7 reasons why Churches fail special needs kids.

One of the things that the kidmin community is lacking is a clear focus on special needs ministry. We have seen lots of traction when it comes to ministering to families, creating environments. One area that that is severely lacking is comprehensive ministry to special needs kids. You go to most churches in American even Mega churches and there is little available for families with special needs kids. I am not here to point fingers at others, at Redeemer we are starting down a path to create a world class ministry to kids with special needs. The kidmin community needs to have an open and honest conversation about special needs ministry. I hope that the next few blogs I do open up that dialogue.

In my mind there are 7 main reasons why church don’t engage special needs families.

1. Ignorance. – If you are anything like me its daunting. You don’t know where to start. In this journey for us we have found that churches, leaders and families with special needs kids are ready and willing to help you along the path toward understanding and removing obstacles.

2. Fear – I think fear is connected to ignorance. If we are honest I think we are afraid of what we don’t know. I know there has been and still is so much I don’t know that I am afraid. What helps conquer that fear? Seeing the need and seeing God’s heart.

3. Lack of vision – You have to see the need before you can meet it and as a leader you have to help other see the need before they will move toward the solution.

4. Priories – To have a world class ministry to families of children with special needs it needs to be a priority of not just the children’s department but of the whole church. You need to devote, time, money and talent towards the ministry in a significant way.

5. Humility – You need to be humble enough to admit you don’t know everything and humble enough to seek help from professionals inside and outside the church.

6. It’s a big job – The amount of work and dedication that goes into special needs ministry is intense but the payoff is unbelievable.

7. We don’t think an hour will make a difference – Special needs kids need many of the same things typical kids need. They need someone other than their parents speaking life into them, believing in them and standing up for them.

I hope you stick with me for the next few days as we talk more about the importance of special needs ministry. I would love your comments as we are just starting down the journey of special needs ministry. We are proud and excited to be starting a champions club this Easter at our Albany campus.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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23 thoughts on “7 reasons why Churches fail special needs kids.

  1. I am ready to get started, but your list of 7 is right there with us at Lakeshore. We have been praying to overcome these obstacles and for God to open our hearts to new and exciting avenues to serve! I look forward to following you along the way! Thank you Sam!

    • Marie thanks for your comment. I am really excited to be tackling this issue with you and whoever else joins in. I would love to hear what you guys are learning. There is a lot of people who are way smarter than I am out there I just hope I can help connect people to the right place to get their needs met. I also want to help with the conversation as we are learning. Really excited Marie.

  2. Such a tough subject, especially for a small church. Our director of children's ministry is in over her head with NT kid's issues. So special needs is lower than a low priority. My wife and I are doing all we can to help (including the all-important PRAYERS!!) and continue to believe that our church is such a potential haven for those with special needs, who aren't getting the message of Christ anywhere else.

    Thanks for the cogent post!

  3. Thanks for posting this, Sam. I see 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 as reasons why most churches I work with haven't done special needs ministry before they ask for my help, and then 3 and 4 are often the reasons some ministries get started but aren't sustained.

    This is possibly a variation of your third reason, lack of vision, but I think another reason is "loss of mission." We see in 1 Corinthians 12, especially verse 22, that special needs ministry turns worldly thinking on its head, with the parts of the body that are seen as "weak" actually being indispensable to the body of Christ. And because churches aren't immune to worldly thought processes in planning, it's easy to slip into a ministry mindset that is concerned about maximizing output in a quantifiable way (in attendance, number of faith professions/baptisms/etc, growth) with the least amount of input (time, money, effort, volunteers) instead of looking at the mission of the church. (And then, of course, there's the debate between social justice vs. evangelism that muddies the waters when we should be about both as the church, but that's another can of worms…) In special needs ministry compared to other ministries, the input is often greater and the output – in worldly estimations – less. Praise God that his economy of what/who is worth it and what/who isn't is different from the world's, though!

    Let me know if you want to talk about any of this as y'all figure out what it will look like at your church. I don't profess to have it all figured out, but I've been leading the special needs ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh for a few years and blogging about it at http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com for about nine months, which has helped me connect with others who are engaging in this sort of thing as well. And my background is in special ed with several years of teaching and training teachers, so through all this God is letting me take my vocational training and implement it in a cool way in a church setting. He's cool like that.

    Can't wait to see your upcoming posts on this!

  4. Thanks for posting this, Sam. I see 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 as reasons why most churches I work with haven't done special needs ministry before they ask for my help, and then 3 and 4 are often the reasons some ministries get started but aren't sustained.

    This is possibly a variation of your third reason, lack of vision, but I think another reason is "loss of mission." We see in 1 Corinthians 12, especially verse 22, that special needs ministry turns worldly thinking on its head, with the parts of the body that are seen as "weak" actually being indispensable to the body of Christ. And because churches aren't immune to worldly thought processes in planning, it's easy to slip into a ministry mindset that is concerned about maximizing output in a quantifiable way (in attendance, number of faith professions/baptisms/etc, growth) with the least amount of input (time, money, effort, volunteers) instead of looking at the mission of the church. (And then, of course, there's the debate between social justice vs. evangelism that muddies the waters when we should be about both as the church, but that's another can of worms…) In special needs ministry compared to other ministries, the input is often greater and the output – in worldly estimations – less. Praise God that his economy of what/who is worth it and what/who isn't is different from the world's, though!

