Yesterday I took part in an online webcast with Kara Dedert and her support group for families with special needs, Live Better with Disability. The subject was Inclusion and Exclusion in the Church. The aim was to talk about how persons with disabilities are an indispensable part of the church and how we can work that out practically.

As I told Kara, I have much to learn in this area and even while preparing for this seminar I felt convicted about how much more we should be doing in our own congregation. Here’s what I put together for the webcast. I hope it will serve the church and special needs families by identifying areas for growth and action. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what else can be done in this important area.

What mistakes do Churches make when it comes to special needs families?

Inaccessibility: Difficult to access main sanctuary or other facilities and services.

Inflexibility: Resistance to adjust service times and format, youth activities.

Impatience: Frustration with inevitable service disruptions, but also staying with the family through difficult seasons.

Insensitivity: Comments, conversations, and decisions that unintentionally wound special needs (SN) parents and families.

One-sidedness: Exclusive focus on how the church can minister to SN families rather than also how they can minister to church.

Why do churches make these mistakes?

Lack of knowledge: They simply are not aware that what they are doing/not doing is having such an impact.

Lack of theology: An absence of a theology of disability, or a poorly developed one.

Lack of leadership: The leaders are not being good examples in this area.

Lack of vision: Failure to cast positive vision for serving SN children and their families

Lack of initiative: Waiting for problems/complaints to arrive rather than seeking feedback and input.

Lack of money: Some of the accommodations and adjustments are expensive.

Lack of people: There are not enough of the right kind of people to offer some services.

Lack of love: Self-centeredness that focuses on what the church is losing by welcoming SN families in worship services and church activities.

Lack of communication: Discussions and decisions that are not communicated or explained.

Lack of specialization: Educational programs that take little account for SN kids.

What can churches do to make things easier for SN families?

Knowledge: Ask for input from SN families. Consult with other churches on what they have done.

Theology: Read Disability and the Gospel: How God Uses our Brokenness to Display His Grace

Leadership: Leaders model and exemplify attitude, words, and actions towards SN families.

Vision: Cast care for SN families as part of God’s and church’s mission. Also the role of SN kids and families in serving the church and others.

Initiative: Regular scheduled survey of SN families to see if any problems have arisen. Not just when problems arise. Ask about biggest challenges/needs

Money: Raise and allocate funds for graduated program of building accessibility into the church and also paying for respite care.

People: Identify and train people to offer suitable care in nursery and for “buddy” services. Also for home respite. Remember non-SN kids in family.

Love: Teach people how to care for and include SN families. Address failures. Provide opportunities for date-nights and marriage-refreshing. Express affirmation and appreciation for the families.

Communication: Consider consequences of decisions on SN families, explain the “why?” behind the “what?”

Tailored programs: Including one-on-one discipleship of SN kids.

What other mistakes have you seen churches make in this area, and how can churches better serve the special needs community?