A big part of what Key Ministry seeks to offer churches is help in welcoming families of kids with emotional or behavioral issues. This is simple, but it’s not. The families we serve typically have some experience with church. Unfortunately, their experiences tend to have been negative. In many instances, families have negative experiences of church because of a disconnect between the environments in which ministry occurs and the way in which their kids experience the world.
In my neck of the world, the majority of church attendees are Roman Catholic. In most Catholic churches, kids are expected to sit through Mass with their families. Personally, I think it’s a sin to bore kids with the Gospel, and truth be told, engaging the kids in the audience is not typically the primary concern of the priest during Mass. Kids are typically sitting in pews with hard backs. Much of the worship service tends to be repetitive, and homilies in a Catholic church, like sermons in a Protestant church, aren’t terribly relevant to your typical ten year old. Add to that the expectation that attendees at worship will be quiet and reverent, and the experience can be pretty unpleasant for many kids. Imagine attending church with a kid who has a condition that causes them to have more difficulty regulating their behavior, more difficulty listening to uninteresting content and more difficulty ignoring the people sitting around them. Take into account the shouting match the parents had tearing the kid away from his X-box to get him ready for church, and there’s a good possibility the family won’t be fighting for a parking space in the local church parking lot.
Lest we think that our non-denominational, “seeker-sensitive” churches have the monopoly on serving such families, I remember well the first time we trained at a rapidly growing church in another city. We were touring the children’s ministry area and it would not be unfair to say that the walls and hallways looked like the Crayola crayon factory after an explosion. One of their staff members (an interior designer prior to entering ministry) suggested to her colleagues that they repaint the walls in richer colors and reduce the brightness of the light in the children’s area. Modifying the intensity of the sensory stimulation in the environment helped to have an easier time maintaining self-control.
To borrow from our friends at North Point Ministries, We want to help churches create the kinds of environments that unchurched families (families we seek to serve) want to attend. What do those environments look like for families with kids with sensory processing issues? Families in which a child (or a parent) struggles to overcome social anxiety? Kids who struggle to ignore distractions in their immediate surroundings? We’ll explore those issues in greater detail in future posts.
Revised February 24, 2016