The demand for churches to step up and have a special needs ministry is growing daily! Currently one out of every 6 children in the US has special needs (17%), newly released numbers from the November 2015 National Health Interview Survey show that autism affects 1 in 45 births in the US! An extremely high percentage of individuals with special needs do not attend any church generally because they are concerned that the staff and volunteers at the church will not be able to adequately care for the needs of their child, or they just don’t feel accepted.
The thought of starting a special needs ministry can be scary, trust me, I know! But, I would like to share with you 10 tips that I have learned that will help you start a successful special needs ministry.
- Start with what you already have. Meet your current needs before you worry about adding more areas of the ministry. Your ministry does not need to have all the bells and whistles the day you launch!
- Designate a special needs ministry champion. This person helps form the vision and is a major cheerleader for the ministry.
- Focus on building the ministry team. Share the vision and stories of how this ministry impacts families and volunteers as a way to recruit volunteers and leaders to join you. Make it personal! Use shoulder tapping – it generally works much better than bulletins!
- Delegate and develop other leaders. Actively observe other people in your church to identify characteristics that would make effective leaders in your area and then invite them to engage in the ministry or serve in a leadership role.
- “I see in you….”
- “I think you would be great at ….”
- “Would you be willing to pray and talk more about what that might look like?”
- Train your volunteers. Give them techniques to be successful and not to be fearful. Help people realize that they do not need experience with special needs to serve, just a willing heart!
- Engage church leadership. When ministry leaders understand and support your program, it is more likely to thrive.
- Network with other churches. Find other churches already doing special needs ministry, meet regularly and share ideas. The Kansas City Special Needs Ministry Network is a coalition of 60 churches ranging from those just starting to those with large ministries working together to help the big “C” Church! By networking you are able to learn from others and share resources!
- Remember every special needs ministry is different. Do what is right for your church. You don’t have to do everything, nor do you have to do things as big as other churches. Find what works for your church and do it to the best of your ability!
- Create a culture of acceptance. Give visibility to the special needs ministry in your church events. Allow it to be seen from the stage or from the pulpit! Utilizing social media can also assist with this.
- PRAY! PRAY! PRAY! Designate a time to regularly meet with your team to pray together for your ministry, for your volunteers, and for the families served by your ministry. Pick huge, God-sized goals to pray for and allow God to answer those prayers!
Every individual with special needs is created in the image and likeness of God. If you look at Jesus’ miracles here on Earth, approximately 75% impacted individuals with disabilities! If your church really wants to be more like Jesus, begin ministering to those with special needs. Just start with what you already have – I am praying for you and your ministry!
Have you started a special needs ministry or plan to start one at a future date? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
Dr. Stephen “Doc” Hunsley is the Special Needs and People Care Pastor for Grace Church in Overland Park, Kansas. Doc started Grace Church’s special needs ministry in 2011, it has since grown to serve over 430 individuals with special needs through weekend church programming, family support groups, and regular respite events. Doc founded and leads the Kansas City Special Needs Ministries Network, for area church leaders. He is currently assisting over 120 churches locally and nationally to start a Special Needs Ministry. Prior to serving as a special needs pastor, Doc was a children’s pastor. Doc and his wife, Kay are proud parents to three beautiful children: Luke, Mark and Sarah. The Hunsley’s middle child, Mark, is presently running the halls of heaven. During Mark’s five-year earthly stay, he gave his family the opportunity to learn from and love a child with autism. You can follow SOAR on Facebook or Connect with Doc on Twitter: @DocHunsley.