084: Tips & Hacks for Special Needs Ministry
It’s no secret that parenting is an emotional rollercoaster. One moment you’re beaming with pride over a job well done and the next you’re asking yourself how your darling angel turned into such a hooligan. For all the ups and downs of being a parent, families with special needs deal with all that and more. That’s why it’s important as ministry leaders that we find creative ways to make special needs families feel at home in our ministries.
Today on The Pod, we’re joined by four leaders who have made it their mission to serve in a special needs context. They share the heart behind special needs ministry, tips and tricks for getting the resources you need, and a plan for recruiting and keeping the right volunteers. Whether you’re a leader looking to start or improve the special needs ministry in your church or a volunteer looking for ways to lean in, we know you’re going to get a lot out of this episode.
Meaghan Wall talks about mobilizing student leaders to serve in your special needs ministry (3:29)
Stonebriar has a wait list for volunteers because they do such a great job recruiting teenagers (3:29)
Recruit student volunteers for your special needs ministry (5:20)
• Start young and involve families by encouraging them to serve together
• As kids get older, plug them into their own roles separate from their families
• Make it exciting and give them an opportunity to do things that matter
Retain student volunteers for your special needs ministry (13:43)
• Create a tribe and a place for people to belong
• Provide training specifically for them
• Develop a leadership path that involves them in something bigger than themselves
Replicate student volunteers for your special needs ministry by pairing adult mentors with kids and students (27:02)
Guest host Sarah Bragg interviews Jess Berryhill, Amie Shannon, and Christina Teevan (27:57)
Jess, Amie, and Christina share what propelled them to pursue special needs ministry (30:12)
A special needs ministry begins with asking the right questions (33:44)
A special needs ministry doesn’t need to go big right away—start small (35:41)
Many churches are already accommodating for families with special needs, they just haven’t realized it yet (37:57)
Tricks for keeping the financial costs down in a special needs ministry (40:19)
• Borrow curriculum and resources from your preschool ministry
• Seek out grants and donations
• Know it doesn’t have to be fancy
• Look for ideas on Pinterest
How to make your own “buddy bag” (43:19)
Take time to walk through your buildings and look at your environments, entrances, and exits through the eyes of your special needs families (45:09)
Special needs ministry isn’t just valuable to the families we serve; it’s a gift to us and our volunteers as well (46:12)
Dave’s final thoughts (51:39)
People, Places & Helpful Resources
Meaghan has served as the pastoral leader of special needs at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, since 2006. She has a passion for families affected by special needs and enjoys helping churches across the country catch the vision of special needs ministry. She has a degree in social work from Texas Tech University and a master in Christian leadership from Dallas Theological Seminary. Meaghan has an amazing husband, Michael, and two incredibly cute little boys, Jackson and Grayson, who are the loves of her life. Meaghan is best described by a sign in her office that reads: Jesus, Dr. Pepper, and Texas Tech.
Jess currently serves as the Student Ministry Director and Special Needs Coordinator at Mount Pleasant Church. Out of the need to reach those with special needs in her own student ministry, Jess started and leads a special needs ministry that has grown to include outreach opportunities like adaptive sports, theater, and a weekly small group. Jess lives with her dog, Cooper, and enjoys spending time with her nephew, Briley.
Amie is the Special Needs Director at Indian Creek Christian Church in Indianapolis. She enjoys working alongside families, volunteers, and staff to show individuals with special needs they are known, valued, and loved by God. Amie has a degree in Special Education. She taught in the public school system in a Comprehensive Intervention Program classroom. Her passion is to share the gospel with ALL of God’s children. Amie and her husband, Greg, have three young children.
Christina is the Executive Director of Ashland Special Needs Ministry. Her responsibilities include respite care, training volunteers, working with churches to train and develop programs for families with special needs, as well as working with the community to partner with families of those with special needs. Christina, her husband, and daughters are guardians for a dear man with Down Syndrome, and she serves as a professor preparing college students entering the field of special education.
Quotes from This Episode
[bctt tweet=”Our students want to feel like they’re involved in something bigger than themselves—that seems to be the theme of youth today. – @meaghan_wall” username=”meaghan_wall”][bctt tweet=”Understanding the perspective of parents begins from a posture of asking questions.” username=”orangeleaders”][bctt tweet=”Parents of kids with special needs are just looking for a place for their child to belong.” username=”orangeleaders”]
Ideas to Influence the Next Generation
Special needs ministry can be messy. Sometimes you’ll have no idea why a kid is doing what he’s doing. Sometimes you won’t know what to say to a hurting parent. Sometimes you might even worry if you’re choosing words that are politically correct. When we feel confused or unsure of ourselves, that’s when we want to hide. But don’t let feeling awkward or “not educated enough” be an excuse for not approaching special needs families in your midst. After all, a big smile and an attitude that conveys you’re eager to help will go a long way—even if inwardly you feel clueless.
What’s true of every family is especially true of special needs families: The best thing you can do is start from a place of empathy. Ask questions about their child, their daily life, and what they hope to see happen in the life of their child. And as you ask these questions, do so in a spirit of positivity and celebration. Show genuine concern, but don’t let your default be sadness. The reality is most parents of kids with special needs are reminded every day of all the can’ts in their child’s life—let church be a place where they see all the ways they can.
Conversation Starters For Your Church
On a scale of 1–10, how does our church do at recognizing, supporting, and celebrating the special needs families in our community?
In what ways does our church already accommodate families with special needs (for example, an existing ministry, handicap accessibility, a one-on-one buddy program)?
What organizations or companies exist in our community that might want to partner with us in serving those with special needs?
What needs are present within existing children’s and student programming and how can we partner with them to better serve families? (Hint: To best answer this question, you’ll probably want to set up a time to sit down and talk about it as a team.)
When he’s not working as a pastor at North Point Ministries in Atlanta, Dave is usually making his family cross their arms, roll their eyes, and tap their feet while he takes “just one more quick photo” on family outings. You’ll also often find him up to his neck in “Jewish stuff” as he researches the cultural context of Jesus for his daily Instagram devotions. Learn more about Dave at daveadamson.tv.
GUEST HOST SARAH BRAGG
Sarah Bragg has worked with students in ministry for more than 15 years and previously worked in full-time ministry for 7 years. Her book titled Body. Beauty. Boys. The Truth About Girls and How We See Ourselves helps young women find their value in the One who matters. She is the Lead Editor for a student strategy and curriculum called XP3 Middle School for Orange at the reThink Group. She has a Masters of Arts in Biblical Studies from Dallas Theological Seminary. Sarah and her husband, Scott, and their daughters, Sinclair and Rory, reside in Marietta, Georgia. To listen to conversations about surviving life, check out her podcast Surviving Sarah on iTunes and to follow along with her life, check out www.survivingsarah.com.
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