First steps in starting a special needs ministry.

When it comes to starting a special needs ministry or anything in life that is worth doing the hardest part is knowing where to start. The first thing that you have to do is deal with the ignorance factor. This is so huge because I believe ignorance is one of the biggest reasons churches don’t have a more comprehensive ministry to families with special needs kids.

How do we overcome ignorance?

You will never have a burden for something that you know nothing about. I don’t care who wins the Stanley cup or the Gray cup but I can watch the Oakland A’s play the Twins and hang on every pitch. Why? Because I understand and am a passionate advocate of baseball. When it comes to special needs ministry I think most children’s pastors are in up to their neck in typical family problems. The thought of special needs anything paralyzes us and we don’t know what to do. We are afraid to say the wrong thing to do the wrong thing and hurt families that are already facing huge obstacles. What changed for me. My pastor went to conference and met Craig Johnson. He came back and said he wanted to start a ministry to kids with autism. I will be honest I was less than enthused. Why? Ignorance. A few weeks later I had the privilege of sitting with Craig at a conference and hearing his story I was moved beyond words. Hearing him talk and describe his passion for ministering to special needs families was moving. It was also very personal because Craig has a son who is on the Autism spectrum. I went back to my room and just sat there overwhelmed but this time it was a different kid of overwhelmed.

Craig said a few things in that meeting that really stuck out to me and helped me with my ignorance problem.

1. He said The divorce rate is much higher for families with special needs
2. Parents are looking for you to solve all their problems they just need hope.
3. How can we create such amazing environments for typical kids and totally neglect the families of kids with special needs.
4. There is amazing favor that comes when you minister to kids with special needs, because I believe you tap into the heart of Jesus.

As we talked Craig began to tear up he said that as a parent with special needs it was overwhelming to him that we would even consider doing something for kids that have special needs.

I walked away from that meeting not condemned not defeated but challenged encouraged and freed in a way that I have never felt before in my life. I may never understand the difficulty that parents with special needs face but the more we understand the heart of God for the overlooked and began making steps toward doing something God always supplies. We have started the conversation at two of our campuses and I have been amazed by the closeness of the autistic community. I have also been amazed by the eagerness of people to be involved.

The first step to defeat the ignorance issue is to sit down with someone who has a special needs child and ask how can I help. I know many of you have left comments on my earlier post talking about how a ministry to special needs kids will take time, money and talent from your ministry to typical kids. I don’t agree. From what I have learned and am still learning anything we can do will make a difference. The scope and size of the ministry will be determined by your senior pastor more than you as a children’s or family pastor. If you senior leadership is behind it the scope widens. If it something you as a family pastor or kids pastor are pushing I say push and do what you can do. The families in your church need hope. There more people in your church that are affected by Autism and other disabilities than you will ever realize.

How do we defeat ignorance.

1. Read
2. Talk to people like Craig Johnson and  Amy Fenton Lee
3. Do what you can do.
4. Ask questions.
5. Step into the pain because these kids are worth it.

10 thoughts on “First steps in starting a special needs ministry.”

  1. Hi again, Sam! I hope my comment yesterday didn't seem like I was saying that "ministry to special needs kids will take time, money and talent from your ministry to typical kids," though I have seen that sort of attitude expressed (an attitude that I definitely don't share!) It's certainly not an EITHER serve your typical kids OR the kids with special needs proposition. We've actually seen the opposite. Let's take volunteers, for example. Instead of having to stretch the same number of volunteers over more needs as we've included kids with special needs alongside kids without disabilities, we've had more members of our body drawn to what God is doing in this area. For our church, the reality is that special needs ministry has required more volunteers at first, a little more money eventually (though not much more), and an extra team member to lead it (me, as a volunteer not paid staff), but God has supplied every need as he has allowed us to include more families! We are also blessed to have senior leadership at our church who are driving and supporting everything we're doing. It's not seen as a ministry FOR one group or BY the person coordinating it but instead FOR Christ and BY his bride.

    1. Shannon, Not at all I was responding to a few other comments that were made by others. I compleately agree that lack of funds and lack of staff is more often than not a vision and leadership problem. There is wisdom in know when to launch a ministry like this but I have always found that when the goal is clear the vision is compelling and Christ is in the center we have never lacked for anything.

  2. jamie richardson

    I have a daughter who is developmentally delayed and requires oversight for her to be safe with herself and others. I sometimes purposefully do not take my daughter to some children's functions because her behaviors monopolize the teachers time and is overwhelming to the staff and volunteers. Additionally, having to endure the judgments of our parenting style by well meaning people who do not understand the stress and daily struggles of parenting children with disabilities creates isolation among the people who should be our support system-our church family. Lastly, biblically based parenting curriculums and parent mentoring programs are often lacking in giving Christan parents tools to reach the hearts of their disabled children, therefore I applaud you for your willingness to love difficult children and for taking the time to notice they need Jesus too.

  3. I have a physically challenged daughter, and our church has been wonderful to serve her specifically. I have also made the "jump" to take on the Children's Director, partly because she wanted to be involved, and someone needed to be there with her. (that's me!) I understand completely the need for special needs to be taken under the church's wing, so to speak. My church family is extended family, since our biological family lives elsewhere and can't jump in to help all the time. I thank God every day that there are people who love my family and are willing to think about her, and in turn about us. It's terribly daunting, and I applaud all of you for taking this specific need on!! It touches my heart. <3

  4. Sam, My heart just thrills at this post. You know, from pics, that we have adopted 4 children…one which is special needs…has a part of her brain missing. Thanks for your balance in this. There IS a place for helping families with beautiful special children…

  5. Great post, Sam! I work for Judson Press, a Christian publisher, and one of my favorite Judson books is Kathy Bolduc's Autism & Alleluias. Her slice-of-life vignettes reflect honestly, humorously, and faithfully about life with her autistic young adult son, Joel.

  6. I have the same vision as you do! I am in the beginning …. Where do I start mode? I found what you said to be exactly word for word what the Lord has placed upon me. Also the part about these children being the heart of God! This is what he also revealed to me. I will start to follow you closely as I proceed forward. I am lucky that our church does have a "Special Needs Ministry" and I have just recently joined to learn as much as I can. Praise God for you and this website in which to encourage others. May God bless you!

  7. Hi Sam, I am director of the special needs ministry at Eastern Hills Bible Church in Manlius, NY. My pastor forwarded your blog to me. I also believe that ignorance, or even better, lack of exposure to folks with special needs can impede a ministry. Therefore, just starting and giving people the opportunity to be around children or adults with special needs will begin to break down those barriers. After that, modeling interaction with kids and adults with special needs will help people learn how they can welcome and interact with folks with different abilities. Blessings

  8. Thanks for the article. We have a girl with autism in our church, and we have a wonderful team that supports her every Sunday. We have a few other challenges in caring for people in our church as well, that we’re trying to work through. It is difficult at times, but sooo important.

    Here’s a trivia tidbit: In Canada, “Gray Cup” is actually spelled “Grey Cup.” It was sponsored by Earl Grey, a Governor General, and is spelled differently than the colour.

    That said, I’m quite impressed that you have heard of it. I’m from Canada … and prefer Canadian Football and hockey over the A’s/Twins. Thanks for the shoutout to our Canadian traditions!

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