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Visiting a Church with Your Special Needs Child

January 6, 2011

Just in case you missed it… posted my article Visiting a Church with Your Special Needs Child:  Try this 4-Step Plan.    For the past 24 months I have served as a volunteer researcher and writer focused on helping churches successfully include children with special needs.  Through many interviews, I have heard stories where a child’s first visit to a church ended in disappointment.  As a lay minister, my focus is 99% on helping churches prepare for students affected by disability.  However, parents can do as much or more to help facilitate a successful first church experience.’s article (linked above) offers practical pointers that parents and churches have shared with me over the past two years.

A note to parents who have been hurt by a church…it is important to recognize that churches are susceptible to dysfunction much like any secular organization.  We can argue that churches should be different.  But the reality is that churches are inhabited by and led by error-prone, sinful human beings.  As if that wasn’t enough, churches are almost completely reliant on unpaid (or comparatively underpaid) workers.  The finite resources of a church often place frustrating limits on its ministries.  Considering all these factors, we should not be surprised when we experience disappointment with the church.

Despite its failings, the church is still Christ’s preferred vehicle for discipleship and spiritual growth.  If you are in the process of healing from disappointment with the church, pray for God’s help in moving toward a renewed church connection.  Very possibly God is leading your family away from the last congregation.  Indeed there are some faith environments that are toxic and unfavorable for spiritual growth.  But here’s the good news:  solid faith communities do exist.  And God is calling an increasing number of passionate believers to embrace special needs inclusion.  As 2011 is beginning, consider making a renewed attempt to pursue accommodation and connection with a spiritually healthy group of believers.

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  1. This is great encouragement, not only for families with special needs, but for all who have been hurt in a church setting! Thank you for this reminder!

  2. Amy – your website and contribution to the faith community inclusion movement is tremendous. Thank you for all your work. Thanks especially for this well worded Note To Parents Who Have Been Hurt By The Church. WOW is this a big issue and I so appreciate your addressing it with wise words of counsel and exhortation. May they be heeded and may hearts be healed!

  3. Great article – I shared it on Facebook. Just wanted to let you know I am still a big fan, even though I haven’t been commenting as much lately. 🙂

  4. Thanks Susan, Thomas, and Trish for your comments. Your encouragement and affirmation means a lot coming from people like you guys.

    This blog has been a labor of love and I hope people know the spirit from which each post is developed. I also hope many families who have been hurt by the church will make a renewed effort in 2011 to find and plug into an active faith community. While I am not a special needs parent, I can identify with deep disappointment with a church. It is my sincere prayer that God will lead those who are grieving their disappointment into healthy and spiritually productive church settings.

  5. In a world where it can be difficult for special needs children to just ‘hang out’, a sympathetic church can be a boon to parents. We had to wait a long time to find our church and had a number of hurtful experiences on the way, but it was worth persevering. Our current church gives our children opportunities to join in musical and social activities that have been very difficult in other settings and we are very grateful for this.

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