Disability ministry and the coronavirus

Pastors and church leaders (if they haven’t already begun planning) will likely initiate many discussions in the coming weeks about the impact of the coronavirus on worship services and other church activities. In areas where local health emergencies have been declared from the coronavirus, worship practices have already been modified. Catholic churches in Southern California have issued statements highlighting the changes, which include a ban on communion by cup, receiving the bread from hand to mouth, and holding and shaking hands during prayer and greetings.

I would hope that ministry to individuals and families with disabilities won’t become an afterthought in the church’s response to a possible pandemic. The disability community is likely to be more severely impacted than the general population by the coronavirus. Persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities will probably experience greater susceptibility to life-threatening infection from the virus associated with their higher prevalence of chronic illnesses.

One study of more than 120 children with profound intellectual disability accompanied by multiple medical disabilities reported that 12% of patients had three or more hospital admissions for respiratory illnesses in the previous five years and 25% required some form of chronic respiratory treatment. Children with cerebral palsy often have a cluster of respiratory problems such as recurrent aspiration pneumonia, chronic bronchitis and (nocturnal) respiratory insufficiency, and as many as 40% die as a result of respiratory infections. Respiratory illness is the leading cause of death in adults with intellectual disabilities. Adults with intellectual disabilities are 2-3 times more likely to develop diabetes and use of second generation antipsychotics appears to be a contributing factor to coronary heart disease.

This graph was derived from initial data on 44,000+ patients from China infected with coronavirus, describing fatality rates based upon age and the presence of concomitant medical illness:

If I were responsible for leading a church’s disability ministry, some assumptions I’d make about the impact of coronavirus upon those served by my ministry and affected individuals and families outside the church would include…

  • They will be more likely to avoid worship services and other group activities at church because of their greater susceptibility to severe infection.
  • Caregiver burden will increase enormously if they are unable to attend school or work for extended periods of time resulting from closures or their own risk of infection. How will families make up for the lost income when members need to stay home with their children or siblings? Who will care for them when their caregivers get sick? I fear we’ll hear of more cases like this one in China, in which a 16 year-old boy with cerebral palsy was found dead after his father (and sole caregiver) and brother were quarantined for suspected coronavirus.
  • Children and adults with autism will struggle greatly to adapt to the changes imposed upon their daily routines.
  • Access to necessary healthcare – especially medication – appears likely to become a major concern.
  • Quarantines (both voluntary and involuntary), school and work closures will lead to a spike in acute mental health needs while access to mental health services becomes even more difficult as a result of practitioners becoming ill or needing to care for their own families and the relative absence of telepsychiatry services.

We might look at this crisis as presenting a great opportunity to share the love of Christ with the disability community during a time of need while showing families who are already part of the church the extent to which they are cared for and valued. Here are some ideas for how churches might respond…

  • How might the church step up to provide meals and run errands for individuals and families unable to leave their homes because of the risk of infection?
  • Small groups might consider offering “relational respite” to families inside and outside of the church, following current guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
  • Would this be a good time to start a Bible study or small group for families in your disability ministry that meets through videoconferencing? Or what about an online mental health support group?
  • Churches that have a stand-alone worship service for attendees with intellectual disabilities might consider making the service available online.
  • If your church offers a counseling ministry, consider making counseling available through a secure, online videoconferencing system. My practice uses Zoom, the same app we use at Key Ministry for church consults and our Disability Ministry Video Roundtable.
  • Make individuals and families served by your ministry aware of any benevolence funds your church makes available to attendees with short-term financial emergencies.

I’d encourage anyone leading a disability ministry who isn’t already part of the Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders group we help to facilitate on Facebook to consider joining us. The group will provide opportunities to share ideas and support as the impact of the coronavirus unfolds. The CDC has also launched an outstanding website with up to date information and support that will be valuable to your church leadership in your planning process.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 4:6-7 (ESV)

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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.

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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.

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The legacy of a faithful servant

Twenty-five years ago today, the Lord honored my dad with a pretty remarkable sendoff.

