Special Needs Families, You’re Welcome Here
One of the things that first drew me to College Park Church was the Special Needs Ministry. I didn’t know many churches that had one, but I felt God putting it on my heart to be involved in this way after I learned that roughly 80 percent of churchgoing parents who have children with special needs kids feel their children are not welcomed in the church.
This shocked and saddened me. The church should be the most welcoming place for these families! Thankfully, my time as a Special Needs Ministry volunteer has allowed me to be that welcoming face to families, and it’s also shown me how valuable this ministry really is.
I believe the most important thing we can do in life is point people to Jesus. That may involve becoming a missionary, discipling a growing Christian, or talking about your faith with an unbelieving family member, but all believers are called to make disciples of every nation, teaching them to obey everything God has commanded.
The Underserved: Special Needs Families
This past summer, I learned of a population that is both underserved and is in our own backyard: special needs families.
How underserved are these families? Well, a 2010 study found that about a third of special needs families have left a church because their child was excluded. About 50 percent of special needs families have avoided a religious activity in the past for the same reason.¹ Clearly there is a significant need for better inclusion of special needs children and their families in our congregations.
The Bible gives many examples that model this same inclusion. Over and over agagin, we see God choose people who are “weak” in the eyes of the world to do big things for his glory. Moses, for instance, was “slow-of-speech,” yet God picked him to speak to Pharaoh to free God’s people. When he had more than five thousand hungry people to feed, Jesus multiplied the lunch of a little boy who willingly gave of what he had. As 1 Samuel 16:7 says, “the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
In his power, God can work in and through all people.
I have experienced this firshand in the lives of our kids with special needs. For example, one little boy I work with hardly says more than two words at a time. But he loves singing “Jesus loves me,” and he sings it with all his might. Another student prefers to sit to the side most of the time, but when she hears the worship music, she gets a big smile on her face and begins to dance.
While I don’t know how many of the lyrics these kids understand, the joy on their faces when they worship God reminds me that our God is big enough to reach their hearts through it.
So when I struggle, wondering if our students understand the Sunday School lessons and truly believe in Jesus, I recall Jesus’s words, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 18:3). Children, especially those with special needs, set an example for us adults in their inclination to trust. They take information at face value and believe it, and Jesus says we have much to learn from them.
God at Work
So, I don’t know how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of our students, but I believe we serve a God who “wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). I’ve learned to trust that he is working through our ministry and through the students’ families to draw the kids to him. And I can only imagine how sweet their relationship of total dependence on our Savior must be.
I am thankful to be part of a church that recognizes the importance of welcoming these children in our church family. And as we welcome them, I believe our friends with special needs will continue teaching us more about our mighty Father. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:21-22, “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I do not need you.’ Nor can the head say to the feet, ‘I do not need you.’ On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.”
In God’s eyes, and in mine, these children are indispensable.
Learn more about College Park Church’s Special Needs Ministry at yourchurch.com.
 Ault, M. J. (2010). Participation of families of children with disabilities in their faith communities: A survey of parents (Order No. 3492795). Available from ProQuest Central; ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (919088298).