The culture in everyday life constantly evolves and so does our individual understanding of how to be inclusive of individuals with special needs and appreciate their abilities. After all, about one in every five people have a disability in some form or another. If you’re like most church leaders, you know and understand the need to create an inclusive culture, but you may be unsure of where to start. The good news is you’re not alone. There are a number of ways to create an inclusive culture at your church. Many churches begin by establishing a special needs ministry. Churches with a special needs ministry is one that is welcoming to the whole community and congregation no matter what each member’s ability or mobility status is.
Welcome All to Your Church
The first opportunity you have to be inclusive is when you welcome the community in for worship or special events. An easy start is to ensure you have plenty of handicap parking spots. If your facility usually runs out of handicap spots, it may be a good idea to mark off additional spots to serve the mobility needs of your members. For larger congregations, having a few golf carts or some type of shuttle vehicle to bring members from their cars to the front doors is encouraged. The more you cater to the unique needs of the members of your congregation, the more the word will spread throughout your community of what a loving and accepting church family you have created.
Creating an Inclusive Children’s Ministry
Oftentimes the first place that the parents of special needs children visit in a new church is the children’s ministry. It is also often the deciding factor if the family continues to attend the facility. The parents of special needs children like to make sure that while they themselves are in “grown-up” church that their children are being taken care of. It’s important to make the entire family feel welcome as they try to get comfortable in a new faith family. To make the family feel welcome, many churches appoint “special needs buddies” to families. Special needs buddies can be rolling from family to family, but many congregations often find success in pairing families with one constant special needs buddy with families to serve as a link between the family and the church. These volunteers can also help the families get introduced to other ministries within the church and share the family’s story with those ministry leaders.
Design Your Building and Amenities with Inclusive in Mind
Another opportunity to create an inclusive culture is with your facility’s amenities. From a ramp that leads to your building’s entrance to designing an inclusive playground that includes inclusive components. When planning your method of entrance to your building, it is recommended to include accessibility for mobility devices to enter and move throughout the facility. An often overlooked opportunity to be inclusive is with inclusive play. Many people don’t think of special needs children needing access to inclusive playground equipment, but since we are teaching our children to be accepting of all people it’s important to design your playground equipment with activity for children with disabilities. You can do this by design a playground where all components are able to be accessed and used by children of all abilities. This is accomplished by designing a playground with side access ramps, little or no steps, and ground-level activities. Speaking of ground-level, don’t forget about surfacing around the playground. Not only is surfacing important for safety, it’s important for transportation of mobility devices to move about the playground environments.
Inclusive Worship Service
Being inclusive doesn’t stop at special needs and special needs doesn’t only include people with disabilities. In worship service, communion could get tricky. When you perform communion, it’s a great gesture to offer communion for different diets. Many congregations offer a gluten-free communion as many people are sensitive or allergic to wheat flour or vegetable shortening. In addition to communion, many churches have a live band or play music. Some of your members may have sensitive hearing and may hurt them to hear the loud music. To meet this need, you could offer earplugs to soften the loud praise music. Worship service can also include things that aren’t expected. Someone could fall ill during service, even a pastor or musician, so it’s important to train your ushers and medical team on how to handle medical emergencies.
Inclusivity and accessibility should not be things that scare you or your congregation. Obviously, our experience in building an inclusive culture is in creating inclusive playground environments, but that is only one part of the culture. As you continue to meet the needs of your community’s special needs you are all but guaranteed to be met with acceptance by current and future members of your congregation.
- The Autism Society
- National Center for Learning Disabilities
- Federation for Children with Special Needs (Boston, Massachusetts)
- Image credit thinkinclusive.us