Your church and special needs: guest post

Today’s brilliant guest post is from Beth, who is a talented blogger and mum to two children, (a son adopted, and a 14-year-old daughter with Down Syndrome).

Thank you, Beth for sharing your wisdom.

“Can I sit with my friends?” It sounds like a typical question from a teen. It was from my 14 year old daughter with Down Syndrome. I looked at the row of girls that my daughter was pointing to. I wondered, “would they welcome her joining their group or would they ignore her? Would they slide over and make room for her? Would they take the extra time to talk to her?” I admit that Sunday morning in church I wasn’t sure how they would react and so my response was, “just sit with me.”

As a church, both the local church and the corporate body of believers, we need a Biblical understanding of special needs. Books, blog posts, articles, essays have been written on this topic. If I could summarise it into three thoughts, it would be:

·      Everyone is made in God’s image.

·      We live in a fallen, broken world.

·      God sent Jesus to rescue us in this broken world.

With that as our foundation how do we include children with special needs and their families in our churches? The church of all places should be welcoming and accommodating.

Children’s Workers/Sunday School Teachers can include children with special needs through the following:

  • Have a servant’s heart. Your attitude will set the tone for others. Your care and teaching of the child could be what allows the parents to worship and be refreshed for another week.
  • Know the child. Some children want to be part of the group and do everything that the other children are doing. Other children are content to just sit and be there with the class. Talk with the parents. Know what the parents are expecting and discuss what you can do.
  • Include the child as much as the child desires. If the child raises their hand, give them a chance to answer. Give extra time when asking questions as it might take a bit of time for them to process. Know what the child is good at and include them in that area.
  • Understand that transitions can be a challenge. Give an advance notice to help the child prepare. Children with special needs often know the routine and a change in the routine can be disruptive. So, if you are moving the singing to the end of the time instead of at the beginning, realise that could be unsettling for a child with special needs.
  • Depending on the needs of the child consider having a buddy to be with that child. A buddy does not have to be formally trained but just someone that can assist the child.
  • As you plan children’s activities, keep in mind the children with special needs. Are there activities that they can be involved with? What are their limits? Work to include them. Excluding them can further make the children struggle to accept their condition or medical needs.
  • Your goal as a children’s worker should be to teach all children to know and love God.


Parents of other children can include the parents + children with special needs through the following:

  • Teach and model how to include those marginalized in the church. Who do you talk during fellowship time? Do you talk with the special needs children? What do you say when you child complains at how slow a child, who struggles to walk, is going up the steps. Do you pause and remind the child of God’s truths? Model kindness to your children.
  • Encourage your children to be kind. We are commanded to be kind to one another. (Ephesians 4:32) Kindness could be as simple as just saying, hello and asking a question about the week. Teach them to have a heart of compassion.
  • Get to the know the parents of children with special needs. Learn how to support one another.
  • Understand that friendship with a child with special needs might be different than other friendships. It is okay if it is awkward and challenging but kindness and friendliness is essential.
  • Give grace and patience to the parents of special needs children. They might appear over protective, interfering or fussy but it might be fear of a meltdown or a bad reaction to a trigger.
  • It might cost to be kind to the child with special needs. True kindness can cost us. A wonderful example of kindness to someone with special needs is David’s kindness to Mephibosheth. (2 Samuel 9)
  • Your goal as a parent should be to show kindness to those with special needs and their families.


Parents of children with special needs:

  • Don’t assume how people will act in a situation. All parents are protective and I think special needs parents are more so as we don’t want our children hurt as we know they might not understand. I was guilty of that on that Sunday morning when I told my daughter to just sit with me.
  • Give grace and love to those around. You know your child but others might not understand so give lots of grace and love.
  • Write a thank you note to the teachers. They work hard to teach and care for your child. Let them know how that is a blessing to you.
  • If there is a child that you see is kind to your child with special needs, let the parents know. Praise that child to their parents. It might be just what the parents needed to hear about their child.
  • Parents of special needs children, give love and grace to those around you.


