In an article posted by on orangeblogs.com it’s noted that 90% of people with special needs do not attend church. A study concluded in 2014 shows that 1 in 6 people in the US have a diagnosed special need. That means for my small city of 160,000 people there are roughly 26,000 with a diagnosed special need. That’s a lot of people who need to know there’s a church prepared to love them, invest in them, work to understand them, to nurture them, and to lead them.
They’re not showing up because they don’t feel welcome.
They don’t feel welcome because we’re not prepared.
And we’re not prepared because as an organization, we don’t get it.
We don’t truly get the need.
If 90% of people with special needs don’t come to church, we’ve lost a huge opportunity to tell them God made them… perfectly, God loves them… tirelessly, and Jesus wants to be their friend… forever. And for many, this also impacts parents, siblings, sometimes grandparents, aunts, uncles… Ninety percent of people with special needs aren’t showing up, but if you’re the parent of a person with special needs, you’re probably not showing up either. You probably didn’t get much sleep the night before. Maybe you tried church before but couldn’t stop wondering if your child would actually be cared for or simply managed until the service is over. You constantly worry, “Are they a distraction? Too noisy?” All these roadblocks keep families away as we electively neglect them.
Until we change some things, these families (maybe you’re one of them) will not come back. We don’t get to tell them the truths about God if they’re not here. But they won’t be here if we’ve not prepared for them. They might come once. Maybe twice. Maybe even a third time if they’re liberally optimistic. But 90% won’t stick around past that if we aren’t making strides to be prepared for them.
If you can relate to any of these figures or experiences, you’re not alone. Even though you probably feel very alone. Unfortunately, sometimes it comes with the territory.
I’m a staff pastor at our church. As an organization, we’ve not done our best work caring for families with special needs. But as the actual living, breathing, hands and feet of Christ’s body, our church has been amazing. Let me explain this a bit… The federally recognized 501(c)3 organization of the church has policies, budgets, benchmarks, etc., just like every other non-profit or business in the world. The ground-level care for individual families falls outside the scope of how this particular organization has chosen to operate.
Take it as you will. Maybe it upsets you. Maybe you’re in favor of it. That’s another discussion. Either way you look at it, I think we can all agree that in order for the Church to thrive it must be more than a legal organization. It must be made of people, carrying out the life of Christ to the marginalized (Eph 4:12). And it’s in this way our church has shone like stars in the sky.
When we brought our babies home, people made us meals, took our other kids out for play dates, cleaned our house, did some laundry; the gritty stuff of life. This stuff wasn’t mandated by any policy and procedures manual. It doesn’t fit into a systemized process. This is a good and pure work; unfettered. It allows for a response moldable to the need. But when it comes to Sundays inside a corporate setting, many of these policies often cripple the church’s ability to care for families like mine.
Yes, this is heartbreaking. And no, I don’t think this is okay to continue.
But as of this moment, the organization we call church has no plans in place for how to offer real, valuable care to families of children with special needs. Personally, for our family, we have come to the sad, painful, heartbreaking understanding that our church as an organization is a place where it’s still hard, because as an organization we just don’t get it yet. We don’t get the unique situations families with special needs face. Often standardizations and policies are what get in the way.
This all sounds pretty discouraging. And if you go into it with certain expectations on your church, it can be when your expectations are unmet. So where does this leave us? Well, first I’d love to invite you to join me me in praying for changes in our churches where a special needs ministry is as common as having a worship team or a choir. But if your church doesn’t have one yet, don’t give up. I believe there are ways to communicate value and honor to people and families with special needs outside of established organizational procedures and still act in alignment with the mission of your church.
First, to my adoptive families:
Don’t be discouraged or defeated if your pastor or staff members don’t seem interested or able to launch a special needs ministry. There will be the temptation to demand one. From my experience, that doesn’t get you very far. I am certain there are people in your church who are eager to care for your needs, just like there have been in ours.
To adoptive families and anyone who loves adoptive families:
Here are some simple, practical things to consider…
It can be difficult, if not downright impossible sometimes, to attend church if your child has a special need. But someone is probably already in your world who loves you and your children.
Watch and see. One of them is going to volunteer to be your child’s buddy.
Community can be hard, too. And on top of that, families are spending so much money on specialist visits, gas to and from, increased grocery bills and medical expenses, that trying to secure and pay for childcare or daycare so they can attend a MOPS or MDO or daytime bible study can break the budget real quick.
But I’m confident there’s somebody in your circle who’s going to step up and offer to cover the cost of childcare so you don’t have to miss out on the community you so desperately will need.
And when you haven’t been able to get away one-on-one with your spouse in years, someone will respond to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and will cover your expenses and handle all the details for a weekend getaway.
Here’s why. Because when you feel invisible, God hasn’t lost sight of you. He knows right where you are. And while the organization of the church probably won’t be able to meet your needs, the people who give the church its life are called and perfectly equipped for this moment and these situations to meet you right where you are and to carry you through.
Adoption is hard work. It’s the long game. But it’s not a work to be done alone. Help is on the way. Jesus said it simply, “There’s work to be done; more work than workers. Pray to the Lord for workers,” (Luke 10). I’ve seen it over and over again, when we pray God responds by prompting the hearts of His people to act. The workers are out there.
And now more than ever, I’m fully confident our God who calls you to follow his lead in serving the margins, in caring for orphans, in the work of adoption; He has all the resources you need stored up, just waiting to rain them down on you.