    Let me know if you want to talk about any of this as y'all figure out what it will look like at your church. I don't profess to have it all figured out, but I've been leading the special needs ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh for a few years and blogging about it at http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com for about nine months, which has helped me connect with others who are engaging in this sort of thing as well. And my background is in special ed with several years of teaching and training teachers, so through all this God is letting me take my vocational training and implement it in a cool way in a church setting. He's cool like that.

    Can't wait to see your upcoming posts on this!

  5. Thanks for posting this, Sam. I see 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 as reasons why most churches I work with haven't done special needs ministry before they ask for my help, and then 3 and 4 are often the reasons some ministries get started but aren't sustained.

    This is possibly a variation of your third reason, lack of vision, but I think another reason is "loss of mission." We see in 1 Corinthians 12, especially verse 22, that special needs ministry turns worldly thinking on its head, with the parts of the body that are seen as "weak" actually being indispensable to the body of Christ. And because churches aren't immune to worldly thought processes in planning, it's easy to slip into a ministry mindset that is concerned about maximizing output in a quantifiable way (in attendance, number of faith professions/baptisms/etc, growth) with the least amount of input (time, money, effort, volunteers) instead of looking at the mission of the church. (And then, of course, there's the debate between social justice vs. evangelism that muddies the waters when we should be about both as the church, but that's another can of worms…) In special needs ministry compared to other ministries, the input is often greater and the output – in worldly estimations – less. Praise God that his economy of what/who is worth it and what/who isn't is different from the world's, though!

    Let me know if you want to talk about any of this as y'all figure out what it will look like at your church. I don't profess to have it all figured out, but I've been leading the special needs ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh for a few years and blogging about it at http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com for about nine months, which has helped me connect with others who are engaging in this sort of thing as well. And my background is in special ed with several years of teaching and training teachers, so through all this God is letting me take my vocational training and implement it in a cool way in a church setting. He's cool like that.

    Can't wait to see your upcoming posts on this!

  6. Thanks for posting this, Sam. I see 1, 2, 5, 6, and 7 as reasons why most churches I work with haven't done special needs ministry before they ask for my help, and then 3 and 4 are often the reasons some ministries get started but aren't sustained.

    This is possibly a variation of your third reason, lack of vision, but I think another reason is "loss of mission." We see in 1 Corinthians 12, especially verse 22, that special needs ministry turns worldly thinking on its head, with the parts of the body that are seen as "weak" actually being indispensable to the body of Christ. And because churches aren't immune to worldly thought processes in planning, it's easy to slip into a ministry mindset that is concerned about maximizing output in a quantifiable way (in attendance, number of faith professions/baptisms/etc, growth) with the least amount of input (time, money, effort, volunteers) instead of looking at the mission of the church. (And then, of course, there's the debate between social justice vs. evangelism that muddies the waters when we should be about both as the church, but that's another can of worms…) In special needs ministry compared to other ministries, the input is often greater and the output – in worldly estimations – less. Praise God that his economy of what/who is worth it and what/who isn't is different from the world's, though!

    Let me know if you want to talk about any of this as y'all figure out what it will look like at your church. I don't profess to have it all figured out, but I've been leading the special needs ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh for a few years and blogging about it at http://www.theworksofgoddisplayed.com for about nine months, which has helped me connect with others who are engaging in this sort of thing as well. And my background is in special ed with several years of teaching and training teachers, so through all this God is letting me take my vocational training and implement it in a cool way in a church setting. He's cool like that.

    Can't wait to see your upcoming posts on this!

    • Shannon Great comment thanks. I think there is a balance but it is a slippery slope when we start quantifying resources to much in the church. If we think in terms of our bottom line rather than the Heart of God we may be around longer but we lose the very thing that makes us the church. It has been my experience that I never had everything I needed when I started anything. God opens our eyes to his heart and we step out in faith and he ALWAYS comes through. I can appreciate the concerns of so many but this is a whole church thing not just a kidmin thing. We need to lead up and do what we can do and pray that God will do what he can do.

      • I agree, Sam. I have seen that sort of bottom line thinking stall special needs ministries at some churches, but we have definitely seen the multiplying of the loaves and fish in ours. And I agree too that this is a whole church thing, especially considering that most kids with disabilities will become youth with disabilities and then adults with disabilities. At our church, our special needs ministry is pre-birth (as we support and counsel families who receive a special needs diagnosis prenatally) through adulthood, though our weakest place is with youth (though we're working on that!). It's been excited to engage the whole church in ministry events like this Saturday night's respite care event (a parents' night out for families who have children with special needs), and it has helped open eyes in our congregation to have adults with disabilities serve in visible ways, like as greeters.

        I'm excited to see what God is doing in my church and hear what God is doing at your church and other in this area! Thanks for blogging about it.

