Emerging from the silos…Disability ministry as a mindset, not a program

By Ossewa – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=74257014

This post in the second in a series examining ten disability ministry trends to watch in the coming decade. Today Dr. Grcevich will suggest that disability ministry will be less ’siloed” – offered as a support for inclusion within all the essential ministries of the church as opposed to a separate, “stand-alone” ministry department.

Spend time at a conference on church growth with senior pastors or executive pastors and one of the most common management challenges discussed is the propensity for different ministries of the church to become “siloed.” Tony Morgan (a prominent church consultant and leadership coach) wrote an entire book on the problem.

What do we mean when we describe an organization as “siloed?”

Organizational silos describe the isolation that occurs when employees or entire departments within an organization do not want to, or do not have the adequate means to share information or knowledge with each other. Siloed teams often end up working in isolation from the rest of the company, leading to a plethora of internal and external problems.

Silos in a church might consist of the worship team, men’s or women’s ministries, small group ministry, missions/outreach, children’s ministry, student ministry, pastoral care, facilities management, technology and (of course) the disability ministry team.

Two examples immediately come to mind when I consider how silos impact ministry. I’m familiar with a church that offered several online groups for families impacted by special needs of which the special needs ministry director was unaware. Or the church that launched a major adoption ministry initiative without including anyone from their disability ministry in the planning process, even though adopted children are twice as likely to have a diagnosed disability by the start of kindergarten and 50% have an identified disability by eighth grade.

Look again at the picture at the top of the post. Silos are the antithesis of inclusion. Are we truly practicing inclusion when we set aside a designated space for the special needs ministry at the expense of including most, if not all participants in age and developmentally appropriate ministry environments, launch a Young Life Capernaum group without fully considering how participants might engage with the established student ministry or offer Grace Groups or Fresh Hope groups for individuals and families impacted by mental illness without also considering how attendees might enter into other small groups offered by the church?

Don’t get me wrong… all of the ministry initiatives described above are good. They’re points of connection for individuals and families outside the church. It’s as if the church is a house and our disability ministries are in the foyer. Is someone really a member of the family when they only ever get to set foot in one or two rooms of the house and never get the opportunity to eat in the kitchen?

Catherine Boyle (our mental health ministry director) developed the concept of a mental health liaison – a primary contact person for church members and visitors who might require assistance before or during an initial visit or benefit from accommodations in church activities they find challenging. Her model represents a helpful way of thinking about the evolution of the disability ministry leader’s role over the next ten years. They’ll increasingly be called to serve as a liaison with ministry leaders from all the departments of the church to help them identify the obstacles that hinder persons with disabilities from fully entering into the practices, activities and events used by the church to form disciples.

The disability ministry leader’s role will be to train leaders in other areas of ministry to form a mindset in which they identify and proactively address barriers to participation before they become a problem. Examples…

  • The small group ministry leader begins to consider how someone in a wheelchair or with limited mobility can be included in groups that meet in members’ homes, or how to support someone with social anxiety or social communication challenges in being part of a group.
  • The missions director considers the supports a young man with an intellectual disability might need to have an impactful experience on an urban mission trip.
  • The director of outreach conceptualizes effective outreach to “Night to Shine” guests living in group homes fo the other 364 days of the year.

The second focus for the disability ministry leader in working with colleagues in other ministry departments is to help them identify the spiritual gifts and natural abilities of persons with disabilities and to provide them with the encouragement and opportunity to “exercise their spiritual muscles” through serving in the church and/or developing a personal ministry outside of the church. In reality, the church needs to do a better job of helping all members and attendees to develop and use their gifts and talents, especially persons with disabilities. As America becomes increasingly less Christian and church members attend worship less and less frequently, congregations in the coming decade will come to depend upon the gifts of persons with disabilities.

How often do you see kids and adults with disabilities serving in visible roles during weekend worship services? One way churches communicate who and what they value is is by who is seen and what is said on Sunday morning. When persons with disabilities are never seen and never heard, it’s not beyond the realm of possibility that they and their families will never feel like they matter to the church. Going forward, we’ll see more persons with disabilities serving in more prominent roles in their churches.

An essential goal of collaborations between the disability ministry leader and leaders in other departments should be helping children and adults to cultivate authentic spiritual friendships in the church. Persons with disabilities are all too often the most lonely people in a culture becoming overwhelmed with loneliness. I can’t begin to tell you how many parents come into our office who desperately want their child to experience one true friend. If we can’t help kids and adults to form meaningful friendships outside of the “disability bubble” in the church, where else might they find it?

Bottom line: While the number of churches with identified disability ministries will likely grow during the coming decade, leaders from other areas of ministry will grow in their capacity to practice inclusion and the church will become substantially more intentional about promoting biblical friendship between persons with and without disabilities.


Inclusion Fusion Live (#IFL2020) is the largest disability ministry conference in the United States. Pastors, ministry leaders, families and caregivers from throughout the U.S. and beyond will gather in Cleveland on April 24-25 to share encouragement and ideas for welcoming and serving individuals with disabilities and their families. Ministry intensives offer in-depth training on special needs ministry, mental health ministry and trauma. Choose a MINISTRY TRACK or a FAMILY TRACK to select from over 50 workshops representing ministry-focused and family-focused topics. Either ticket will give you access to all main stage presentations including our featured speakers, numerous quick takes (TED Talk-style presentations), and worship. Early bird pricing is available. To learn more or to register, click 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.
This entry was posted in Inclusion, Key Ministry, Special Needs Ministry, Strategies and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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