Eighteen years ago my wife and I stood in the doorway of a little classroom at our church hoping any children would show up for our new class called Special Friends. While we didn't have anyone show up that day, we did eventually start to have a regular crowd of friends, and our church program was born. At that time I heard an estimate that only 1% of churches had a program like ours. That seemed crazy if just under 20% of the children in the U.S. have a disability where were all the children?
Over the last month, I contacted the seventeen largest churches in our area to see if or what they were doing with special needs. Glad to say that the numbers were much better than eighteen years ago. Of those churches, four told me they had someone working with special needs in their church. I did have one contact me who is trying to figure how to start a group for adults at her church, but I also talked to one who was struggling with the pastoral staff who were giving them the "We are going in a different direction" speech. While that is an improvement over 1%, it still gives me a moment to pause. Most of these churches have over a thousand members some have over two hundred and fifty children in their Sunday school programs are you telling me they have no children with special needs?
To be honest, I don't believe you need a formal program, you need to be supporting the families that want to be a part of your community. What it does take is intentionality.
So how do we communicate the need? How do we share that we believe every church should be, if not intentional, at least attempting to meet the need of the community?
We believe it starts with us supporting the church. That is why we are spending time over the next few months contacting local churches and letting them know we are there to support them in any way they need. I am still surprised how many churches are unaware that there are resources out there that want to help them. We have interviewed many of them on our podcast about what they are doing. So many are working to support the churches in figuring out how they do ministry that impacts the families they serve in a big way, and they continue to make inroads. There are just a few questions I don't know how to answer.
No matter how many we contact, it will be impossible to get the other seventy-five percent to all of a sudden care or realize that this should be a part of their church without God putting it on their hearts.
How can we best serve those churches now?
For us, it means we will continue to contact them and let them know we are here, and we are willing to wait till they are ready to tackle how they support the whole community around them! We have no plans of ever stopping our mission until the last family is served!