Skip to content

Leading a Special Needs Ministry – Book Update

May 7, 2013

LASNM Front & Back Cover

In the coming days, I will continue posting more notes, pictures, and handouts from the special needs track at the recent Orange Conference.  But I wanted to take a break and talk more about the new book released last week:

Leading a Special Needs Ministry:  A Practical Guide to Including Children and Loving Families

FAQ:  Did anyone with related credentials help with the book?

Answer:  Yes.

If you’ve ever heard me teach a workshop you know the very first thing I address is my lack of credentials.  I have two degrees in accounting and a CPA certificate, but no formal training related to education, pediatric therapy, theology, or journalism.  And I do not consider myself to be a parent of a child with special needs.  I am a lifelong ministry volunteer.  And my father is a longtime senior pastor (my dad is Dr. Gary Fenton, Pastor of Dawson Memorial Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama).  My goal in my writing is to help someone like me…a good-hearted lay person or church leader who lacks familiarity with the culture and vernacular of special needs world.  To prepare the content for this book, I formally interviewed a large number of parents of children with special needs and church leaders (I share more about my research in the book.)

Recognizing the importance of “getting it right,”  two contributing editors with special education credentials helped with the book.  Four years ago, Dr. Alyssa Barnes was one of the first credentialed experts to grant me lengthy interviews.  Dr. Barnes is an assistant professor in the Early Childhood/Special Education Program at the University of North Georgia.  And she graciously agreed to partner with me again for the purpose of developing this manuscript.  Dr. Barnes thoroughly reviewed every word in the book and her insight shaped the tone and content.  Cara Martens also joined the editorial team, bringing a background in ministry leadership, special education, and curriculum development to the project.  Like Dr. Barnes, Cara Martens is also a former special education teacher in the public school system.  More lengthy bios of both contributing editors are featured in the book.

And “Yes”, this book can be used as a text book in an academic setting.  Please contact me if you need more information for the purpose of making the book a required reading for a university or seminary course.


FAQ:  What is the story behind the pinwheel on the cover?

Answer:  The pinwheel is a concrete illustration for the abstract nature of faith.

All kids learn best when concrete illustrations are offered to explain abstract concepts.  And this is especially true for the child with learning differences.  In fact, a common attribute of autism is the need for a concrete learning experience in order to process new information.  When I first started researching on special needs inclusion in the church setting, I began thinking about ways to teach Bible concepts to kids who were literal learners.  One of the first illustrations I developed for teaching in my own church was the use of a pinwheel to explain the concept of faith.

No one has ever seen the wind.  We’ve only experienced the effects and results of the wind.  And none of us have ever seen God.  Just like the movement of a pinwheel makes us sure that the wind exists, we have ways to be sure of that God exists. (e.g. answered prayer, the beauty of nature, etc).  I first used this illustration two years ago in a VBS setting where we had a Bible lesson on faith.  The children all took turns blowing on a pinwheel while we talked about how the pinwheel gives us proof that the wind exists.  And we then talked about ways that we could experience God even though we couldn’t see Him.  That day every child made a pinwheel craft to take home to remind them that God exists just like the wind exists.

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Hebrews 11:1 NIV


FAQ:  Will this book help a small church?

Answer:  Absolutely!

I wrote this book in hopes that the ideas offered would be relevant to all churches.  Of course some best practices in the book will be easier to implement in the medium-size or larger church.  But I think a church of any size would benefit from the teaching tips offered throughout the book and from the sample policies and documents.  I specifically address the topic of small churches briefly in chapter 8.


FAQ:  How much of the book is new versus a regurgitation of what’s already on this blog?  

Answer:  Hmmm….maybe 75% of the book is new content while 25% is edited and organized material from the blog. 

