Engaging Millennials Through Disability Ministry

Our hearts should break to pieces when we see the statistical decrease of regular church attendance. I have heard one of my own pastors quoting Alan Roxburgh:

“If you were born between 1925 and 1945, there's a 60% chance you are in church on Sunday. If you were born between 1965 and 1983, there is a 20% chance you are in church on Sunday. If you were born after 1984, there is less than a 10% chance you are in church on Sunday.”

That ought to make the blood of every passionate Christian run cold. At any time, we are only one generation away from Christianity dying. And the eternal consequences are dire if we truly believe what we proclaim.

MILLENNIALS AND THE CHURCH

“Irrelevant” is one word that sums up how the latest generation of adults view the Church according to David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons in their book Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks Your Irrelevant and Extreme. This impression manifests itself not only in church attendance, but in the precipitous drop in charitable donations in this age.  

Ironically, the millennial generation is more focused on social justice than the previous generations. The sad part is that they do not see that social justice coming effectively through the Church. Put more simply and overtly, we are doing a poor job of serving and loving the most marginalized people in our culture. Some para-church organizations have done effective work in fighting things like human trafficking, but overall, we are seen by today’s world as the Pharisees that we are. Judgmental, extreme, people that visit a weekend “country club,” who are all talk and no action – Is it any wonder there is little desire for this generation to attend church?

 FLIPPING THINGS ON THEIR HEAD

I don’t know who it was that first said, “To achieve what you never have before you must do what you’ve never done before.” That can be no truer than in changing this perilous slide in Christian relevance. God is calling us far beyond innovation to a place where many feel discomfort. Actually spending time with others with whom we would never otherwise associate is what Christ is calling us to do in order to save His bride, the Church.

Too often I get feedback from churches that they need to get things in shape with their “typical” population before they can explore the possibility of disability ministry. What if disability ministry were the answer to the problem with the non-disabled population in churches? What if the very thing that pastors are avoiding is the key to igniting and engaging a new generation in the Church?

Contrary to the common perceptions of church leadership, including the disabled is more beneficial than detrimental. They are the “low hanging fruit,” ripe for evangelization and welcoming into community. Those living with some sort of chronic condition or special need are mostly unchurched.

INCLUSION BRINGS ENGAGEMENT

Leadership expert and former pastor, John Maxwell, has said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Actually, I think James beat him to that line of thought with different phraseology, “Faith without works is dead.” (See James 2) Or in a more secularized modern colloquialism, “Talk is cheap.”

Pastors demonstrate their faith over fear and crush the pharisaic image when they are willing to step out and build an inclusive community in their churches. There is a pervasive perception that disability ministry diverts funds and resources to play nurse maid to a group of people that have intense needs. Those perceptions may be based on outdated modes of ministry. Instead, today’s models of ministry afford the opportunity for total church engagement to grow and subsequent financial support to increase as people see faith lived out in practical love. When people see those with disabilities included and even serving in vibrant church community, they realize that there is a place for everyone there. We bring the kingdom come when we live out Christ’s mission by welcoming those society pushes to the margins.

“I might believe in the Redeemer if his followers looked more redeemed,” said Nietzsche.

Could the Church be selling itself short by not living out Christ’s mission to those right in our midst?

MARRYING WORDS AND DEEDS

Jesus was neither all talk nor all action. He lived his message boldly while serving at the same time. The only way we can stop the Church from “circling the drain” is by doing the same.

Including the disabled by starting with simple things like having people provide others with a ride to church, or having parents do a co-op buddy system to include exceptional kids in Sunday school are an engaging start. Stretching ourselves to a point where we would be brave enough to allow an individual in a wheelchair to be part of the worship team or be an usher magnifies God. Having each church small group include a family living with chronic illness or disability broadens our individual as well as collective scope. Simply “doing life together” despite our fears makes church more than something that is only done as a “have to” on Sunday. This is the sort of thing that makes millennials and everyone else stand up and take notice.

For further reading: Good Faith: Being a Christian When Society Thinks You're Irrelevant and Extreme by David Kinnaman & Gabe Lyons