One of the challenges for families affected by special needs and disability is finding a church home. Many things go into making a church “home” for a family. Some churches “tolerate” while others truly welcome and invite. Some churches never notice when a family has a crisis and disappears for weeks at a time. Others continue to “be the church” during the week, following up with the family. Some churches get involved in the messiness of life with disability while others watch from the sidelines. Some churches make the Gospel accessible to all in word and deed and some are still struggling to understand what that means.
In preparation for going to a new church, plan ahead. Call and ask to speak someone at the church who works in the area where your loved one will be attending, whether it is the children’s, youth, or adult departments. Is there a formal special needs program? Talk with the coordinator. Ask questions. Here are some questions that you may want to ask:
- Is there a culture of inclusion and understanding in the whole congregation or just a handful within one program or age group within the church?
- Define terms used when programs advertise special needs. Does sensory friendly mean that a few things like volume or lighting have been modified in the service or does sensory friendly mean that regardless of the sensory challenge your child may have, the church is willing to accommodate?
- What about architectural accessibility? Is the building wheelchair accessible? Just ADA compliant or fully functionally wheelchair accessible?
- Has the church taken time to train their staff? What kinds of training have they received? Will they supply a buddy? Do their buddies receive any training? What does that training look like?
- Would your child be included? segregated into their own program? Included with options for breaks outside the activity of a classroom?
- Will your child be “babysat” or taught from an actual planned curriculum?
- If you have a child who needs additional toileting support beyond the typical toilet training age, is there a safety plan? Are there family restrooms available? Larger changing tables?
- Do you have a runner? wanderer? What safety precautions are in place?
There are many other questions that you can ask before you prepare to visit a new church, but hopefully this list will get you started thinking about those first conversations with a new church.
Listed below are local churches who have shared with us their interest in serving families affected by disability in some way. Most have received training through LifeLine’s Special Needs Ministry Development services and/or consulted with LifeLine in developing their programs. Please touch base with each church individually to determine if it would be a fit for your child or family.
(Is there a church that should be listed here? Email Lisa.Mattheiss@ lifelinefamilies.org and let us know!)
Burning Bush Baptist Church, Ringgold, Georgia
Calvary Chapel Chattanooga, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Christ First Church, Ringgold, Georgia
Concord Baptist Church, Chattanooga, Tennessee
Evergreen Bible Church, Williamstown, West Virginia
Hixson Presbyterian Church, Hixson, Tennessee
North Ridge Church, Marshfield, Wisconsin
Oakwood Baptist Church, Chickamauga, Georgia
Peavine Baptist Church, Rock Spring, Georgia
Signal Mountain Presbyterian Church , Signal Mountain, Tennessee
Stanley Heights Baptist Church, East Ridge, Tennessee (Deaf Ministry)