  7. Thanks for the post. I'm gonna share it with our NextGen leaders.

    Wanted to let you know that you say "10 main reasons" on the sentence above your list of 7. 😉

  8. Good article about some challenging issues in the Church today. We need to embrace more fully the needs of the special needs community. I have personally seen some hope over the years. In 1985 I completed a 180 hour practicum at the Lakemary Center for Exceptional Children that was run by a Catholic Church in Paola KS. I had little exposure to Catholicism before that, but I was impressed by how well those Sisters were able address all of the issues of the clients. We worked in the classrooms as well as the group homes to best serve the clients and to discover the skill sets of each individual. It was quite the ecumenical experience I have always enjoyed remembering. The text book was helpful with all of the Suggested Readings in the back. but the daily one-on-one experience with the individuls was so rewarding.

  9. Great post, Sam! You had me at #1! This entire year, we have been researching and formulating and studying what we need to provide quality special needs ministry, and the more I read, the more ignorant I feel. It is difficult not to be completely overwhelmed at the sheer volume of information on this topic! We struggle with space issues right now, but when that changes, we want to be ready to begin. It is a long process. I have been thankful for Amy Fenton Lee and and Shannon Dingle. They give me hope that we can do this. I'm really looking forward to your posts!

  10. #4 priority is the key and in small or large churches we have to think about all of the mentioned items. Leaders have to be careful and not bite off to much in any one area of ministry or it could collapse all of your programs and then you would not be meeting any needs. Special needs children should not be forgotten but it would take a dedicated individual to undertake such a program. Very few churches would be able to have a paid staff member administer such a program, unless the need for that program outweighed the needs of other areas in the children ministry program in any given church. This may sound harsh, but leadership has to look at these programs on a practical level so as not to overburden the entire children's ministry program. This is an emotional issue and has to be treated carefully, so you do not come across as uncaring. God will work with what you have if you let him and don't try to force issues which may not exist and could have your ministry moving down a road you may not complete and this in turn could damage your efforts permanently.

    • Bill agreed. Good leadership is huge. I plan on speaking to that. Special needs ministry can sound very altruistic but if not lead with clear leadership and vision it will hurt the momentum of the church and even more sadly the families of the kids you are trying help. I believe if this is something God wants done he will supply the leader. We are praying that prayer right now for our campus. If you would join us I would appreciate it.

  11. Sam,

    Thanks for using your platform to call attention to this issue. I'm encouraged the the huge uptick in interest we've seen in special needs ministry this past year. Our team put together a special needs ministry web summit last month headed up by Chuck Swindoll that drew over 1,000 pastors, ministry leaders and volunteers. Shannon Dingle (posted above) did a great job, and Amy Dolan, Jeremy Collins, Libby Peterson and others represented the kidmin community.

    I thought your post was very much on target. The resources available to address the ignorance and fear are exploding. Sometimes, we get hung up by the language that we use. If we think about creating welcoming environments for all kids with disabilities (visible and hidden) and their families as opposed to a more traditional conceptualization of "special needs" (kids with severe disabilities needing 1:1 support), we can cast a much larger vision and make a highly effective return on investment argument to senior pastors, executive pastors and church boards so that support for not just special needs ministry, but children's ministry and youth ministry take on much greater priority.

    22% of first graders in the U.S. meet criteria for at least one mental health disorder. Over 9% of school-age kids in the U.S. have received at least one prescription for medication to treat ADHD. At least 8% have one or more anxiety disorders. The prevalence of autism is increasing dramatically. Most kids in foster care require mental health treatment. All of these conditions are barriers to families "doing church." The larger argument is that it's not just the kid with a disability who misses out at church. The whole family generally misses out on church…the "typical" siblings of the kid with a disability, as well as the parents who miss out on the teaching at weekend worship, the ability to connect with a small group, and the resources to shepherd their kids the other 167 hours of the week. We have an enormous, underserved population within ten minutes of most churches that can be readily welcomed through interventions that are well within the skill set of most children's and family ministry leaders.

    Our team, along with like-minded colleagues from other ministry organizations with backgrounds in BOTH children's/family ministry as well as child psychiatry, psychology, counseling, special education and curriculum development, stands prepared to offer help free of charge to any church desiring help in overcoming the challenges you describe.

    I'm curious as to what led you and your church to take the leap in prioritizing ministry to kids with special needs? Why are you guys taking this on? What can we do to help?

    Stephen Grcevich, MD
    President, Board of Directors
    Key Ministry http://www.keyministry.org http://drgrcevich.wordpress.com
    [email protected]

    • Stephen thanks for adding your voice and for reading my blog. Your point about this being a family ministry is so key. If ever a ministry of the church be orange it's this one. We are excited about not just providing a service to a child but we really hope to reach the entire family as well.

  12. Hey Sam! Thanks for the article. Want to come and share with The Huddle in January 2012? This is a breakout we'd like to offer. Or do you have some good recommendations of individuals?

  13. At Faith Community Church in Hopkinton,MA, we have between 6-14children with significant special needs every Sunday. Parent communication is critical. We are trying to figure it out one child at a time. There is not one answer that works for every child.