Second Step: Preparing for Special Needs Ministry

(Read The First Step first.)

Down to the wire, packing three boys and my husband for a trip to see my mother-in-law in Alabama, I realized I needed to launder all my pants for the next week. I had thought enough ahead to wash my family’s clothes, but my items fell by the wayside until almost too late. I washed and dried all my pants, packed my bags, and headed to Alabama.

Arriving, going through my bag, I realized I had forgotten ALL my pants. They were still in the dryer at home… six hours away. The only ones I had were on my body! I was not prepared for that trip! A quick decision was needed. Yep, either it was going to be a very embarrassing week…or I needed to go shopping immediately. My favorite discount (cheap) store was up the road. I knew they would have a few pairs there I could buy and cycle through for the week. While I was not prepared for my trip, it was fixable…but not without cost.

If we want to build strong ministries of any kind in our churches, we must prepare for the plan. Jumping right into a plan might work for most ministries, but less so in special needs ministry! Preparation, even before the plan, is needed because things do not always go as planned!

Just as embarrassing to show up to my family’s house with no britches, it is equally embarrassing for our churches to offer something for special needs families and not have at least a minimum amount of preparation and forethought go into such opportunities. Let’s explore some key points for preparation.

Ask Parents of (and possibly those with) Special Needs for their input. “What can we do to serve your family better?” and “Do you have ideas on how to better reach those with additional needs with the Gospel of Christ?” are excellent conversation starters. Special Needs parents are eager ministry partners who can help identify weaknesses and potential strengths our churches have toward our children and other children who are falling between the cracks.

Place a bigger picture in front of Special Needs Parents. Special Needs parents want to see the best for our children, but Christian Special Needs parents want to see the best for our churches too. This includes desiring the church to be successful in every ministry it sets out to do and seeing the church full of a variety of people all worshiping and declaring the greatness of our God! Challenge Special Needs parents to not only see the needs of their own child, but to see how to best serve our church through their involvement as well!

Determine a good starting point for your church. A special service …“Buddies”…outreach opportunities…sports ministry? Where does your church begin?

Questions for starters:

  • Consider time frame. Examples:
    • One-time event/Quarterly – community outreach, parents night out
    • Once a month – Sunday night multi-sensory Bible class that mirrors the preacher’s lesson?
    • Every two weeks – family gathering (grill out, fellowship meal, group activities)
    • Weekly – “Buddy Ministry”, Special needs Bible study for adults/children, or Family support groups
  • Consider the talents/giftings of your volunteers (endless ideas…)
    • Coaches/athletes – sports
    • Medical – clinics and personal health topics
    • Fine arts – art, music
    • Photography – free family portraits
    • Teachers/Therapists – sensory group play
    • Cooks – basic meal prep
    • Cosmetologists, hair dressers, masseuses – moms pampering night
  • Consider the desired purpose.
    • Outreach – discover the needs in your community. Evaluate, pray, and build an engagement strategy.
    • Discipleship – look at special needs already in your church and engage families, support small group involvement, and think about how to bring them one step closer to Jesus at every encounter.
    • Worship – if you desire to fill your auditorium with a thousand diverse tongues to sing praises, consider how to make the auditorium more accessible (ramps on stage for choir or band), sensory friendly auditorium with softer music, dimmer lights, or softer colors on the walls.
  • Consider the potential next step.
    • Be flexible, but ask, Where do we hope this will lead and are we ready if that happens?”
    • Is there a discipleship plan? Is children’s ministry ready for more children? Will there be a follow-up event?
    • Consider scenarios and short-comings. Imagine having a successful VBS with “Buddies” for those who might need extra assistance. Let’s say those families have an outstanding experience and decide to come back to church next week. Will those Buddies continue their ministry to those with whom they have already connected, or will others step into a rotation to help? How will we be ready for growth when the outreach works?

 Preparation is key. Yes, be flexible, but let’s go into this ministry with intention and thoughtfulness.

 Luke 14:28-30 – For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’

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