How Many Children with Disabilities Should I Expect at a Church My Size?

How many children with disabilities should your church be serving? It’s a good question, and there are a few factors that go into determining what the number could be.

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First, consider your church size. According to Thom Rainer, the latest stats on church size are as follows:

  • 50% of all churches in America average less than 100 in worship attendance.

  • 40% of all churches in America average between 100 and 350 in attendance.

  • 10% of all churches in America average more than 350 in attendance.

Your church size shouldn’t determine whether or not you welcome children with disabilities. In fact, small churches have many advantages when it comes to serving families like mine. (Don’t let these challenges hold you back.) But church size does help you determine how many children you will likely serve.

Second, consider the number of children you serve.

Tony Morgan has the most helpful research to determine how many children your church probably should be serving. In his post, Measuring Church Health: How many kids will attend?, he writes, “…the average range for kids attendance is between 19 and 23 percent of total attendance. In other words, for every four adults and students that attend weekend services, the typical church has one child between the ages of birth and fifth grade.”

Third, determine the number of children with disabilities that could include.

Here’s how you can determine that number. We know that the census showed that nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. has a disability. That reflects disabilities from autism to Alzheimer’s, but it’s good to take into consideration as you look around your church to see if it reflects that number. To figure out how many children with disabilities you may have, you can look at the percentage of special ed students your school district serves. I’ve looked into this number in our area because the state of Texas Department of Education made the news on this topic last year.

From NPR: “Texas officials put out an arbitrary number — 8.5 percent of enrollment — that in effect limited how many students could get special education services. Districts could be penalized if they went over that rate. Across the country, 13 percent of students, on average, are identified as needing special education — in some states, more.”

As you likely know, there’s a huge number of children considered to have challenges that fall outside of the school district’s requirement for special ed. These diagnoses include mental health issues and learning disabilities. If we factor in these conditions, the number of children in your community who will need accommodations to be comfortable and successful at your church is likely close to 20%.

The percentage of children in your community who will need accommodations to be comfortable and successful at your church is likely close to 20% of your total church attendance.

Does your church currently reflect this number? If not, that’s to be expected too. Disabilities keep families from attending church. (Check out Dr. G’s comprehensive post on the topic: It’s the hidden disabilities that keep kids out of church). But we can take steps to increase that number!

The first step to reaching more children with disabilities is to serve the ones you have by keeping them safe and caring for them. Then you can move on to outreach ideas that will help you meet more families in your community and let them know you can. If you need help, Key Ministry offers free consultation services and hosts a private Facebook group for disability ministry leaders.

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.