Two years ago we moved across the country to plant a special-needs welcoming church. Next month we're officially closing. It certainly didn't go as we hoped, but maybe it's a good thing.
Two years ago we packed up a big truck in our small town in Pennsylvania and moved to the fastest growing suburb of Houston, Texas. Our hope was to plant a new church that would welcome special-needs families from day one.
For the first year we worshiped and served with our sponsoring church and got involved in the community with other churches in the local association. We did outreach events to target special-needs families and they all went great. We met over 200 special-needs families in the area through these events. Many of them said, "Let us know when your church is open! We'd love to come!"
After the first year of being here, it was time to be sent out by our sponsoring church. But after all those months of sharing our vision, only two families committed to coming with us (and one of those families knew they would be moving out of state after just a few months). Two more families we met from the community joined with us, but both drove over thirty minutes to our weekly Bible study and both have teenagers with disabilities, so it wasn't always easy to get out.
Over the last year we've met weekly in our home for Bible study. We hired a baby sitter for the younger kids, and the older kids/teens usually ate together and then joined us for Bible study time. Most weeks it was 9 adults, 4 kids under 10 years old (3 with special-needs), and 9 kids/teens over 10 years old (4 with special-needs). We loved being together, and the other parents knew they could relax in our home. Since our nine-year-old son has level 3 autism, our house is safe for him and safe for the other kids/teens who visited each week.
But after two years of receiving funding from our supporting church, the local association of churches, and our state denomination, it was time for them to evaluate their investment in our church plant. We needed to be more self-sustaining, but the families who met with us weren't able to give the amount we needed to make the budget work. My husband works two jobs in addition to church planting and I work three part time jobs from home, but without help from our funding sources, we can't continue to devote time and our own resources to keep the church going. In July we will officially close as Journey Church.
It's hard to see your dream die. Especially a church you hoped would be a source of hope, love, and community to people who need it all so desperately (like my family).
But it isn't all bad news. Over the time we've been here, we've connected with other churches who now see the need to become special-needs accommodating.
Instead of planting one welcoming church, we've helped six churches become more welcoming.
We visit them with our son and they know what to do to help him and are able to help other kids. A couple of the churches have asked for resources and training so they can welcome even more kids, teens, and adults with disabilities.
Lee was able to speak at an association meeting about special-needs ministry and shared the number of special-ed students our school district serves. Many of the families we've met through James's classes at school don't have church homes, but now we can tell them options of churches they could attend.
Most of the pastors in the area Lee has talked to said something like "I had no idea this was a need. It just didn't occur to us it may be harder for special-needs families to attend church." But now they know, and now they can use our resources and knowledge to strengthen their churches.
It's sad knowing Journey Church won't exist to welcome and serve families in our city, but it's even more encouraging to know there are now six churches in our area that will fill the need. We are thankful for the way God has chosen to use us here!