Editor’s note: We’re very pleased to help our colleagues at Joni and Friends launch Irresistible Church, a new website with lots of great resources to help churches get started with disability ministry, accompanied by a series of inexpensive, “how-to” books for churches seeking to launch inclusive ministries. Kate Brueck is the author of Start with Hello, the first book in the series to be released. We’re honored to have Kate as our guest blogger today…
According to what social media tells me as a young thirty-something, I should be highly disenfranchised with Church, pursuing social justice with my whole heart and typing this post with a squishy, snap-on keyboard in a coffee shop somewhere. To set the record straight, I did have a “seasonal” mocha this morning, but am typing on a desktop PC, and Church is my very favorite. It’s hard to know how to end that last sentence: favorite what? Group of people, place to be, time of the week, service opportunity? Yes, to all of those answers.
Before you shut me out and say we have nothing in common aside from coffee, know that I understand Church is not on everyone’s Top Ten list of favorites, and with good reason, especially for families with special needs. I recently taught a workshop called “How Wounded People Perceive Church Leadership” and the hardest part was determining which case studies not to include for the sake of time. There’s a lot of real information to be digested about individuals and families yearning for a place to worship, fellowship, grow and serve but being confounded at every turn. Adding special needs, disability or learning differences to the mix makes finding a true church home seem that much more difficult, if not impossible.
But this post is not about why or how the Church may or may not have failed. One of the reasons I love the Church so much is because for every heart-breaking conversation I’ve had with a special needs family regarding their struggle for a church home, I’ve had two to three earnest conversations with church leaders asking how to make their church accessible to all.
I’ve had the privilege of working for Joni and Friends for the last several years training, equipping, coaching and resourcing churches to fully include families and individuals with special needs. Large churches, medium churches, small churches; churches that meet in public school gyms, churches that have been in the same historic building for a 100 years; churches that are newly planted and churches that are well established: all sizes, types and denominations of Christ-honoring churches are actively seeking how to develop special needs ministry well.
I’m grateful to be just one member of a great national team of Joni and Friends church equippers because we’ve each had the opportunity to testify that this desire for effective inclusion in church is not isolated to one locale. From San Francisco to New England to the Panhandle, we’ve heard the sincere questions of how to get started, how to reach out, how to include over and over again. What steps should a church take? How do we train volunteers? What happens when things go wrong? And most frequently, how do we know what families need and how can we ensure we aren’t making life harder for them?
As church trainers, we keep pretty close tabs on the best resources for special needs ministry out there, and there are many incredible books, blogs and conferences that speak to this need. As we have grown into the equipping process, we have realized that there is still room for readily accessible, very practical instruction that moves beyond motivation for doing special needs ministry and actually answers the recurring questions we hear from ministry leaders and volunteers. We’ve gotten busy putting these answers on paper.
To share this work, I am pleased to announce the release of Start with Hello, the first of many how-to booklets that fit together in Joni and Friends new Irresistible Church series. Designed to help a church launch or re-launch sustainable, effective special needs ministry, Start with Hello walks the ministry leader through five steps to starting a special needs ministry. While each church’s journey is different, with different dreams, resources, needs and people, we’ve found that working through the five step progression puts a church on the right path to becoming an irresistible church.
From our perspective, an irresistible church is an authentic community built on the hope of Christ that compels people affected by disability to fully belong. Using compel and irresistible in the same sentence means that we aren’t forcing a person by twisting their arm to pretend special needs doesn’t exist or that they should grin and bear it to be a part of Church. Compel here means to be so Christ-like, so loving, so inclusive that a person can’t help but be involved. It’s the difference between taking medicine because you know it’s good for you but it tastes nasty, and taking medicine that tastes like your very favorite dessert. We pray that the outcome of each Irresistible Church booklet is to make your church community, regardless of size, denomination or style, this type of irresistible. Each booklet is a manageable size focusing on one particular topic like how to structure a buddy ministry, how to plan respite, and how to make worship an inclusive experience for all.
The Irresistible Church series is meant to be user-friendly and very handy. If you prefer eReaders, hop over to Amazon and download the Kindle version of Start with Hello for free. If you need something in hand to flip through, write in or pass along to the person who will implement special needs ministry, request your free hard copy through irresistible.org. While you are there, catch up on the blog and bookmark the page, as special needs ministry leaders around the country will be frequently posting nuggets of their wisdom and expertise. In addition, irresistible.org will house the appendices referenced in each Irresistible Church book, beginning with Start with Hello. From church surveys to job descriptions to our favorite resources, these appendices will be kept current and helpful.
We know that there are many questions from families with special needs regarding if there will ever be a church home for them. We also know that churches have just as many questions about how to become that church home for families with special needs. I pray that Start with Hello will provide the concrete answers needed to join families with churches in ways that bless them both.
Kate Brueck is the Church Relations Manager for Joni and Friends Charlotte. She has enjoyed working with students of all flavors and abilities as a middle school music teacher, a missionary in a Kenyan orphanage and as a pastor’s wife. She and her husband live in Charlotte, NC and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of their first child. Her book, Start with Hello: Introducing Your Church to Special Needs Ministry is available for $0.99 at Amazon.