My father was raised in a Catholic home, but had a “born again” experience when I was a freshman in high school. He became a passionate student of the Bible, and for many years helped lead the Christian Businessmen’s Bible Study in our hometown of Boardman, Ohio together with Dr. Charles McGowan, his personal physician who had been instrumental in leading him to Christ. He served faithfully on the Board of the Rescue Mission, a ministry serving the homeless in Youngstown. He’d been invited to serve as a national speaker for CBMC near the end of his life, but health problems left him unable to travel.

While my dad was a teacher for many years, his primary career was as a broadcaster. He had a classic, deep voice for radio, and was an early rock and roll DJ in the late ’50s. He later went on to start the telecommunications department at Youngstown State University, launching a public radio (WYSU) and television station (WNEO/WEAO). After he retired, his last job was working for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, helping to grow a cable television station started to reach people in his area who couldn’t get to church.

Throughout his life, he was actively involved in the ethnic Catholic church where he was baptized. One of his passions was teaching the Bible to his fellow Roman Catholics. He developed and led a popular study in a nearby Catholic church in which participants covered the entire Bible.

A woman who was active in my father’s Bible Study had died, and her family had asked him to deliver the eulogy at her funeral. Per my mother’s account, my dad finished the eulogy, looked down at her, stepped down from the pulpit and died at that very moment of a massive heart attack, right at the foot of the altar, in front of the cross. How could you ask for a better finish to your life than to be sharing God’s word in front of God’s people in the middle of God’s house?

His outlook on life was pretty much summed up in Philippians 1:21-23…

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

He made quite an impression on my wife not too long after we’d been married when he was excited about having a heart attack because to him it meant he was getting closer to meeting Jesus. He wanted to meet Paul next, because he had a laundry list of questions he hoped to get clarified about the Epistles.

The way he lived over the last twenty years of his life made a big impression on me and my family. My sister served on staff for a period of time in her Catholic parish in a role we evangelicals would describe as an Executive Pastor. She continues to serve as a eucharistic minister while caring for her daughter (my niece) with disabilities. My only two regrets about his passing at a relatively young age (69) were that my two daughters never had a chance to meet him, and that he didn’t get to be a part of this ministry. My dad was a tech nerd way before his time, and he would’ve done a great job heading up our media team. He’d be impressed by the 200,000+ views of the videos from last year’s Inclusion Fusion Live, and pleased by the ways in which technology is being used to spread the Gospel.

My motivation for getting together with others to start this ministry seventeen years ago came from an appreciation of the spiritual legacy my dad passed down to us. I saw that all too often that wasn’t happening for far too many families coming to a child psychiatry practice like mine. My dad may have taught thousands of kids in school and started three different broadcast stations, but his lasting legacy is a result of his faithfulness in being a good witness for Jesus and pointing people to Jesus whenever he had the opportunity.

I think the way he’d want to be remembered today is for folks who knew him to enjoy a little breakfast (his favorite meal), spend some time in the Bible and to be intentional in passing on their faith in Jesus.

Well done, good and faithful servant!

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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Disability ministry will become essential to the church’s witness in the 2020s

This post in the first in a series examining ten disability ministry trends to watch in the coming decade. Today Dr. Grcevich will explore the forces that will propel ministry with the vulnerable – highlighted by ministry with persons with disabilities – to the forefront of the church’s public witness.

Compared to a lot of my friends involved with ministry, I get to spend much of my time at work surrounded by colleagues who are either indifferent or openly hostile to the claims of Christianity. I’m a member of the least religious medical specialty. And let’s just say that academic medicine isn’t exactly enthusiastic about people like me. Over time, the one thing that I’ve found will make people in my workspace take notice of my faith in a positive light is the support provided to kids and families with disabilities passing through their clinics by churches Key Ministry works with. I’d argue that involvement with disability ministry is one of the most powerful witnesses churches can present to segments of society most likely to view Christianity with skepticism.

