Our new church plans to be special-needs welcoming from the beginning. We see special-needs families as an unreached people group we plan to target. And like missionaries, we are taking the "go and engage" approach instead of just "come and see."
Here are eight outreach events we've come up with to target (and bless) special-needs families:
- Sensory-friendly movie - Rent a movie theater for the morning and make it sensory-friendly by turning the house lights up and the sound down. We are also going to have an activity table in the lobby for ours in case some of our guests need a break from the movie.
- Rent out a bounce house - When we lived in Pennsylvania, we were in an autism support group that invited us to a local bounce house every month an hour before it usually opened. Our son loved it! In the new town where we live, there's a bounce house owned by a pastor and a church meets in the building (they deflate them all for church services). They offered us a discount to rent it for a couple hours on the weekend. We have that planned for next month and plan to invite families who come to our sensory-friendly movie to join us next month at the bounce house.
- Respite night - If you have a church building, this is a great way to reach new families. It takes planning ahead of time to train volunteers and make sure you have all the info you need on the kids coming, but they are such a blessing to families. Especially if you can host one in early December so parents can do some Christmas shopping!
- Fall festival - Depending on what's available where you live, you can host a group for hey rides, corn maze fun, or even host a small group to paint pumpkins like we did at our house last fall.
- Day of pampering for moms/caretakers - A church in our area in Pennsylvania that had a big disability ministry had a Day of Pampering each year for moms and caretakers. The women who attended got haircuts, manicures, facials, massages, a nice lunch, and got their cars detailed while they enjoyed the pampering. They also had a speaker to encourage the women, worship music, and a blessing of the hands. It was a day I looked forward to each year!
- Family photo sessions - It can be hard for special-needs families to get their pictures taken. If you have a photographer in your church or have a friend with this talent, advertise for 30-minutes photo sessions at a local park. Make sure the photographer is patient and knows the parents don't expect perfect pictures, just lots of options to pick from.
- Pool party - Is there a community or YMCA pool you could rent? Or a splash pad? Make sure your guests sign waivers and know they are responsible for their family members, and have lots of fun. You may even rent an ice cream truck or snow cone machine for when your guests need to cool off.
- Produce picking (seasonal: strawberries, blueberries, pumpkins, apples) - Our autism support group in Pennsylvania did this also! James may have eaten more strawberries than he got in our bucket, but it sure was fun.
We're doing the sensory-friendly movie this weekend, and the short video we made to talk about the event reached 55,000 people on Facebook and was shared 163 times! Clearly there's a need for activities like this, especially during the long summer months.