to sing in the choir or praise group.
4. Make a point of greeting warmly the special-needs child and his parents when they attend your church functions.
5. Volunteer in a special-needs class at school as a way of becoming more up-to-date on how teachers work with their students.
It is important for congregations to stretch beyond their comfort zones in forming relationships with families touched by special needs. As they do, they may find they are in the company of angels.
Mary Buckner lives in Stanardsville, Virginia, and is an active member at Belmont Baptist Church in Charlottesville. A version of this article first appeared on the Baptist General Association of Virginia’s blog and is used with permission.