99% of Protestant pastors – churches are welcoming to persons with disabilities

LifeWay Research released the results of a study of 1,000 Protestant pastors and 1,002 Protestant churchgoers examining attitudes toward persons with disabilities and the supports churches provide to individuals with disabilities and their families. I found the results of the study quite interesting

Virtually every Protestant pastor and churchgoer believes a person with a disability would feel at home at their church, but fewer are taking active steps to make sure this is the case.

A new survey from Nashville-based LifeWay Research asked Protestant pastors and churchgoers about their church and those with disabilities.

Nearly every pastor (99%) and churchgoer (97%) says someone with a disability would feel welcomed and included at their church.

Let’s go through this study step by step…

Nearly all of the pastors surveyed endorsed the idea that local churches should invest in necessary facility modifications to make their churches more accessible. Churches are exempt from the accessibility requirements for public facilities under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The study asked a number of questions about the supports churches should or do provide to individuals and families impacted by disabilities.

Here are responses to questions regarding the types of support churches are actively providing to persons with disabilities and their families.

The responses of the churchgoers were very similar to those provided by the pastors.

Some other statistical observations from the pastor study…

  • Pastors who “strongly agreed” their churches were welcoming were more likely to come from the South, be of “Other” ethnicity (White or African-American) and less likely to hold Masters or Doctoral degrees. Lutheran pastors were the least likely to strongly agree.
  • Pastors in the South and female pastors were most likely to endorse the need for structural accommodations for persons with disabilities.
  • Methodist and Presbyterian/Reformed pastors were more likely to endorse the provision of financial support than Baptist or Presbyterian pastors. Large church pastors (>250 attendees) were more likely than small church pastors (<50 attendees) to endorse such support.
  • Baptist pastors and pastors of larger churches (attendance >100 attendees/week) were more likely to provide extra teachers (buddies) for kids with disabilities in their Sunday school classes.
  • 71% percent of pastors of large churches (250+) report their churches providing respite or other types of family caregivers to give them a break.

It would be a bit of an understatement to say that the claims made by pastors in this study are VERY inconsistent with the experiences of our Key Ministry team and other like-minded ministries resourcing churches for ministry with kids and adults with disabilities and their families. I’d hypothesize that the 17,541 parents who follow our family support ministry will have a different take on the study results.

When LifeWay conducted a similar study on the church and mental health five years ago, one of the most striking findings was the enormous disconnect between the supports pastors believed their churches were providing to adults with major mental illness and what families reported was available. I can’t comprehend why the crew at LifeWay didn’t use a similar design with this study and interview hundreds of family members of children and adults with disabilities. I strongly suspect the disconnect would be FAR greater than in the mental health study.

Here’s how I think the study is useful – aside from pointing out that lots of pastors either have a problem with the eighth commandment when they’re talking with surveyors or have a very unrealistic view of the ministry not taking place in their churches.

  • The information is helpful to ministries such as ours in understanding why so few churches are actively seeking help in establishing or growing their disability ministries. After all, if 99% of churches are already welcoming to families impacted by disabilities, why do they need us?
  • The shocking statistics contained in this report will draw attention to the topic of disability ministry and provide an impetus for conversations in many churches about the state of their disability ministries.
  • Churches will look at the LifeWay study and recognize different ways they can better support families in their congregations and communities impacted by disabilities. I’d be shocked if 6% of churchesmuch less 60% were providing respite or care for parents caring for a disabled child.

I’m interested in what church leaders and families impacted by disability think of this data. I’d like to think we could close up shop at Key Ministry and transition to some other area of service in the Kingdom. My experience and my gut tell me that lots of churches will continue to need our services and the services of other like-minded ministries despite the results of this study.

Here are links to LifeWay’s Pastor and Churchgoer studies regarding attitudes about disabilities in the church.
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We’re still planning to host a very large disability ministry conference in Cleveland during the last weekend in April!

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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