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Put yourself in the shoes of a family with children who have special needs. What do you think a typical week might look like? Perhaps, visits to a doctor, a therapist, or a counselor. Prolonged shopping trips to get special types of food. Worrying about class bullies. Fielding comments from insensitive friends or strangers. Finding just the right special needs school program. Endless communication with teachers or caregivers. Constant care and monitoring around the clock. Less time spent with your spouse or friends. By the end of the week you are likely exhausted, spiritually and physically.
More than ever these families need the help of the body of Christ, but many churches are woefully lacking when it comes to providing for children with special needs. It is not that they don’t care. Often times churches are simply unsure of what to do or how to go about helping. How can your church make a difference?
To start… it is essential to have a staff person or volunteer who specifically coordinates ministering to the families with special needs. A coordinator will be the key contact for people with questions and will help rally the church together.
Once you have your coordinator, two things are essential: education and communication.
Learn what other churches are doing. Several churches around the US have developed great programs: Johnson Ferry Baptist Church, Bethlehem Baptist Church, Woodmen Valley Chapel, Montgomery Community Church, West Cannon Baptist Church, or Woodside Bible Church.
Be aware of key safety issues for children with special needs. This includes any thing from allergies to evacuation plans to sexual predators. Unfortunately, sexual predators tend to target children with disabilities because it is often easier to get away with abusing a child who may not be able to clearly communicate to someone else what is going on. To protect your children avoid posting pictures of them online or posting their names.
Train your children’s workers and volunteers. They should know how to care for the children, be aware of your church’s procedures, and know what to do in case of an emergency. Some children might need a volunteer who stays with them as their “buddy” or “helper” throughout the whole service. If so, make sure these volunteers know exactly what to do.
Many families will not even visit a church unless they know that it will be accommodating for their family. Make sure your church website has a section for your special needs program. It should include contact information for one or two designated people in case parents have more questions.
Get all the information you need to properly care for each child. A special needs questionnaire is often helpful. Johnson Ferry Baptist Church has developed an intake form that will give you an idea of what type of information you might need.
Make sure you are taking advantage of all your opportunities for volunteers. Are there any nurses or doctors in your church who might consider being on-call during the service? Are there any high school or college students that are interested in a career path with special needs children? If so, then this might be a golden opportunity for them to help out and see if it might be a good career fit.
And one last thing… pray for your children, their families, and your workers. God may use this opportunity in your church to serve your congregation and community in more ways than you could ever imagine!