How can a church best serve and evangelize to those with neuro-developmental disabilities/conditions?

(Victoria White) #1

Hi there! I want to ask this question because I have a condition called Asperger’s Syndrome. It’s a mild form of autism. I praise God that I attend a church that values the disabled. I do scripture reading at service, and my church has a cafe that is run by people with visual impairments. But what about churches and evangelizing to people who have neuro-developmental conditions like mine? I have struggled with understanding people and reading social cues. It can be hard for me and for others. What practices are best?

(Kathleen) #2

Hello again, @Victoria_White! To help me understand a bit better, I’d love to hear you expand more on not just your but other ‘neuro-developmental’ disability/conditions. Making the Gospel accessible to everyone is the mission of the church, so it’s good to know what kind of ‘challenges’ one would have to face to reach a certain group more effectively.

On the whole, though, I am of the mind that we all need to practice both giving and receiving large measures of grace!

(Victoria White) #3

Hi @KMac!

Thank you for your response and wanting to know more. I do not claim to be an expert on this topic, but I am talking about things like autism, learning disabilities, ADD, ADHD, among others.

I am mainly talking about conditions where you can’t “see it”. A person who is on a wheelchair is something you can see, whereas some people like myself have ones that are on the invisible side.

(Kathleen) #4

Thanks so much for expanding! I’d love to hear what others say, but I’ll say something off the top of my head quickly…

I come from a teaching tradition that is more on the intellectual side: reading and lecture-heavy, using big words and concepts, more reserved in expression, etc. Some people really thrive and grow in this atmosphere, but others really struggle with it. Generally speaking, I can imagine that one with ADHD or dyslexia (for instance) may find being in that kind of culture extremely frustrating!

I think it’s up to the leadership in the local church to be aware of both of (1) who is in their congregation and (2) who is in their surrounding community, and take great pains to making the message accessible. Is there room for preaching in a more tactile or active way? Is there space to use images? Is there an atmosphere of freedom enabling people to engage with and move during the music?

Overall, though, I believe one of the most important questions to ask is, ‘Do people feel valued here?’. Because if some don’t, that needs to be addressed on a larger level. One one hand, it is true that the church cannot be all things to all people, but on the other, we do need to be challenged to not get stuck in tradition. It’s difficult to strike that balance, but I think the willingness to try is crucial. :slight_smile:

(SeanO) #5

@Victoria_White Thank you for that question. I think for me this is one of those areas where we try to help people not feel invisible. Just like we do not want visitors to come to Church and no one say hi to them or invite them to be part of the community, we do not want those with disabilities to feel invisible. We want to have those within our Church who are educated and have the time to reach out to them, show them Christ’s love and consider ways that they can serve.

I think that at smaller Churches this is something that just has to happen organically. Just like in the early days of the Church, the deacons and elders or the congregants see someone come in who has unique needs, they welcome them warmly and then they come up with some ideas to make them feel welcome. A few things that I think may help here:

  • be intentional about those who visit the Church and try to reach out
  • be intentional as a Church about meeting regularly to discuss how to serve those in the Church with unique needs
  • the leaders in the Church can model how to interact with those who have disabilities by speaking with them and engaging with them on a regular basis so that other people an learn through their example
  • take time out of our busy lives to spend with those who just need to have a conversation or to be acknowledged - seasons of life may determine bandwidth for this, but it will always require some sacrifice and is another way of showing sacrificial love to those around us

Do those thoughts make sense? What is your response?

Here is a resource from the Gospel Coalition addressing this question.

Disabilities that are not visible require that someone first build a relationship with visitors to know that they have those issues. Then, once that relationship is built, they can act as a bridge to the rest of the Church community to encourage others to love this person in a specific way that would prove to enhance the dignity and sense of worth in the individual that they could experience God’s purpose / love in their life.

(Victoria White) #7

Hi there @AnnaEl light_smile:

Thank you for your response. It’s great to know that we’re not alone in dealing with this to some degree. I agree, smaller settings for bible study and other things are very helpful to those with ASD. I go to a large church but we have a small group thing going on which works out well. The spectrum is huge, and I’m on the borderline of it I think. Thankfully I have brothers and sisters in Christ who have been a huge help to me in terms of recognizing cues and building social awareness. I used to be really bad at knowing those things, but I’m a lot better at it now! Honestly I’m not ashamed of admitting I have ASD because it shows what God can do through me. A really encouraging passage is the blind man in John 9. The glory of God was displayed through him, even though he had a condition which he couldn’t help. :slight_smile:

(Lakshmi Mehta) #9

@Victoria_White, I appreciate your question because I have a son with ASD and am very familiar with the isolation that an ASD child can experience even in a Christian setting. I think when the disability is visible, people are in general quick to help, but when it is invisible the response is slower even after people are made aware of the condition, partly because ASD can look different in different individuals. I can think of a few ways that a church can help kids on the autism spectrum or other neurodevelopmental disabilities (NDD).

  1. Educate staff and children about the condition and encourage the acceptance of developmental differences.
  2. Have special clubs for ASD/ NDD kids to build friendships.
  3. Have peers volunteer to be buddies of the special needs individual.
  4. Have respite nights for families as families with special needs have special demands and may not have much help.
  5. Have special education trained staff in churches to train volunteers.
  6. Have more structure or find ways to include the special needs child in activities in the regular routine.
  7. Allow for adjustments to accomadate sensory issues and challenges in receptive abilities.
  8. Have systems in place to avoid bullying.
  9. Educate peers on how to respond to ASD and to be more inclusive.

A while ago, I had researched about serving ASD kids in churches. Here’s a link to a ministry that I think is helpful as your question is the aim of this ministry.

I hope you will find some useful information for adults too on this site. I have mostly shared from the viewpoint of children’s ministry.

I find the following verse as a call to the church for special needs ministry so that every member irrespective of ability feels honored and welcomed in the body of Christ.

1 Cor 12:22-26 In fact, some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. 23 And the parts we regard as less honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts that should not be seen, 24 while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God has put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. 25 This makes for harmony among the members, so that all the members care for each other. 26 If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

I thank God for your heart for special needs ministry. There is a big need especially in the area of neurodevelopmental conditions in churches. I would love to hear any thoughts or feedback you may have!