One of the most challenging issues facing any children’s ministry is how to best serve children with special needs and their families.
Once there was a boy in my Sunday School class with special needs; let’s call him Bryan. He sat on the floor and played with cars or put puzzles together while everyone else sat at the table.
Bryan had a job every Sunday to turn the light switch on and off when we watched a short Bible story video.
One Sunday, Bryan was out of town, and the other children missed him. They said he was important to their class, and they wanted to write him a letter. So we all did. Having Bryan in the classroom allowed the children and Bryan to be blessed. Every child in your classroom is important.
Sadly, many families who have a child with special needs don’t attend church because they feel their child is a burden or because churches are ill-equipped to take care of him or her. If this is a ministry need in your church or community, find someone who can train your teachers to serve these families.
More common in small churches is the need to assist just one child who needs an extra level of love and care. How do you get started?
- Include a child with special needs in activities with other students whenever possible.
Children possessing special needs are often segregated if not excluded from others. The church should not be a place of exclusion.
- Locate volunteers who will be buddies to children with different abilities.
In a best-case scenario, a special needs child in your classroom can be a blessing to everyone. In a worst-case scenario, the child is a distraction and keeps others from learning. To help manage this situation for the benefit of everyone, a volunteer buddy or conscientious paid worker is helpful.
A buddy is the person who is always with that child while on campus. The buddy will know the child’s church schedule and parents’ cellphone numbers and seek to discover how to help the child when he or she is in need. The buddy can determine when the child should be part of the group and when he or she needs a break.
Importance of consistency
Having such a person in place will give the parents great comfort because they know their child is in good and consistent hands. Consistency is important to children with special needs.
- Meet with the child’s parents and Sunday School teachers to discern how best to minister to the special needs of the child.
This will show parents how much you care about the child and his or her spiritual development.
- Ask the parents if you might speak with the child’s teachers at school.
Reach out to these professionals to learn if there is information they can share that will help you better care for the health and learning of the child.
- Know how to appropriately speak to families who have children with special needs.
Many well-meaning people fear saying the wrong thing or simply feel uncomfortable and avoid contact with these children and their families.
As a children’s ministry leader, your example is important. Annual training can help your entire team serve these families better.
- Show love in everything you say when assisting families with children with different abilities.
I am far from an expert in this area, and unless your church has hired someone exclusively for this ministry, you probably do not have an expert on staff. You may have someone in your church or community who works regularly with special needs children who can take the lead or help train others.
Ministry tip – parents night out
Some families cannot afford a babysitter or may not know anyone to stay with their children, so offering a date night for parents can be a huge blessing. Provide this ministry once a month, once a quarter or even once a year, and the parents will adore you for it.
Parents of children with special needs especially value a time of respite, knowing their children are cared for while they relax. The same security and safety measures you use on Sunday should be applied to every event.