Together we can include those with special needs in our church and thus share God’s love. God has created them. God loves them. Let’s honor and praise God together.


Beth enjoys a good book and a cup of coffee. She blogs at As He Leads is Joy. Her desire is to challenge and encourage women to grow and thrive; learning who God is and how you can serve him.


Image taken from “He Came Down







6 thoughts on “Your church and special needs: guest post

  1. Thank you for the helpful post. I’ve just started as a children’s & families worker at a church where there is a higher than average number of children with additional needs. Feeling a bit overwhelmed if I’m honest. I really want the Sunday School to be all inclusive, but because the children have very different (sometimes mutually exclusive) needs I always feel like someone is missing out. Any advice on how to balance a session for some children who need a high degree of structure and some who need it to be more free-flow? Thanks in advance :)

  2. Liz, I love that you want to be inclusive. You will help to set the tone. I am not sure what your space is like and your staff. Do you have a place that could be the structured area? Maybe a table with a consistent activity. Do you have extra staff that could be in charge of an area. Not sure the needs of the children in your group — would sitting in a chair be the structure that some need while have a square that they are to be on be the free flowing that others need? It might be a learning and growing together. I would think that there needs to be some balance so that both groups can function. Some parts might be structured to give the security there — maybe the story time is structured but then application/craft/worksheet can be a bit more free flowing. Blessings to you as you strive to include those in your church.

  3. Hi Liz & Beth!

    I read this article (& your comments) with interest and am sharing my experience in hope that some of this might come helpful – feel free to use/adapt what’s helpful and disregard all the rest if it isn’t, cos I don’t have full understanding of your situations and culturally/logistically different things might be helpful for different situations :-)

    I’ve volunteered at a Christian ministry for adults with disability (or, “a community of people with varied abilities” ;-)) for a while now, and here’s some of what we do that might be helpful.

    The overall programme is structured, which we put on the screen. So when the members come, they see the sequence of the programme. Each week, the programme is similar – welcoming, songs, Bible talk, group discussion, craft (or a game) to reinforce Bible talk’s content, ending with supper. This, I guess, will be the routine for those who require/appreciate it. Having said that, there are some who may not be able to meaningfully pay attention to the entirety of the songs/talk because of their cognitive functions/attention span/needs, and .. for e.g., yes – the higher functioning folks do “complain” about it sometimes. But we remind them that everyone is different but loved, and we can remain patient and kind towards those unlike us.

    Small group discussion will be a bit more varied, split by functional levels – verbal groups can discuss the talk/questions, but lower-functioning groups sometimes just recap the songs. Or group leaders conduct activities using word flash cards which they can choose options, if they want to say e.g. “yes” or “no”. Game/craft is encouraged, but sometimes people need their own space so while we encourage them to participate, if someone chooses to sit out it’s okay as well – the game/craft is conducted by a main volunteer facilitator on a mass level, though each volunteer does move around to offer assistance as needed.

    This is only one (limited) perspective, but if you’re looking to integrate something structured with something free-flowing, you might find some of these helpful! x

    I think it’s precious that you’re intentionally considering how to be inclusive towards this group of people in church Liz!

    Also @Beth, works for adults too! &I love what you said that parents of those with special needs should not assume how others may react. For every mean person/person unaware, there is also one who understands … usually!

    blessings xx

  4. That is really helpful to give an example. It gives an idea of how it can work and I think that might be a way for it to work in an inclusive group.

  5. Thank you for your replies, Beth and Dee – really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts – really helpful. One of the things I’ve brought in is the giving of much more choice of response-activities. Some are very open-ended, interactive and child led. Some have the potential to be much more structured and discussion based. This seems to work well for most of the children, but one or two seem to struggle with the very idea of choosing for themselves (but also resist adult input). I guess I’m still in the very early stages and just need to keep trying. If you ever have a spare thought, I’d really appreciate your prayers – thanks x

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