How To Begin a Special Needs Ministry

What do you do? Where do you start? What do we need? Practical tips to get some thoughts flowing with your team. Love and acceptance are key to the start of ministry with special needs kids.

How do you start a special needs ministry?

I have been asked this many times. It's not an easy answer. I've put a ton of thought into the best recommendations on how to begin. These aren't specific steps that will make ministry instantly happen. However, they are worthwhile ideas to get you started.

Start with the kids

As a teacher of special needs kids for most of my life, I can tell you that there is not a one-size, one-method approach that works all the time. When you begin to unpack what a special needs ministry looks like for your church, you will need to consider the kids who will utilize the ministry. What are their needs?

Do your homework

Even if you are not currently serving special needs kids, think about the three most prevalent areas of special needs: Autism, Cognitive Development and Behavioral. Most likely a special needs child who will visit your program will exhibit varying degrees of each of these. Do some homework to lay the groundwork for understanding them. There are many reliable websites with great basic information about each area.

Recruit a team

Form a team who is passionate about special needs children. Include a parent, a volunteer, a special needs teacher, and a member of your church’s design team. You want a diverse team who can put wheels to the vision God will give you for this ministry. Meet with this team regularly so that ideas are flowing.

Try integrating them into your current ministry

You can provide special needs ministry whether you have a specific space for it or not. Many special needs kids can be integrated into your programs with a few adaptations. Providing a buddy or friend will allow you to be intentional about serving these kids in regular Sunday School, Kids Church and special events.

Adjust and adapt as needed

You may need to adjust the volume of your sound system and the intensity of your lights. Allowing special needs kids to move or do an activity during teaching time. Some kids may respond better if they are allowed to leave your space during especially loud or active times within your service. The adaptations you will make depend on the child and sometimes even the day when the child comes. Trial and error will usually help you find what will work best with each child. Most likely what work well for one child will not work for every special needs child. You have to be flexible.

Plan for special space

Of course there are special needs kids that will require a space designed just for their needs. In a church like ours, that is tough. We are using every possible kid space with our programs as it is. How can we possibly provide a space designed specifically for special needs? At this point we do not provide this space because we don’t have special needs kids who need it. The thought is there though. We will be creative to find that space when the need arises. If you have space that can be given for special needs, some things to consider are floor space for movement, room lighting, wall color, furniture and materials. It is important that your space for special needs be age appropriate. If a child is 10 they will not be comfortable nor would it be appropriate if the space looks like a nursery.

Love and accept

Parents want to know that their child is loved and accepted. From the very first time a special needs child arrives at your check-in station you need to love them. Love is the key and it is that simple. It is what the parent is looking for. It is what will connect you with the child. When you love the special needs child you are telling the parent that you will care for their son or daughter. You already accept them. The child will feel more comfortable going to your program and you will experience less behavior problems from them.

Need more ideas? I would love to talk to you and look at your church's specific situation.

Let's continue this conversation!

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Tags: ministry, parents, special, specialneeds


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