Hearts of Acceptance

Hearts of Acceptance

hearts of acceptance

When it comes to disability in the church, it’s really about having hearts of acceptance. It is estimated that 20% of Americans have disabilities. That is about 1 of every 5, but how many of our churches are an accurate representation of this ratio? Not many!

My family is impacted by disability. My husband is a senior pastor, and we have three girls, two with special needs. Naturally, many of the families we connect with also have children with disabilities, and we often end up talking about church and their past experiences.

When it comes to special needs families, sadly, a majority of them do not attend church. The reasons vary, but for many, they don’t feel like they belong. They have felt pushed away, or they don’t have the energy to even try it.

One question I often hear from church leaders is, “How can our church be inviting to families dealing with disability?” And I have good news!  It is not really about having a “disability ministry.” That’s great if your church is ready for that, but the most important thing is to have a church culture with hearts of acceptance.

So, how can you reach out to special needs families walking through your church doors?

Welcome them to church and ask about their family.

Hopefully, welcoming visitors is something you do at your church.  When it is obvious there is a child or adult with a disability, make sure you take some time to talk to the new family. I know the presence of a disability can be uncomfortable, especially if you don’t have any experience, but people turning away is what many special needs families experience.  Don’t let that happen at church!

Sit with them.

If a special needs parent has to walk out of the service because the environment is overwhelming for their child with special needs, go sit with them in the foyer. Really, just go sit with them or walk around the building with them. What I hear from special needs parents who leave church is, “I was sitting on my own in the foyer every Sunday.  I figured why bother if I’m going to be alone.”

Invite them to church activities.

Even if you think the family cannot attend the activity, an invitation goes a long way. And, you never know!  Some family members might still make it because they received a personal invitation.

Ask about their child.

Ask about the child’s needs. Ask about their life.  Ask about the joys and the hardships. Ask if there is anything you can do to make the church experience easier for the family, and if possible, make it happen!

Include the kids with disabilities in your Children’s Ministry.

I understand that some kids with disabilities can be a little more challenging, but keeping them away is not the solution. Be creative. Is there an adult that can volunteer to be with that child? Perhaps a teenager? Just think how much all the kids can learn from each other.

Pick up the phone.

If you notice that a family impacted by disability did not make it to church, give them a call. Tell them you missed seeing them. Send them a card. I often hear from special needs families that leave churches, “Nobody even noticed we stopped going.  Nobody called or sent a card.”

If a special needs family walks into a church building and they feel loved and accepted, it won’t matter if there is a “special needs ministry.”  What they need most is for the church to love and embrace their family. Let’s do this church!  Let’s love on every family walking through our doors.

Go to Disability Matters for more information on welcoming those with disabilities into your church community.

Ellen Stumbo

Ellen Stumbo writes and speaks with gritty honesty and openness. She's passionate about sharing the real, sometimes beautiful and sometimes ugly, aspects of faith, disability, parenting, and adoption. Ellen is a pastor's wife, and her husband leads a CMA church. Ellen’s writing has appeared on Focus on the Family, LifeWay, MomSense, Not Alone, Mamapedia and the Huffington Post. Ellen blogs at ellenstumbo.com.

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