Some of the book’s appendix pieces are example forms and posts from this blog.  And this popular series of posts was the basis for chapter 2.  The sample mission statement featured in chapter 4 of the book is not the same sample mission statement featured in a post on this blog.  In the book, I go into more detail explaining the wording that was carefully selected for book’s sample mission statement.  Also, the Special Needs Ministry Policies and Volunteer Training Topics featured in chapter 7’s appendix are all new and not from any material on the blog.   In addition, I offer greater explanation for a number of ideas in the book that a blog does not afford the space and time to elaborate on.


Table of Contents LASNM

More information about the Appendix Pages:

Appendix 1.1 Relational Etiquette Quiz
Appendix 1.2 Relational Etiquette Pointers & Give Disability Visabilty
Appendix 4.1 Sample of Ministry Mission Statement
Appendix 5.1 Sample Intake Form & Parent Questionnaire
Appendix 5.2 Inclusion Tips
Appendix 5.3 Participant- Specific Buddy Communication Sheet
Appendix 5.4 Weekly Ministry Communication Sheet
Appendix 5.5 Customized Participant Schedule
Appendix 7.1 Special Needs Ministry Policies and Volunteer Training Topics
Appendix 7.2 Sample Outline for Teen Buddy Training Event
Appendix 7.3 Training Event for Church Hosts and Sunday Morning Greeters
Appendix 7.4 One-Time Service Opportunities
Appendix 8.1 Teaching Tips & Behavior Management Strategies


“Every congregation of every size should have this resource. They need it because there is no other resource that brings such experience, wisdom, and compassion to the blessings and challenges of welcoming every child and family to be a part of the community of faith. For every issue about special needs—from knowing how to express care for parents who are learning that their child has special needs all the way to developing programs, policies and education for volunteers working with children with special needs—this practical resource will be referenced often. I am ordering it for my church, and I am putting it on my students’ family ministry reading list.”

Diana Garland, Dean, Baylor University School of Social Work and Editor, Journal of Family and Community Ministries


“I cannot think of anyone who would not benefit from this incredibly useful and sensitively written guide! You may be a concerned friend or in church leadership, you may be considering the needs of this special people group or formally starting a special needs ministry, no matter how you have been touched by individuals with special needs this book will assist. Amy Fenton Lee has covered the important issues and uses the collective experiences she has encountered across the country!”

Cynthia Zierhut, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical and Research Psychologist, MIND Institute and Founding Director of the Special Needs Ministry of Capital Christian Center


“WOW! I expected this to be a book about how to start a special needs ministry. But it is so much more! This is a comprehensive guide to ministering to families touched by special needs! Amy has done an exceptional job of providing clear and concise guidelines on what to say and what not to say to hurting families. There are equally well thought out suggestions on how to minister to individual children/adults who learn differently as well as to their families. Whether you have one family in your church with special needs or a flourishing special needs ministry, this book is a MUST READ!”

Wendi Akers, Special Needs Ministry Leader, Lake Pointe Church (Rockwall, TX) and Mother of an adult on the spectrum


“With a heart for families of all abilities, Amy Fenton Lee has become the premier resource of practicality and encouragement for churches reaching out to special needs families. In her new book, Leading a Special Needs Ministry, Amy gives any ministry a practical resource to take the next step in ministering to this incredible slice of God’s family. Whether you are a ministry far down the road in this area or one that is just getting started, this resource will be a great help to take you to the next level in providing God’s best for EVERY family.”

David H. Anderson, Childhood Ministry Strategist of the Louisiana Baptist Convention


“This is a remarkable, much needed book. It is a comprehensive, insightful tool for all special needs ministry leaders. The practical, workable tools, methods, and sample forms are a massive help and time-saver, especially for budding new ministries. Sometimes the challenges of special needs ministry are perplexing. This book addresses even the hard topics and provides carefully considered suggestions and solutions. Thank you, Amy, for the time and heart you have put into this good and God-honoring work. It is my new go-to manual. I wish I would have had this resource years ago.”

