A family who has a son with special needs has recently begun attending our church. How do we help make this transition into our church programs good for this family?
We’re very glad that you are thinking about this child and his family. According to the U.S. Department of Education, nearly 7 million children in the U.S. are identified in their schools as having a disability. There are lots of labels, though, to describe these disabilities, ranging from physical impairments to emotional challenges or cognitive disabilities. But every child is also a unique child of God, even if they share a common educational label.
Vanderbilt University educator Erik Carter points out that there are two things all these children have in common, though. They often experience significant barriers to meaningful participation in activities and relationships in a variety of settings, including in churches. And, like all of us, they have a need to belong. He urges churches to help move these children from being merely present to being welcomed, accepted, supported, cared for, and loved.
Talk to the parents about the best ways to make coming to church on Sundays a good experience for everyone in the family. Special accommodations such as having a helper with the child, offering special worship materials, or providing time for them to adjust to a new setting might be indicated.
Also, be aware that other members of the family might need support as well. Finding ways to allow the parents to have some time in worship while their children are receiving good care can be a real blessing to them.
Finally, the body of Christ and our churches are not complete without our brothers and sisters in Christ who have disabilities. Their presence with us blesses us in ways we might not be aware of in the short term. Rejoice that this family has found your church to be a welcoming place.
About the Author
Laura Keeley is a regional catalyzer in faith formation with Thrive, the ministry agency of the Christian Reformed Church. Robert Keeley is a professor emeritus of education at Calvin University. The Keeleys recently retired after 31 years as directors of children’s ministries at 14th St. CRC in Holland, Mich.