Implementing a S.N. Program in a Small Church
Question: “How do we implement a special needs program in a small church?”
Including children with special needs does not necessarily require a formal ministry or big program. Here are the steps we recommend for a church of any size:
1) Recruit an advisory team (or individual) to provide guidance on all of the below and other issues as they arise. Special education teachers, public school counselors, pediatric therapists (physical, speech, occupational) are typically good resources to consult. Don’t be afraid to call on a non-church member, or even a non-Christian.
2) Set up some structure. Create an intake form or parent questionnaire*. Establish guidelines for workers and parents, anticipating special needs related issues. Consider how accepting children with special needs may alter the current children’s ministry safety culture, policies & procedures, and church insurance policy. Proactively make those changes.
3) Modify and enhance existing curriculum and planned activities in typical classrooms. Children with special needs often thrive in typical environments when both ample activities are planned – and – the lesson is taught in a way that all senses are engaged.
4) Create a buddy system. Having a pre-recruited handful of trained volunteers willing to shadow an individual is never a mistake!
5) Train volunteers in typical classrooms how to teach children with different learning styles as well as effective techniques for behavior management. Very often when teachers and caregivers are familiar with tools and strategies for keeping children engaged – and – preventing or corralling behavior problems, the need for significant attention and a buddy diminishes.
– Amy Fenton Lee
For more on this topic, see More on Getting Started in Special Needs Inclusion (and thoughts for small churches). You may also watch the short video Top 10 List to Start a Disability Ministry provided by McLean Bible Church’s Access Disability Ministry.
To see a detailed checklist, see the post Starting a Special Needs Ministry (Don’t get overwhelmed…think of it as an idea starter!)
For sample intake forms, see the posts Special Needs Ministry Intake Forms and Best Practices: Spotlight on Johnson Ferry Baptist Church Part 1.