Sunday, October 2, 2011

31 for 21: #2 Church

I am trying to push our church into serving the kids in it by putting together a special needs ministry. Better than 10% of the kids in our county's school system have an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) in place and receive services. If that extrapolates to our church that means that 10% of the kids in our church might have a bumpy time in the classroom. (Maybe not all, but highly likely some.) With the size of our church, we're talking quite a few kids.

God used a friend to tell me, "Okay, now." in terms of whether it was time to challenge our church (of 8 years!) to meet this need. Their willingness to move in that direction is evident in their placing an order for Lifeway's special needs curriculum...but it is moving much more slowly that I would like. I am trying to be patient, but sometimes it is hard.

That said, I decided that since today is Sunday, I would actually share our mission plans. In the hopes that someone could use them, as is, tweaked, or as a jumping off place for their own plan. I wrote these with a couple of friends' editing. I am also including the websites that I found the most helpful in writing the framework.

Proposal for Special Needs Ministry at Church X

Why are we here?
1) A number of families that God has brought to Church X are impacted by special needs. These families could benefit from organized childcare and programming designed to better accommodate, and most importantly teach the Gospel to, children with special needs. Currently there is unclear leadership inside our church for special needs accommodation. While no church and no volunteer system is perfect, we believe there is opportunity for improvement in our church's provision of consistent and reliable care.

Under the current arrangement, children with special needs are supervised by a volunteer assigned to a specific child, who accompanies the child to activities conducted for non-special needs children. The problem with this arrangement is that (a) whether a personal caregiver will be available is unpredictable until the morning of church, and (b) even if a personal caregiver is available, the activities they attend may be wholly inappropriate for the special needs child (e.g. loud music, bright lights, or sitting still for long periods of time).

This inconsistency and unreliability sets everyone up for failure: the child, the family, the typical children participating in the same activities, and the teachers and volunteers who are not prepared to teach/manage the child with special needs. If a program was organized and executed through a coordinated and planned effort, everyone could benefit.

2) Intentional planning with coordinated special needs accommodation will yield positive benefits for the church and participating children. When children with special needs are provided greater consistency in their church experience (familiar faces, familiar and safe space, equipped volunteers), behavior challenges will dramatically improve. One cannot underestimate the importance and value of consistency to the child impacted by special needs.

3) With minimal effort, our church can move beyond babysitting special needs children to helping these children grow and learn about Jesus Christ. By providing minor curriculum modifications or utilizing some specially tailored curriculum (e.g. Lifeway's Special Buddies curriculum or other readily available and easy-to-use curriculum products), participating children may advance spiritually. Creating successful learning opportunities for the participating children ultimately benefits the teachers who are not scrambling to "entertain" a child or manage their behavior.

4) A number of people in X Church have expressed interest to serve inside a special needs inclusion program. Special Needs ministries are also very popular means of service for youth. Many churches share that Special Needs ministries provide opportunities for volunteers to serve with purpose and to grow spiritually through their service.

5) Church X has had members move their membership to other churches because we do not offer adequate services for special needs children.

Church X can facilitate a special needs ministry by continuing to provide personal supervision, establishing a dedicated classroom for special needs children, or a combination of both. Each of these alternatives can be successfully put into practice without disruption of any of the existing Children’s Ministries. They can be initiated together with the ability to break off in case of emergency or can be implemented separately. They would offer support, consistency, and on-going joy for both the children and their parents.

Option A:
The personal caregiver method, or “Shadow Method,” where an individual accts as a “shadow” accompanying the special needs child during the church’s regular children’s programs, has worked in the past with many of the children with special needs that have gone through our ministry. There will undoubtedly be more children that will need this approach, but we are not getting the word out for the need. We are also not organizing to make this option effective. In most cases, the volunteers do not have a calendar nor a frame-work for a back-up plan, in case of illness or traveling. Often, special needs children arrive at Church X and there is no on available to supervise them.

Our suggestion for this aspect is to develop a calendar, and make phone calls like in the preschool hall volunteer schedule.

This has also not been a publicized need. It needs to be put in the bulletin, announcements made in the sunday school classes, and we may want to consider an information table to recruit volunteers similar to the Stephen Ministry’s. A mere 15 rotating volunteers could easily provide for the need, and allow the volunteers to rotate weeks they participate, allowing them to regularly attend worship services and Sunday School classes to receive the spiritual nourishment that they too need.

This program also gives us the opportunity to tap into our youth. On a rotating basis, they would not only help fill the need, but they would be given the spiritual education that missions and service need not be in remote jungles. Often the ministry that has the most impact is that done for their neighbors.

