As my husband and I have worked to plant a special-needs welcoming church outside of Houston, we've heard some objections to churches having special-needs ministries. Some are practical, some are just outright rude, but looking at the top four excuses we hear and sharing why we don't think they are good enough reasons to exclude families like mine may help encourage more churches to serve better.
- It will ruin our reputation in the community to have families like that here. I heard this was said at a deacons' meeting right before the pastor decided to resign from this church. How it must break God's heart to see us worry more about pleasing man than pleasing Him, to elevate our pride above His love. The truth is, special-needs families bless the churches they attend. Jesus came to seek and save those who were lost, not worry about His reputation as He sought them out. We should follow His example and find people who feel excluded and bring them into our church families.
- We don't have the money for special-needs ministry. The truth is, it doesn't have to cost much more to be inclusive. If you already print bulletins, consider printing a few in large print. If you already have toys in the nursery, consider adding some recommended for kids with sensory issues next time you buy new ones. As your ministry grows, you may expand the ministry and adjust the budget to meet the needs, just like you would do if the women's ministry (or any other ministry) had new needs.
- We don't have the helpers we need. The truth is, God builds His church and when all the members are using their gifts, they can meet the needs of the other members. In our small church in Pennsylvania, we already had members attending who were excited to help when the new ministry launched. We had therapists, special-ed teachers, grandparents of children with special-needs, and adults with disabilities who all served in different capacities. And if the needs do outnumber the volunteers, consider hiring outside help. My friend Ellen Stumbo's small church had success with hiring helpers because a majority of the families who attend her church had disabilities or family members with disabilities. They wanted to provide a real break for the families who needed it. Your church may even see people come to Christ who thought they were just coming to help!
- The special-needs kids will scare off the typical kids. We heard this one just last week and it may hurt the most. The truth is, because of inclusion in schools, kids now are around more kids with disabilities than we may realize. And what type of kids do we want to raise? Those who only have the capacity to love those just like themselves, or those who can see the diversity of God's creation as good and celebrate it? Children, teens, and even adults need to learn and have the opportunity to show the love of Christ. We wouldn't say a minority family would scare off the majority race in a church, and we shouldn't say anything similar in this context either. We are called to be fishers of men, not reject those we consider less desirable.