It’s been nearly five years since I wrote about my friend Ethan, an extraordinarily gifted child psychologist who died tragically in his late 30s of a ruptured aortic aneurysm. We became friends out of mutual respect for the care we provided to the patients we held in common. Otherwise, we had nothing in common. Ethan was passionately progressive in his politics, a graduate of the University of Michigan and a self-proclaimed atheist. We had two other Christian friends in common – one who started a ministry to incorporate the gospel message into free, evidence-based social skill training with kids with autism spectrum disorders and another serving as executive director of a faith-based international hosting program for orphaned children.

As Ethan became aware of our work through Key Ministry and the ministries of our two mutual friends, he clearly became more curious about Christianity. The concept of 200 churchgoers giving up a weekend night to care for kids with special emotional, behavioral and medical needs didn’t fit with his previous understanding of evangelicals. He offered to help our ministry with any training needs that might arise. He accepted an invitation to join the Board of the autism center. Our last conversation occurred when he was called in to help after kids on an outdoor camping experience sponsored by a Christian organization witnessed the death of a peer during a severe weather event. He wanted to better understand how Christians might process traumatic events like this one. I don’t know whether he made a profession of faith before he died, but the witness of our professional friends unquestionably impacted him.

Disability ministry also demonstrates the authenticity of our faith to children and youth currently attending church and represents one approach to recapturing influence among young adults who were raised in the church, but no longer attend. Early last year, LifeWay Research released results of a survey examining the reasons why two-thirds of teens raised in the church stop attending regularly as young adults.

An active and vital disability ministry directly addresses several common criticisms of young adults who have left the church – it demonstrates integrity with the Gospel message, provides opportunity for connection both with persons being served by the ministry along with others involved with serving and addresses unmet social needs.

This past weekend, I was involved as a volunteer as our church hosted our first ever Night to Shine prom for teens and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

When the video was shared during worship this morning, our pastor commented on how nice it was that the church was getting positive media coverage. I’d argue that the coverage for Night to Shine (with thirteen churches hosting in our region) represented the single most positive publicity for the evangelical church across Northeast Ohio of the entire year.

The church will be seeking to advance the Gospel in the presence of an increasingly hostile culture during the decade to come. If caring for individuals and families with disabilities can get people in my line of work to take notice, our witness will be impactful among those  more open to the claims of Christianity.

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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.

Posted in Key Ministry, Special Needs Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ten disability ministry trends to watch in the 2020s

When our team sat down in 2010 to engage in the planning process that led to the creation of this blog and all the other resources we make available to churches and families, we had some ideas about the direction disability ministry might take in the 2010s. In retrospect, God was clearly at work laying the foundation of a disability ministry movement with a scope and impact far greater than anything we could have imagined at the time. The last ten years have been characterized by:

  • A massive increase in the number of churches actively pursuing some type of intentional disability ministry.
  • Many large, influential churches embracing different types of disability ministry.
  • Disability ministry training is more available – Live training events are becoming far more numerous and accessible, while we have experienced a proliferation of online resources for pastors and other church leaders seeking to start or grow ministries.
  • Ministry leaders have become far more connected to one another and are making use of their connections for idea-sharing and support.
  • Widespread recognition of the need for ministry strategies for welcoming and including individuals and families impacted by mental illness and the growth of ministries helping churches provide Christian-based mental health education and support.
  • An explosion of Christian parents with books, blogs and social media presence offering encouragement and support while increasing awareness in the church of the needs of families impacted by disability.
  • Events such as Night to Shine that have engaged hundreds of churches and drawn attention to the ministry needs of adults with intellectual disabilities.
  • Substantial progress in inclusion of kids with intellectual disabilities and their families since the beginning of the decade so that their attendance at worship services is no longer statistically different than the general population.

The beginning of a new decade has provided our team with an impetus to brainstorm what the next ten years of disability ministry might look like as we develop a plan for 2020 and beyond. Today, I’ll share a non-exhaustive list of ten predictions for how the disability ministry field might evolve and grow over the next ten years. This list will serve as an introduction to a series of posts over the next few months in which we’ll do a deeper dive into each trend.