Brenda Fischer, Coordinator for Disability Ministry or  Bethlehem Baptist Church (Minneapolis, MN)


“I highly recommend this practical, easy-to-read resource to any church taking first or next steps in disability ministry. It is a wonderful complement to the resources already available and offers straight forward, clear answers to many of the questions I am often asked by churches considering intentional care of families affected by disability. I particularly enjoyed and will implement Amy’s attention to supporting families through the diagnosis and the training quiz questions she suggests.”

Debbie Lillo, Church Relations Manager, Bay Area, California, Joni and Friends International Disability Center

To read the complete listing of endorsements, see this earlier post.  

  1. teresa conley permalink

    I met you at the Orange Conference and I just want to say what a pleasure it was and how I so appreciate your heart for God, your family and then your extended church family! I also appreciate your authenticity!!!! Your candid responses and your priorities. I thank God for you and for what He is doing through you and your family and your sphere at the rethink group and orange and others that are helping you to help us!

    Teresa Conley representing First Baptist Church, Fort Mill, SC

  2. Hi Amy – this is a wonderful resource! We read that you are getting requests for training – so wanted to introduce ourselves and encourage any organizations who need training to contact us. Kids Included Together is a nonprofit dedicated to including children with and without disabilities into their programs. You can visit us at We offer free resources and online training for a very reasonable price!

  3. Thank you so much Teresa. I really appreciate your comment. And yes, for better or worse – I am pretty authentic. (Another word sometimes used is “unfiltered” – ha!) Blessings on you and your church! ~ Amy

  4. Is the book out yet for purchase? If so where can I buy it? Is it available in digital format?

  5. Hi Renee –

    Yes, the book is available for purchase in paperback from the following sources:
    The Orange Store:


    The book will be available as an ebook in the coming weeks.

    Thanks! – Amy

  6. There are three (3) issues that bother me about the description of this book and the whole “Special Needs” terminology – I am speaking from 58 years (from my birth) as a PHYSICALLY disabled person.
    The first issue I have is that “special needs” and “disability” DO NOT just encompass developmentally disabled people. I am finding more and more this misconception. I was born with Spina Bifida and I am in a wheelchair. There is nothing mentally or developmentally wrong with me — my legs just don’t work.
    The second issue I have is that from most descriptions I read, children are the only ones that need assistance, accommodations and programs/ministries for them, in churches.
    My third issue is that you try to legitimize your work, by having “experts” in these fields contribute to the research and writing, but not one of these “experts” was noted as actually having a disability.
    I am sorry if this post seems unfriendly – I really don’t mean it that way. I am just so sick of accommodations being made for the disabled by people who are not disabled and don’t have a clue what we need.
    Thank you so much for letting me vent!

  7. Thanks tkwestover for weighing in! You are absolutely correct that special needs and disability can apply to a much broader audience than just individuals with developmental disabilities. In my research I found that there were notable differences in how to minister to, minister with, and include individuals with a physical disability (versus a developmental disability). Because the field is so diverse and I had limited time, I decided to narrow my focus to developmental disabilities. There are a number of excellent resources available that focus more on the physical disabilities; I don’t want to pretend to have adequate knowledge to address that area.

    My area of research has also focused more on children…again, largely out of my own personal interest. Friendship Ministries and Joni & Friends are both excellent organizations that provide a wide array of resources for adults.

    The first two chapters of my book were written as a result of 60 interviews of parents of children with a disability. And several of the ministry leaders interviewed for the remaining chapters were also parents of children with a disability.

    TKW, thanks for reading and contributing your thoughts. I think you provide insight for ministry leaders who want to better understand the wide array of perspectives in the broader disability community. ~ AFL

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Leading a Special Needs Ministry – Book Update | The Inclusive … |
  2. Baylor alums helping churches welcome kids with special needs « Baylor Proud
  3. Guest Post: Leading #SpecialNeeds Ministry | Spencer Click

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: