We talk a lot about how churches can bless special-needs families. But have you thought about all the ways special-needs families bless the churches they attend? I can think of four big ways:
They remind them one size doesn't fit all (especially in children and teen ministry). When you start thinking outside the box for one student, you realize how many others don't fit in the box either. Every one can benefit from sensory toys or breaking complex lessons down to simple main ideas. When kids and teens consider the limitations their friends at church may have, it helps them grow to be more compassionate and empathetic. Paul says he becomes all things to all people to draw them to salvation. Special-needs families remind churches they can be all things as well.
They model non-tradition methods of worship. In the church where we served in Pennsylvania, a eight year old girl with autism and her family sat on the front row so she could have room to dance. We were not a dancing church. But everyone loved watching her enjoy the music and praise God in her own way. Kathy, Greg, and Emily have shared about how their adult children with disabilities bless and are blessed by their church families during worship. (Hint: it often includes hugs!)
They comfort others with the comfort they have received. When we suffer, we look around for others who have experienced suffering. We don't want to hear "God won't give you more than you can handle." We do want to hear, "We know this is hard, we're sorry, and here's how we found hope." I want friends who will sit in the dust with me. If you go to church each Sunday and everyone is smiling and saying they are fine, there's no room for hurting, suffering people. But when families like mine suffer and find joy in the midst of it, we can encourage other families to do the same.
They are frontline missionaries to an unreached people group—other special needs families. A special-needs family is less likely to go to church than a typical family. What a great group to target, right? So how can we reach them? Use the special-needs families as your missionaries! When other families know your church welcomes families like them, they will be more likely to come.
When special-needs families are included in all aspects of church life, they are valuable members who bless as much as they are blessed.
How has your church been blessed by the special-needs families who attend?
Sandra Peoples serves as co-director of her church's special-needs ministry. You can connect with her on her site, sandrapeoples.com and check out her book, Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family.