Importantly, the Shadow Method requires that optional materials made available if the child in question cannot execute the crafts in a typical classroom or must leave the worship area. Simple Bible Story books, Bible stories on audio, and coloring supplies can be easily and inexpensively provided and are appropriate for many ages. A storage bin can hold this and could be accessed by several Shadows at once. We cannot expect the Shadows to simply provide entertainment; moreover, without these materials, our special needs children may not be hearing the Gospel while at our church.

From a safety perspective, there needs to be a laminated emergency sheet that gives the emergency medical personal contact information for each child participating and a binder that has parental recommendations and phone numbers. A simple pager system like that used in the Preschool Ministry would also be effective.

Option B:

A fully outfitted, self-contained classroom could easily be established. This option has considerably more flexibility. Not only could children who cannot handle the preschool hall be served, but it could also stand as an occasional break room for special needs children who are simply having a sensory overload and need a bit of a break.

"Mr. X", who is in charge of the classroom assignments, has assured us that room 301 does not have any Sunday School assignments in it, and never has. He said that if we choose Option B, it would be available to us. It would be an ideal size for this purpose.

Stocked with a few body pillows or bean bags, a table and chairs, and some supplies, this could become a haven of Christ-centered support and fun for both children with special needs and their parents.

Examples of items that can be used for this classroom, which easily come by and universally usable by a variety of ages, are:

1) The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones (this even comes with audio CDs)
2) A mobile changing station in case of an emergency: a pad, wipes, plastic grocery bags, and a parent-provided change of clothes
3) A CD player, with some dramatized Bible stories, Bible songs, and character stories like Adventures in Odyssey or other Focus on the Family (or similar) products
4) Markers, crayons, colored pencils and Bible coloring pages
5) Felts or story board type items
6) Veggie Tales, Cedarmont Kids, or similar videos
7) Craft supplies for activities

With regard to safety, this class could utilize a pager system in order to contact parents in the event the caregiver is not able to pacify a child. As a less expensive alternative, a parent sign in sheet stating where they are and a cell phone number would work, too.

A binder with a parent intake sheet is a must. It would list the child’s needs and could also include diagnoses/medical conditions, allergies, behavior suggestions, useful information, and emergency procedures.

Additionally, a simple workshop of suggestions and education of those in the leading of our kids would be instrumental for many who have never had experience with special needs. It would not only provide our teachers with useful ideas for trouble-shooting, but it would let them know that there is a program set up to support those who are more equipped to handle more involved situations. This can be done in a quick hour or two length program and/or as hand out forms that outline emergency procedures, protocol, and suggestions for mediating difficulties. "Ms. X" who attends our church has a fantastic ministry in “” and is an excellent resource. It could easily be presented as a luncheon or in conjunction with a First Aid and CPR program.

Our church has enough people who are willing to help and be on a consistent rotation, both with children with special needs themselves and those who have this need laying heavy on their hearts. A few youth who would be willing to help and/or act as runners between the children's classroom area would be an incredible tool, as well.

Church Members Willing to Serve in a Special Needs Ministry:
(I listed those that I talked to who expressed a need or interest)

We are also confident that once this becomes a public need, there will be more who will want to be involved.

There are children with Special Needs that are not being ministered to and are slipping between the cracks in our current program. We have members that are leaving because they are not getting the support they need. There are gaps in the support for both profound and simplistic needs.

X County Schools have approximately 10% of the student population recorded as receiving Special Needs services, even if we choose not to pursue this as an outreach ministry, there will be many more children who will need access to these options. We have the manpower in this church; we just need education and organization for effective use of volunteers.

We have given this proposal a great deal of thought, research, and prayer over several years and we have witnessed God’s movement amongst us such that we were encouraged to bring this proposition before you now. Please consider it prayerfully.

“The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:40


The Inclusive Church is a blog and collection of links and utilities to implement and strengthen any Special Seeds Ministry:!/TheInclusiveChurch

Lifeway's Special Buddies Curriculum:

And Lifeway's other Special Needs supports:

Jesus Storybook Bible:

A FABULOUS felt Bible Stories Set:

Cedarmont Kids (DVDs and CDs):

Adventures in Odyssey (Focus on the Family):

Your Story Hour:

Free Coloring Pages, Lessons, Special Needs Ministry Adaption and Implementation Information:

The Picture Bible

The picture is totally not mine I stole it off of Yahoo Images about a year ago...

1 comment:

  1. Yay for you!!!!!!!!!!! We began long ago to serve the needs of special kids at our church when our daughter was born. We now have a group that facilitates "buddies" for our special kids so parents can attend church services, and once every couple of months we have a parent's night out where parents can leave their kids at a home that is well staffed and go out for a couple of hours. My daughter is now in high school, we are still working out what that looks like for her in the youth group. But we are well supported and my hope is that you are as well. Blessings to you!
    p.s. our church is