A recent survey released by LifeWay Research shows that nearly all Protestant pastors and churchgoers believe children and adults with disabilities are welcomed and included in their churches but that many of these churches do not have classes or teachers to accommodate them.
According to The Christian Post, the study asked 1,000 Protestant pastors and 1,002 American Protestant churchgoers if they believed their church was welcoming to those with disabilities. Ninety-nine percent of pastors agreed as well as 97% of churchgoers. And, almost all pastors (99%) said churches should be accessible to those with physical disabilities, including wheelchair ramps and other necessary facility modifications.
A vast majority—95%—of pastors also said that their church was involved in at least one of five different ways in caring for families and kids with disabilities. And 75% of the church pushes their congregation to volunteer at community events for those with disabilities.
However, less than 30% of churches provide classes or events specifically designed for people with disabilities; only half can provide an extra teacher to aid special needs children in classes.
According to Tim Lucas, pastor of Liquid Church in Parsippany, New Jersey, the “church is 30 years behind” when it comes to helping those with special needs.
“[Churches] don’t have the manpower and muscle even if they’re passionate about it,” he said.
His church recently opened a cafe staffed by those with Asperger’s, autism, and Down Syndrome. Profits also help to support parents of special needs children. In addition, the church created a buddy program, which pairs people with a special needs child and trains them to meet their needs from fifth grade through high school.
“There was one 10-year-old young man named Grady with Down Syndrome, ADHD, and verbal apraxia, meaning the speech messages in his brain didn’t transfer to his mouth,” said Lucas. “When his family came to us, they said, ‘We’ve been kicked out of our last three churches. It wasn’t the church’s fault, but they didn’t know what to do with Grady. All three churches treated him as a behavior problem because he was disrupting classes.’”
In an interview with The Christian Post, Heather Avis, a mother of two children diagnosed with Down Syndrome, shared that the church can meet families with special needs right where they are.
“I wish it was as simple as ‘do these five steps to be more inclusive,’ but really that’s not how this community works,” she said. “It’s about meeting people where they are, creating genuine relationships, and being willing to adjust for the one. It’s the radical idea of, 100 of us are going to shift everything so one person can be a part of our church.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Arto Canon
Mikaela Mathews is a freelance writer and editor based in Dallas, TX. She was the editor of a local magazine and a contributing writer for the Galveston Daily News and Spirit Magazine.