The Biggest Challenges Small Churches Face in Special-Needs Ministry

As I mentioned last week, we're planting a new church that will be special-needs friendly from day one. As we get ready to plant, my husband is speaking at churches, sharing our vision and plan. We not only want to share our vision for Journey, but help them know the importance of doing special-needs ministry in their own churches. We keep getting the same questions over and over, especially from smaller churches (less than 150 members). They want to know if it's really possible.

It is possible, but the truth is there will be challenges. Here are four that we hear:

  • Money - "How much money does it take to run a special-needs ministry?" Our answer: it doesn't have to take much. 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.

  • Facilities - "We are running low on space now. How much room will it take?" Our answer: it doesn't have to take any space. Many churches use a buddy (or coach) program so most kids with disabilities attend class or childcare with their peers and just have extra help when they need it. Many of the parents who responded to my post last week said they don't like being shown to a room in the back of the church for their kids. They don't feel like part of the church body.

  • People - "Who is going to serve in this ministry?" Our answer: the people who are called to serve. 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. I truly believe God builds His church with people who can meet the needs of the people He calls there. 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!

  • Knowledge or Experience - "We just don't know where to start. How do we learn?" Our answer: Key Ministry is here to help! We offer free consultation to churches of any size.

We can be honest about the challenges smaller churches like mine may face. In the comments on my post last week both on the site and on social media, readers shared different "what if" scenarios, some of which seemed meant to discourage us. But if churches waited until they could meet every "what if" scenario, none of us would launch a special-needs ministry, or any ministry at all. 

We don't have to have a plan in place for every person we can imagine walking through our doors. We just have to love and serve the ones who do. And churches of every size can do that. 

How would you answer the questions we've heard? I'd love to learn from your experiences too!

Sandra Peoples is a pastor’s wife and mom to two boys. She’s the author of Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family.