Buddies. Shadows. Sidekicks. Heroes. Lifeguards. Crew members. Friends. These are all titles worn by volunteers who step into a one-on-one support role for a person with special needs, disability, or learning difference in the context of ministry.
No matter what you call it, buddy ministry may very well be the most frequently mentioned special needs ministry model of our time. A buddy ministry is a program of the church designed to support the disability community by pairing an individual with a disability with a buddy during church services so that they can better participate in the mainstream programs of the local church. This is a more inclusive approach than relocating everyone with a disability to a separate classroom or expecting our friends’ special needs to disappear when they enter a church building. Buddy ministry can provide the extra support needed to make church a fruitful experience for all involved.
Believing that buddy ministry is an effective answer to the needs of many individuals with special needs and knowing how to organize and implement an effective buddy ministry are two separate matters. It is the nitty-gritty how-tos that leave ministry leaders scratching their heads, wondering if they will ever be able to offer something more than a patched-together emergency response to special needs.
Allow us to share six tips on running an effective buddy ministry:
- Terms of Service – To recruit volunteers, it is helpful to have a volunteer job description that can be easily communicated. This will help volunteers understand if they can truly commit.
- Recruiting Buddies – Churches are often concerned they will not have enough volunteers to create buddy teams, but there are several ways to help fill the ranks. Praying for great volunteers should be a first and constant step. After that, communicate your need in a variety of venues and ways. Offering a trial service opportunity can help people who are on the fence about serving jump right in. And, recruiting the youth in your church can also be a great strategy!
- Training Buddies – The first step to keeping great volunteers is to provide adequate training. This training should include basic disability awareness and emergency protocols as well as training on their specific assignment.
- Paring Buddies with Friends – Pray carefully through the potential partnerships that you can create through buddies and their friends. If possible, pair like genders together, particularly as your friends age. It is also a good idea to take the age difference between buddy and friend into consideration when pairing as well.
- Scheduling – A master schedule is an essential tool for an effective buddy ministry. Having your volunteers communicate when they expect to be available is critical in keeping a consistent, well-staffed ministry. Emergencies and illnesses will occur, but keeping a master calendar helps prevent holes.
- Buddy Support – Providing ongoing personal support for the buddies in your ministry yields long-lasting results. Support can take on many forms like prayer, encouragement, and ongoing training. Your imagination is the only limit to the various ways you can support your buddies!
Buddy ministry is about more than just making a church service a viable option for caregivers who never seem to get a break. It is ultimately about making the life of your church accessible to all, and communicating how Christ and His Kingdom accept all who come to Him in faith, regardless of their inherent abilities and disabilities.