Preparing Your Ministry to Receive Students with Disabilities
This article was re-posted with permission from CLC Network, an organization committed to equipping congregations and schools to glorify God through purposeful, innovative inclusion of persons with varied abilities.
Written by Barbara J. Newman
Before you know it, school will be starting and your children’s and youth ministries will be starting again. How can you prepare your church to welcome the magnificent variety of God’s children into your community this ministry year? Our director of church services, Barbara J. Newman, shares four tips for preparing your ministry to receive individuals of abilities this year.
1. Offer a preview on your website.
“Something I’ve been recommending to many churches lately is to utilize your church website to give a preview of what visitors can expect at your church,” said Barbara J. Newman. “Similar to checking out hotel photos and your seat on an airplane prior to a trip, some individuals will benefit from photos or a video of what they can expect when they come to your church, church school class, or youth group.”
What does worship look like at your church? What kind of music can one expect? Who are the key people a child or teenager might meet? What does the building look like? Consider including photos, video, or music snippets on your website for potential members to use in getting to know your church. We share other items to consider on your website in this post.
2. Work with parents to create an information story.
Using elements from your website above and more personalized photos, create a story about what MAY happen when this individual comes to your church or a specific ministry. (For a pre-written story with customizable pages, consider the Church Welcome Story by Barbara J. Newman.) You can show details such as where they might pick up snack during children’s church, where they may stand when they sing in the choir, some of the friends they may meet on Wednesday night, and other details of their time at the church program.
“It is important to include words such as ‘maybe’, ‘perhaps’, and ‘probably’ in your preview so that if the order or details change, your story is still accurate,” shared Newman, “Also, try to stay away from giving specific times, and instead provide a sequence of events. Some individuals get upset if you are off by a minute or two if the specific time is listed.”
3. Ask the right questions.
The information you collect about an individual during the intake process can help you and appropriate leaders understand their gifts and needs, and use this information to create an environment where they are included and supported.
As you’re getting to know individuals and families at the beginning of the year, consider asking them to complete a survey to help you get to know God’s handiwork in their son or daughter. (Don’t worry, we have already created the survey for you — you can download it for free here)! This survey asks questions such as:
- What activities does your family member enjoy doing the most?
- Tell me a bit about your story. What has your journey been like over the last few years?
- What are your goals and dreams for your family member as it relates to the church environment?
- What is your biggest concern for that type of environment?
We invite you to use the information collected on this survey to create a confidential “welcome page” to share with appropriate leaders so that they can get to know God’s knitting pattern in this individual and create a place for him or her to grow in Christ.
4. Be equipped with the right tools.
“The furniture, seating options, toys, writing instruments, and other environmental factors can tell you a lot about how a school or church thinks about children,” said Newman. “I encourage children’s ministries to have a variety of seating options and attention tools (think wiggle cushions, carpet squares, thera-band and exercise balls), writing tools (such as fidget pencils and various pencil grips), and reading tools (like highlighter tape and EZC Readers) to accommodate for a variety of learning and attention supports that children need.”
When parents are determining if a church or program is the right fit for their son or daughter, the ministry setting helps them know if a church is open to a variety of individuals. “At CLC Network, we wanted to make it easy for churches and schools to try out different attention, writing, and reading tools, so we created the Inclusion Tool Kit. The kit contains tools with instructions and websites to create or order more. I always recommend that anyone that works with kids give these tools a try!”, said Newman.
Looking for more ideas? Become a CLC Network Member Church!
Through our annual CLC Network Member Church program, our team is here for your church as you include children, youth, and adults with disabilities into the life of your congregation and its ministries. Your church will have access to best practice support and ideas from our team of consultants to create inclusive community for persons of all abilities. Learn more about our Member Church program here.
Barbara J. Newman is the director of church services and a teacher consultant at CLC Network.