What disability ministry is and isn’t…insights from my first Accessibility Summit

Emily Colson Accessibility Summit 2013

Editor’s note: Shannon Dingle and Ryan Wolfe are representing Key Ministry the 2016 Accessibility Summit this coming Friday and Saturday at McLean Bible Church in McLean, VA. Shannon shares today from her first experience at the Summit five years ago…

Ryan Wolfe and I are headed to McLean Bible Church this weekend to speak on behalf of Key Ministry. This upcoming trip has me thinking back to my first Accessibility Summit five years ago. That year, I attended a session titled Built to Last – Sustaining a Disability Ministry. It was a panel discussion featuring four directors for special needs ministry at different churches. While I gained several great takeaways from it, these points from Connie Hutchinson from First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, CA resonated with me then and still do now. (The points, bolded and italicized, are hers; the commentary on each comes from me.)

Disability ministry is…

  1. …not a numbers-driven ministry. Connie pointed out that it’s not about how many families with special needs come to your church. It’s about being a welcoming place, reaching out to your community, and serving those who come. Another way of wording this is found in my church’s core beliefs, the emphasis on faithfulness over fruitfulness. We’re called to be faithful; God is the one who brings forth the fruit.
  2. …not cost-effective. We’re not just talking about money here. The human cost in terms of volunteers needed is higher in special needs ministry than in other ministries.
  3. …long-lasting. It’s a lifetime commitment. A lot of churches only have special needs ministry programs for children, maybe even youth. But you know what? Those children and youth grow up. The adult special needs ministry at our church began at the result of one of our kids growing up and her family stepping forward to create a meaningful and welcoming place in our church for her and others. (And you don’t need to wait until the children with special needs at your church grow up; there are adults with disabilities in your community already!)
  4. …a mission field. People with disabilities are less likely to attend worship services, Bible studies, and other church activities than those without disabilities. People with autism are more likely to be atheists and more likely to reject organized religion. More statistics and their sources can be found here. If you want to share the good news of Christ with all people, then this is a good place to start!
  5. …relationship-driven rather than program-driven. This is true of any ministry. However, special needs ministry requires it more so than others, at least in my experience. When I was a youth ministry leader, it was possible to run all our weekly programming without getting to know students well. That wouldn’t be effective ministry, but I’ve seen it happen before. In special needs ministry, though, it’s about the individual not the disability or the program.

 And, finally, I would add one more: It’s worth it.


Dingles SpringCheck out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

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, www.church4everychild.org was ranked fourth among the top 100 children's ministry blogs in 2015 by Ministry to Children.
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1 Response to What disability ministry is and isn’t…insights from my first Accessibility Summit

  1. Pingback: What disability ministry is and isn’t…insights from my first Accessibility Summit — Church4EveryChild | Parenting and Health

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