Planning for Children’s Ministry Graduates
As with all children, kids with disabilities grow up. What happens to the individual with special needs who has aged out of children’s ministry program? Where will he or she go? These are good questions that the corporate church is in the earliest stages of asking. An individual with a disability never loses their place in the Body of Christ. But unfortunately too often they lose their place in the church. While many children’s ministries are intentionally varying their teaching methods and program activities to accommodate children impacted by special needs, the ministry track often runs into a dead-end once the individual reaches the youth or adult education setting. A person with disability is a child of God. He or she should have access to a faith community where at every age he can be socially accepted, fellowship, and serve. Elements of membership and congregation participation, such as baptism and communion, should be the norm and not the exception.
Considerations for a church moving beyond children’s ministry and toward full inclusion:
- Begin long term planning discussions with church leaders regarding already participating children with disabilities.
- Plan for the graduating students by recruiting teachers, developing volunteer training, and potentially hiring staff.
- Consider the needs of the family. How can the church effectively minister to the parents and siblings as the child with a disability ages?
- Allow for teens and young adults with disabilities to serve within the church. While some may need assistance, all should be welcome and encouraged to serve.
- Review the church membership process and make appropriate adjustments for persons with disabilities.
- Consider logistical issues, such as baptism and communion. Make appropriate adjustments.
- Place persons with disabilities in church leadership roles.
- Hire qualified staff members with disabilities
Working through long term issues will help churches provide cradle to grave participation for persons with disabilities and their families. Remember, we all serve the Great Includer.
– Jackie Mills Fernald
Jackie Mills-Fernald is the Director of McLean Bible Church’s Access Disability Ministry (McLean, VA).