Disability ministry training will be far more accessible in the 2020s

Together Conference, Mount Paran Church, Atlanta, Georgia, March 9, 2019

This post in the third in a series examining ten disability ministry trends to watch in the coming decade. Today Dr. Grcevich will look ahead to how pastors and ministry leaders will acquire the knowledge, training and support in the next ten years to care for and include children and adults with all types of disabilities.

90% of U.S. pastors and church leaders should be able to access live, high quality disability ministry training within a half-day drive of where they live.

2020  Ministry Plan, Key Ministry

With this being the third time our team has prepared to host Inclusion Fusion Live, I’ve found myself impacted by two thoughts each time we go through the process.

  1. The extent of the financial and logistical challenges many attendees overcome to be part of our conferences in person. Jess Cummings shared her firsthand experience at tending our initial live conference here. We have visitors this year registered from Norway who are coming expressly to attend the conference. I always wonder how many people we would host if everyone who wanted to come had the resources to do so.
  2. The number of people who have such a strong calling to educate church leaders on disability-related issues or to provide encouragement and support to families impacted by disabilities that they are willing to give of their time and bear the cost of their travel to speak at our conferences. We were overwhelmed by the proposals to this year’s conference. We had the space in our facility to accept a little more than half of the submissions we received. The generosity of our speakers allows us to make #IFL2020 available to as many church leaders and families for as low a cost as possible.

As the disability ministry movement continues to expand, God appears to be providing the resources and circumstances for tens of thousands of pastors, church leaders and volunteers to receive training and support for ministry with children and adults with disabilities (both visible and hidden) in the years ahead.

All Access Disability Ministry Conference, Houston, TX, February 22, 2020.

Factors that will drive an expansion in training will include:

Demonstrable interest in disability ministry-related training and content. We had over 85,000 video views of presentations from last year’s conference, representing a 98.1% increase over 2018. Attendance has been up year over year. Membership in the Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders Facebook group we lead is up 26% over the last year, and total membership is approaching 2,000. Every conference our team has traveled to over the last several years has been very well attended.

Limited church budgets for travel-related expenses will drive creation of more local training opportunities. A 2017 survey of over 4,000 senior pastors of evangelical churches reported the average church budget in the U.S. is around $125,000. With little evidence to suggest the precipitous drop in church attendance and church giving will end anytime soon, expectations that significant numbers of church leaders will have the resources to travel to access disability ministry training are probably unrealistic, particularly for smaller congregations.

Too many people are being called to leadership in the disability ministry field for God to not provide them the opportunity to serve through training others. Earlier this afternoon, I found the program from the 2010 Accessibility Summit – a national disability ministry conference that used to be hosted by McLean Bible Church outside of Washington DC. Ten years ago, there were maybe 10-15 people in the country who would’ve been considered as recognized experts in the disability ministry field. Finding speakers with the credibility to draw church leaders to a conference would have represented a significant challenge. Not anymore. If I had to guess, there are at least 100 highly qualified speakers who have demonstrated excellence through training at national events. I wouldn’t think that assembling a solid lineup of trainers and topics would be an obstacle to anyone interested in putting on a disability ministry conference today.

Wonderfully Made Conference, Overland Park, KS, October 24, 2019

We have easily-replicated models for offering reasonably large and broad disability ministry trainings. I know of at least two new conferences that were started by participants from #IFL2018. Our team has developed a “playbook” for the necessary tasks and activities required to stage #IFL2020. We’d be more than happy to share our experiences with others looking to start a new conference. The team at Ability Ministry has a disability conference model they’re using in Kentucky and Tennessee that they can bring to your region.

Seminaries will recognize the need to provide disability ministry training for their students and alumni. Such training is more likely to take the form (initially) of special events than don’t require changes in curriculum.  We had our first experience with a seminary training event this past November at Winebrenner Theological Seminary in Western Ohio. The level of interest and attendance clearly exceeded the expectations of the event organizers.

Training events provide opportunities for deeper relationships with others who share similar ministry passions and interests. Thanks to social media, those of us serving in disability ministry have been able to make connections with one another and become familiar with each other’s ministry. According to Seth Godin, we could be viewed as a “tribe” responsible for starting a movement. I’ve found the online relationships we form become much deeper relationships when we get to spend time together teaching and worshiping in the same space. Most of the people involved with the movement either have a disability themselves or are related to someone with a disability. Not that this is our primary motivation, but one of the benefits of offering disability ministry training is the opportunity for encouragement and support just by being with one another for a couple of days. The synergies that form when we’re together with our tribe help fuel the movement.

Networking dinner, Inclusion Fusion Live 2019, Bay Village, OH, April 5, 2019

Here’s a map (current as of February 23, 2020) of disability ministry conferences and training opportunities that our team maintains. The most current conference listings and map can always be found here.

Keeping in mind that some of the conferences on this list may have a more narrow focus than the conferences listed above, what would have to happen for us to be able to say that the goal from our ministry plan at the beginning of this post had been fulfilled?

Have a conference to add to our list? Contact beth@keyministry.org or catherine@keyministry.org with links and essential information.
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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.
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