When we talk to churches about including people with disabilities, there is a question that is always in the room. It may not be verbalized, or even conscious, but it influences our thoughts, feelings, and actions. It is, appropriately, the “million-dollar” question: “How much does it cost to start a disability ministry?” In an age of $1000 cell phones and ever-stretched church budgets, we know that for many churches, starting a disability ministry really does depend on the bottom line.
A few weeks ago, I got a picture of a friend’s son, Jimmy, on a Sunday morning at church. Jimmy is a teenager with severe autism. Having been hospitalized multiple times because of violent aggressions, many churches have looked at Jimmy, and thought that they couldn’t possibly muster up the resources needed to include him in their church.
And yet, in Jimmy’s case, the answer to the “million-dollar” question is $10. A ten-dollar yoga ball and two volunteers are all it takes for Jimmy’s church to include him. In the picture I received, Jimmy was bouncing on a yoga ball while two volunteers spent time with him and told him Bible stories. His father said in the text, “This is what love and service looks like.”
The cost of starting to include people with disabilities is often not primarily monetary. The cost of including people with disabilities is primarily love.
Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends“ (John 15:13 NIV).
When we’re generous with our love, we’re willing to re-arrange the classrooms so that our friend who uses a wheelchair can attend Sunday School with her peers. When we are generous with our love, we give time and energy to volunteer as a buddy or offer a ride to those who can’t drive. When we’re generous with our love, we send the lyrics of next week’s worship songs to our visually impaired friends to have on their own smartphone. None of these things cost any money, but they cost everything in love. It’s amazing how many economic and physical barriers disappear when love is in the building.
So how much does it cost to start a disability ministry? $10—and all your love.
Hunter and Amberle Brown help lead an organization called The Banquet Network that is based in Baltimore, MD. The Banquet Network primarily works with church plants to inspire, equip, and resource them to reach people with disabilities who are on the margins of their communities. Hunter works full time at Goucher College and is a part-time Masters of Theology student at St. Mary’s Ecumenical Institute in Baltimore. Amberle works full-time for World Relief, an international health and development NGO, and is passionate about helping churches include and reach people with disabilities based on her own experience of becoming visually impaired and her encounters with people with disabilities in her work in developing countries.