Special Needs Ministry is Needed
By Ms. Elexis Wilson, Guest Columnist
“But Jesus called for them and said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs’” (Luke 18:16).
In 2013, Ed Stetzer wrote an article in Christianity Today entitled, “Special Needs Ministries and the Church.” To my surprise, the article didn’t address the need for a special needs ministry; yet, it sent out a plea for suggestions on what to do with these children. This posed several questions, the first being why are we excluding them from the children’s ministries that are already set in place or have we attempted to fit them in our traditional concepts of what children should look like in church?
I found my answer last year while sitting in a Christian Education Congress. The room was full of eager children ready for worship; yet, many were told to sit down and be quiet while the adults were displaying obvious outcries of praise. It was in those moments that I realized the church has disconnected the children from the worship experience. Every church does not have a “children’s ministry” in which the children are taken from the sanctuary and placed in various rooms to learn about the Kingdom in their own language. Therefore, we may miss the moments of seeing their disabilities.
A study cites that 10.5% of adolescent African Americans are being diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) and those numbers are constantly rising. Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and ADHD are disorders affecting attention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity in children. Thus, many of these children do not have the ability to sit for long periods of time. They interrupt conversations and have a hard time concentrating on the tasks given. So, use that energy in the church. Let them usher or take up offering. Have them collect or pass out books and bibles. Ensure your services are intergenerational to assist in their focus. Understand that their lack of participation may be based on the engagement of the adults.
One in every 68 children has been diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorders. This disorder is characterized in adolescents with social interaction disabilities, repetitive behaviors, and verbal or non-verbal discrepancies. Since Autism is a spectrum disorder, the characteristics are different for each child but many times these children just need some peace and quiet or inclusion. Having sensory rooms or quiet rooms in your church to allow them to recalibrate or put them in charge of folding the bulletins, lighting the candles, or collecting cans. Remember, these children thrive when a routine schedule is presented so give them a task to complete each time they enter the building.
Ensuring the inclusion of children with special needs will open a door for church growth and spiritual growth within your congregation. Children will begin to engage in your services because they will feel a sense of belonging. As Jesus has stated, do not hinder but bring in all the children.
Ms. Elexis Wilson is a behavioral therapist in the Chicagoland area while pursuing a Masters of Science in Board Certified Behavioral Analysis. Elexis has a Masters of Science in Behavioral Studies. Born and raised in the AME Church, she is currently serving several positions on the 4th District and conference level as well as a licentiate at DuPage AME Church in Lisle, Illinois where the Rev. Dr. James Miller is her pastor.