You wouldn’t be the first leader to share this frustrating scenario: You spend months, even years, attempting to get you church leadership on board with reaching out to those with special needs. You finally get a ministry up and running. And suddenly, your church decides they don’t have room in their budget for special needs ministry. The program gets cut.
While disability and special needs ministries have made enormous strides, there is no doubt that there is still much to do when it comes to changing hearts and minds within the church. Frequently, unless there is a God-given heart for the need or someone in the pastor’s circle affected by a special need, it is difficult to inspire passion for this area of ministry. Persuading the church leadership that this is an essential part of their overall ministry can be like pulling teeth. And if they acquiesce, there’s no guarantee that they have a long-term commitment to welcoming those with disabilities and their families into the congregation.
How do you battle this sort of adversity from within the Body of Christ? Here are some thoughts:
- Never stop casting the vision. You can never remind church leaders enough that an estimated 1 out of 6 children are diagnosed with some sort of developmental disability. Christ calls us to love the lost and the least, and there is a huge mission field right in our midst. Tell the story over and over, one at a time to as many people at the church as will hear.
- My friends at Key Ministry never stop reminding that inclusion is a terrific approach because churches are reluctant to add another program. If you can convince your church to bring someone like Key in to offer one of their JAM Sessions (Jump-start an All-Inclusive Ministry), you may have greater success at sustaining the pattern and practice of welcoming those with unique abilities.
- Invite your pastor and the main decision-makers at the church to come join you in one of your activities. If it is Sunday School or a respite program, have these key leaders come for an entire session. This way they can see what is going on and what a difference it makes in the lives of these families. Nothing moves hearts quite like rolling up sleeves together and serving.
- Prove the value special needs ministry, of any kind, brings to this specific church as a whole. In a time where numbers matter, document how many new attenders are drawn to the church by your program or inclusion. Demonstrate the overall participation rate by families. List the number of volunteers who have found a way to express their Christian faith in action by serving in this ministry. When there are many worthy ministries all competing for the same manpower and dollars under the roof of one church, clearly lay out where disability ministry makes a difference and how dollars are specifically spent.
- Add value to the church by bringing in added funds. Whether it be a bake sale or a grant written, the pastor and his key decision makers will give you more credibility if you pull your weight in the financial realm. Strangely, many people see churches, especially large ones, as a cash cow. That is not usually the case. Churches struggle to bring in every dollar on a weekly basis. If you can show your willingness to help bear your part of that load, it will make a huge difference with the team.
These are just a few suggestions. Remember, we are ever-educating church leaders, attenders and the public at large to the need for inclusion in the Body of Christ. Some seasons go better than others. If you believe in this mission, don’t feel sorry for yourself, acting like the outcast step-child of ministry. Make a difference right were you are, with passion. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and commit the rest to Him.
What are YOU doing to prove your value to a pastor or church that might not fully embrace the need for inclusion or special needs programming? We would love to hear!