We are often approached by churches desiring to start a disability ministry. They come to us asking questions like, “Where do we begin?” or “What’s the first step we can take?” The following tips are a great place to start as you begin building a special needs ministry.
- Start Small: Starting small is starting smart, building a foundation that lasts even through leadership changes. Rather than implementing everyone’s ideas at once under the heading of special needs ministry, concentrate your efforts on one idea at a time. Choose one need and see that need met from beginning to end. If that need requires ongoing ministry, make sure that ministry is fully established before beginning a new effort. Besides not asking and listening, starting too big is the most common mistake that makes a church’s special needs ministry fold.
- Focus on People Not Programs: In most people’s minds planning usually equates to creating a program. Programs are designed to bring results, like a weight loss program or a beginning arts program. Ministry, on the other hand, is an avenue to meet the needs of people. People and their needs change and grow, while programs typically do not. Remember that fruitful ministry is about all people having access to the gospel and a place to grow in grace, fellowship, worship, and service. If this can be accomplished without starting another church program, then a new church program is not needed. So, as you proceed, continue to focus on people, not programs.
- Meet Immediate Needs: When starting, deal first with the immediate, practical needs that do not require a new ministry plan, just thoughtful, creative application of resources. Are there pressing needs that can be handled through an existing ministry or servants in the church? Some churches are great at meeting immediate needs and helping families and individuals get through times of crisis. They share the best casseroles, send emergency babysitters in the middle of the night, and plaster hospital rooms with homemade cards and flowers. Know that families affected by special needs often have more than their seemingly fair share of emergencies and will need those casseroles, cards, and extra helping hands each time, maybe for years to come. Do not confuse this needed short-term outpouring of love with effective long-term disability ministry. The heart of your church’s special needs ministry will be based on the individual dreams and desires expressed over time.
- Engage in Long-Term Planning: Whether the ministry is serving and including children, teens, young adults, or adults, start with the people the God has already brought to your church and their day-to-day involvement. You will hear over and over again how parents and kids of all ages desire access to the existing programs and people in your church. While full-inclusion is not always feasible or desirable, a degree of inclusion is almost always possible and beneficial. Supported inclusion, providing one-on-one interaction within the group setting, seems to be the most common and reasonable answer to how to make church and its people accessible. The key to finding the right balance is never losing sight of the eternal purpose: How will this person and this person’s family best meet Jesus, grow in grace, and serve with their God-given gifts while fully participating in the body of Christ? Filter all your questions and decisions through this perspective and it will be very hard to do the wrong thing.
We hope these tips help guide you and your ministry team as you work to launch a disability ministry! If you ever need more specific consultation and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to our Church Engagement team at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The content of this blog came from the Irresistible Church book Start with Hello.