  1. The church’s care for vulnerable people will grow in importance as a strategy for gospel witness in a culture becoming increasingly hostile and skeptical to traditional Christianity.
  2. Disability ministry will be less ’siloed” – less of a stand-alone ministry and more of a collaboration with all of the essential ministries within the church.
  3. Live disability ministry training will become much more available – through seminaries, churches and parachurch organizations.
  4. Radical expansion of ministry with individuals and families impacted by “hidden disabilities” – this expansion will include mental health ministry and will ultimately encompass senior adults with memory loss and persons of all ages experiencing consequences related to trauma.
  5. The terms “special needs ministry” and “inclusion ministry” will slowly fall out of use.
  6. Ministry in the 2020s will be characterized by an expanded focus on care and support of families impacted by disability.
  7. Euthanasia of the disabled will become the pro-life cause of the mid 21st century.
  8. Disability inclusion in Christian schools will become much more common.
  9. The historically African-American church will play an increasingly prominent role in advancing the disability ministry movement.
  10. More ministry will take place by the end of 2030 with less funding available than exists in 2020.

What trends would you add to this list? Any items on the list that you disagree with? Feel free to engage with us and one another in the comments section below, on Facebook or Twitter or in the Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders group that we moderate on Facebook.

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Consider joining us in Cleveland on April 24th and 25th for Inclusion Fusion Live, Key Ministry’s national disability ministry conference. Pastors, ministry leaders and families from around the country are coming together to be encouraged and equipped to better serve families affected by disability who attend their churches. Ministry intensives are offered on starting a special needs ministry, developing a mental health inclusion ministry and ministering with persons with a history of 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.

 

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My day at the White House

It was a delight to run into Janet Parshall – a true champion for persons impacted by mental illness in the church – at the White House Summit

I was honored to have been invited this past Thursday to participate in the White House’s Mental Health Summit. I suspect the invitation resulted from our ministry’s involvement in a unique project intended to help churches and other places of worship better care for and support individuals and families impacted by mental illness.

For the past two years we’ve had the opportunity to participate (together with faith leaders and mental heath professionals from a broad array of religious traditions) in an advisory group established by the Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives (The Partnership Center) within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

This group is a small component of a much larger effort initiated by a law passed at the end of the previous administration – The 21st Century Cures Act. Through this Act (Public Law 114-255), the Interdepartmental Serious Mental Illness Coordinating Committee (ISMICC) was established to make recommendations for actions that federal departments can take to better coordinate the administration of mental health services for adults with a serious mental illness or children with a serious emotional disturbance.

The leaders serving on ISMICC had come to recognize the large body of evidence supporting the idea that religious belief is associated with significantly better mental health outcomes. From a 2015 review article on the subject:

In general, studies of subjects in different settings (such as medical, psychiatric, and the general population), from different ethnic backgrounds (such as Caucasian, African American, Hispanic, and Native American), in different age groups (young, middle-aged, and elderly), and in different locations (such as the United States and Canada, Europe, and countries in the East) find that religious involvement is related to better coping with stress and less depression, suicide, anxiety, and substance abuse.

The Center for Faith and Opportunity Initiatives established the advisory group in part to help government officials better understand the role faith-based groups and leaders assume in the continuum of care for persons struggling with, and in recovery from severe mental illness and how the faith community can play a greater role in supporting affected children, adults and their families. The group has also been charged with developing a nationwide learning community of faith-based leaders to share the work being done in mental health ministry. What I’ve found most valuable are the incredible opportunities to network with other ministry leaders (especially within the African-American community) doing great work that our team wasn’t aware of.

Our group was also set up to help churches and other places of worship access available grants and resources for mental health education and support. One focus is on helping churches and other places of worship obtain training in Mental Health First Aid and Trauma-Informed Care. The Partnership is in the process of developing a Mental Health Resource list across different denominations and faith traditions. They are also hosting monthly webinars addressing mental health in partnership with faith communities. I had the opportunity to participate in a November webinar with Jolene Philo and Katie DonahueNavigating the Holiday Season: A Roadmap for Supporting Families Experiencing Mental Illness.

