There is a growing demographic in America, representing 18.7 percent of the United States population, yet it appears to be absent from most churches. This group is families with special needs children, specifically children with mental, emotional, and physical disabilities. While some churches have a Special Needs Ministry, it appears most churches are not actively seeking to engage this group or even aware they are missing from the congregation. When the church is aware of this group, many times the church does not understand how it can engage them. This group’s unique needs can be intimidating to a church with limited resources. Rather than view special needs families as a burden to avoid, churches should view these families as an opportunity to demonstrate what it means to love all people and potentially grow God’s kingdom. However, to engage special needs families, churches need to understand that special needs families have similar needs as typical families in regard to participating in the life of the church, but they express those needs in different ways. As churches understand the challenges special needs families face in participating in the life of the church, the church is better able to respond to the various types of special needs in their congregation and community, allocate resources to minister to these families, and possibly redefine what the church considers ministry success.
David B. Kruse, D.Min. has over 15 years-experience ministering to teenagers and their families. He and his wife are the proud parents of a son with autism.