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Best Practices: Spotlight on Johnson Ferry Baptist Church (Part 1)

August 5, 2010

I’m always on the hunt for churches doing special needs ministry.  When I stumbled across Johnson Ferry Baptist Church’s (Marietta, GA) website, I was thrilled to discover all kinds of good information on their “Green Light” Ministry.  I contacted the church and was delighted to find an energetic and quite knowledgeable children’s ministry team member, Eden Hutchins, who coordinates the church’s special needs programming.  My chat with Hutchins was wonderful and I wished all the blog’s readers could have eaves dropped.  I struggled to type fast enough to capture all the insights Hutchins shared (maybe I’ll eventually add audio or video!).  Anyway, I decided to change things up and feature this post as a 2-part interview so to better relay the rich dialogue Eden Hutchins provided.

AFL: How did JFBC’s “Green Light Ministry” get started?

EH: In early 2008 I attended McLean Bible Church’s Accessibility Summit (McLean, VA).  I returned from the conference inspired to help JFBC develop a special needs ministry.  For the coming months our church created a team that met to work through such a program’s logistics and set some parameters for this ministry.  In August 2008, we formally launched the “Green Light Ministry”.

AFL: JFBC puts a very detailed intake form online for parents to complete before enrolling in the Green Light Ministry.  Tell me a little about your Family Profile form and how it has worked for JFBC. The online form can be found by clicking on the above “Family Profile” hyperlink.

EH: Usually a family of a child with special needs hears about our ministry and contacts our church inquiring about accommodation.  I have a brief conversation then refer parents to the website to download the profile form.  The parents then return the form to me.  The great thing about the intake form is that it asks all the not-so-fun questions up front.  And it gives me a lens for how to ask follow up questions.  As a result, when I call the parents to work out the details of the child’s placement and welcome them to the church, the hard questions are out of the way and I get to ask more relational questions like “What kinds of things does your child enjoy?”

Originally I was reluctant to have such a comprehensive form but the response from parents has been very positive.  The families have explained that completing forms like this is just to be expected when their child has unique needs.  To my pleasant surprise, the parents really like that we have this form.

AFL: The Form is very detailed.  It seems like this is a lot of information to try and capture for a child participating on Sunday morning.

EH: Yes, the form asks for more information than we often need for regular church programming.  However part of our ministry is providing a “Refuel” respite night for our participating families.  We just plan on having the same children who participate in regular church programming also participate in respite night.  As a result, we collect all the necessary information at one time.

AFL:  The intake form asks a number of questions about toileting.  Tell me how JFBC handles this issue.

EH: For typical church programming (like Sunday mornings), we do not have any volunteers toilet or diaper a child.  Because we have a relatively small number of Sunday participants, I typically diaper or toilet the children with special needs.  However because our church has a strong child protection policy, I always have another adult with me.  So, if I am changing the diaper on a child anywhere between age 3 and the 5th grade (or older), I find another ministry volunteer to accompany me as I tend to the child’s toileting needs.  This protects the child AND me. 

I have found that it is easier to recruit volunteers if diapering and toileting are not required of them.  And it keeps things easier in our program.  Over time I have developed a strong relationship with the parents of our participants. I would not diaper or toilet a child (even with another adult present) unless I know that the parents are aware of and approve of me handling this issue with their child.  And because volunteers aren’t handling toileting issues, the parents are not worrying about someone with whom they are unfamiliar tending to their child in this especially vulnerable situation.

Generally speaking, Green Light’s rules for toileting permit only parents, a church approved registered nurse or me to toilet or diaper a child.  For our Refuel Respite nights we provide registered nurses who handle the toileting issues.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 of this post where we conclude the interview by focusing on volunteer recruitment, using nurses in the ministry and administering medications.

Like this post or any of its content?  See the post “Rules for Repost”.

– Amy Fenton Lee

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