Nothing will make a pastor avoid you like asking to have a meeting on how to make church more inclusive. “We don’t have the manpower,” is an immediate thought. Stress escalates in a pastor’s heart when they are sensing increased demands without the bandwidth to staff existing programs.
Yet, it doesn’t have to be that complicated. The average pastor tends to freak out about welcoming those with disabilities and special needs to their congregation more than needed. Simple adaptations can make any church more welcoming for people of every ability.
START WITH THE GENERAL CONGREGATION
Before you venture off into anything else, make sure everyone is welcome in your general church service. Simple questions to assess your readiness might include:
1. Is our building fully accessible to those with mobility issues? Building a ramp can be a great project for your men’s group or for a local service organization. There are portable options that can be purchased at a reasonable cost as well. I know of old churches who are making no effort whatsoever to make their buildings accessible because they are grandfathered by age. This is simply inexcusable. This is clearly not what Jesus would do.
2. Where would we seat someone using a wheelchair or walker? Often churches choose seating right in front or in the back of the general seating. One idea that we had shared with our ministry early on was to remove a couple of seats half-way down in the general seating area for wheelchairs or walkers. This makes people feel much more a part of the assembly.
3. What if a person finds our service to be too loud? Simple steps like inexpensive, disposable ear plugs can make a loud worship service much more tolerable for a person who has difficulty with noise. We used them with our daughter who has sensory processing issues for years. A quieter space like the foyer with the service piped through a speaker, or a chapel or classroom with the same can easily open up a space for people who are finding the service too loud.
4. How do we include people that may make strange sounds or have behavioral issues during the service? Again, tiny steps can make a big difference. Ask a person or family what they need to successfully attend a service. Train ushers to be at the disposal of someone who feels they need to make a quick exit. Be adaptable in offering options for participating in the church service.
BRANCH OUT WITH ADAPTATIONS
There is no part of your church programming where those with a disability, mental health issue, chronic illness, or special need cannot be included with enough creativity.
· The vast majority of kids who have a diagnosis can be included in your children’s programming with a “shadow” or “buddy” to assist them. Engaging your youth by having them serve as buddies to the younger kids with challenges is a great way to build that culture of mutual service in your church.
· Encouraging small groups to include a member with a disability can build missional community without having to create more programming.
· Deacons can have one day per month where they reach out to those who haven’t been able to get to worship services or activities lately. Do they need a meal? Do they need prayer? Would a card or phone call of encouragement simply elevate them? Deacons are typically equipped to address those difficulties for a congregation.
Plainly stated, there should be no length to which we will not go to love and include our peers with disabilities, chronic illnesses, or cognitive challenges. Remember the friends who brought their buddy to Jesus on a mat through the roof of a house? Church inclusion is that straightforward.
Where will your church start today?
- Every Child Welcome: A Ministry Handbook for Including Kids with Special Needs (affiliate link) https://smile.amazon.com/Every-Child-Welcome-Ministry-Including/dp/0825443504
- That All May Worship http://www.aapd.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/03/That-All-May-Worship.pdf