Church…A Hostile Environment? Harmony Hensley

Our featured blogger today and Thursday is our Key Ministry teammate Harmony Hensley.

Harmony currently serves as Key Ministry’s  Director of Ministry Advancement. Previously, she served as Pastor of Outreach and Inclusion Ministries at Vineyard Cincinnati. The Vineyard has been ranked as one of the 50 most influential churches in America and is known for a strong outward focus and servant culture. Harmony has a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Cincinnati Christian University with a double major in Ministry Leadership and Biblical Studies. 

I imagine the title of this blog alone may ruffle some feathers.  How could someone say that church is a “hostile” environment?  The nerve!

Stay with me for a few paragraphs and I’ll explain what I mean.  The dictionary defines hostile as “not friendly, warm or generous; not hospitable.”

For families and children impacted by disability church is all too often viewed as a “hostile” environment in which they feel judged or unwelcome.  Sadly, I’ve met a number of families who would summarize their church experience this way.

Often this is a result of words unspoken, and the very environment we create to reach people for Christ.  The encouraging news is that many of the things that make the church experience difficult for these families are easily remedied.

Think of your ministry environment in terms of the sensory and social experience that visitors (both adults and children) will encounter.

Let’s take a “virtual” walk through your campus.  Close your eyes and imagine your campus (well, first read this blog and THEN close your eyes and do a virtual walk through- you get the idea).

When families pull into your parking lot what do they see?  Is there clear signage or staffing to direct them where to park?  Can they quickly identify your children’s ministry entrance?

When they enter into your children’s ministry entrance what does that experience look like?  Is the environment loud?  Over-stimulating?  How is the lighting?  Who is staffing the entrance?  What is their hospitality approach?  What signage is present in your facility?  What signage is missing?

These may seem like odd questions but I assure you these are the things that the families we serve are thinking about.  As my Key Ministry teammates can tell you many of the kids we serve have a number of questions that are scrolling through their mind as they think about the church experience –

  • Where are we going?
  • Who is going to be there?
  • What will it be like?
  • What if it’s cold?
  • What if they make me sit in an uncomfortable chair?
  • What if they make me sit?  (I don’t like to sit; I like to walk around)
  • Where will Mom and Dad be?
  • What if they make me read aloud?
  • What if they ask me a question and I don’t know the answer?
  • What if it smells funny?
  • What if it’s too dark?  What if it’s too bright?
  • What if it’s too loud?
  • How will I know what is coming next?
  • What if there are too many people?
  • What if…..(insert countless  anxieties here)?

There are a number of easy fixes we can look at to make sure that our ministry environment is inclusive.  In my posts from last year (which you can see here and here) I go over a number of tips that can dramatically impact the way in which children with ADHD will interact with your space.  On Friday, we’ll continue this discussion by taking a closer look at the human component of your ministry environments.

Updated January 30th, 2013.


Accessibility Summit 2013Our Key Ministry team will be hitting the road to be part of the 2013 Accessibility Summit, hosted by McLean Bible Church in suburban Washington D.C. on April 19th-20th. This year’s Summit features Emily Colson (daughter of Chuck) As an artist, author, and speaker, Emily is passionate about inspiring others to persevere through their challenges and appreciate life’s gifts. In her book Dancing with Max, she and her late father share the struggle and beauty of life with Max, Emily’s son with autism.

For more on our Key Ministry presentations, click here. For more information on the Summit and registration, click on the Summit logo to the right.

About Dr. G

Dr. Stephen Grcevich serves as President and Founder of Key Ministry, a non-profit organization providing free training, consultation, resources and support to help churches serve families of children with disabilities. Dr. Grcevich is a graduate of Northeastern Ohio Medical University (NEOMED), trained in General Psychiatry at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation and in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at University Hospitals of Cleveland/Case Western Reserve University. He is a faculty member in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at two medical schools, leads a group practice in suburban Cleveland (Family Center by the Falls), and continues to be involved in research evaluating the safety and effectiveness of medications prescribed to children for ADHD, anxiety and depression. He is a past recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). Dr. Grcevich was recently recognized by Sharecare as one of the top ten online influencers in children’s mental health. His blog for Key Ministry, was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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