The Summit itself was a great networking opportunity. I made new friends who will help support the work of our ministry in the year ahead. I was also impressed by the number of senior government officials who took part. Two cabinet secretaries (Alex Azar and Ben Carson) took part in the meeting, along with the Counselor to the President (Kellyanne Conway). We also had an unexpected visitor. I can’t help but think their participation is an indication of the importance the U.S. government is placing on supporting individuals and families impacted by mental illness.

My biggest takeaways… regardless of your view of the President, there are a lot of very good people at all levels of government who are highly committed to supporting children and adults with mental illness and their families. I found the government’s interest in partnering with churches, other places of worship and the law enforcement and judicial systems to find solutions quite remarkable. I’m grateful to the team at the Partnership Center and the White House staff responsible for the Summit for extending me an invitation.

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Key Ministry’s work is accomplished on a very modest budget. Additional funding in 2020 is necessary for our ministry staff and volunteers to travel to more ministry conferences and training events and to ensure that our educational resources to get into the hands of more pastors and church leaders and provide Biblically-based encouragement and support to more families impacted by disabilities. Your prayers and financial support are much appreciated. You can click here to provide a secure donation to our ministry or contribute surcharge-free by making a gift to Dr. Grcevich’s Facebook fundraiser on behalf of Key Ministry.

Best Wishes to all of our ministry followers for a Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Joyous New Year!

 

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Giving thanks for Key Ministry’s most impactful year to date

 

JanetI think my favorite part of my job with Key Ministry is affording other people opportunities to use their gifts and talents to honor and serve God.

That’s a lot of what we do – giving pastors, ministry leaders and volunteers the tools, resources, relationships and platforms to connect churches and families impacted by disability for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In 2019, we enjoyed  unprecedented opportunities to advance the cause of disability ministry.

Here are some highlights from this past year…

We’ve seen churches successfully implement mental health inclusion strategies following training and consultation we’ve provided. It’s been especially gratifying to see churches take concrete steps to reach out to and include families in their local communities impacted by mental illness. Our training has been especially well-received. Over 200 staff and volunteers turned out at Lakewood Church in Houston on a Saturday morning for an event this past March.

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In May, we were honored to be part of a meeting at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in Washington with approximately 50 faith leaders advising Federal officials on resources the government might provide to churches and other houses of worship seeking to support individuals and families impacted by mental illness. Great relationships were formed! We were part of a nationwide webcast on navigating the holiday season sponsored by the HHS Office of Faith-Based Partnerships on November 12th.

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We had unprecedented opportunities to educate pastors, church leaders, volunteers and professionals in 2019. Members of our staff traveled to seven different states (Georgia, Florida, Kansas, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia) for conferences and other training events. Beth Golik represented the ministry well at the Wonderfully Made Conference in Overland Park, KS this past October.

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We were invited for the first time to present at the American Association of Christian Counselors World Conference this past October in Nashville. It was certainly our first opportunity to speak on the same program as the U.S. Secretary of State!

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I had the opportunity to serve as the keynote speaker at Mental Health and the Church, a half-day conference hosted by Winebrenner Theological Seminary on the campus of the University of Findlay. our first-ever training event hosted by a seminary. We’d love to be part of more events in the future. The turnout was double what the organizers hoped for, and a reflection of the interest in mental health ministry. Looks like this conference will be an annual event!

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November also marked our first ever training on a college campus held expressly for students in the doctoral program in psychology at Regent University in Virginia Beach. A visit to the CBN campus was an added benefit to the visit where we had the opportunity to shoot some video for future CBN News broadcasts highlighting the struggles of persons with disabilities in the church.

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We had many opportunities in this past year to increase awareness about the needs of persons with disabilities in the church. Our interview on In the Market with Janet Parshall was heard on over 500 stations nationwide. Segments on Washington Watch were broadcast to listeners of over 300 stations. We contributed to regular features on the Moody Radio affiliate in Cleveland. We were also honored to serve as regular contributors to the website of the ERLC (Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission) of the Southern Baptist Convention, offering us an opportunity to distribute resources and content to the churches of America’s second largest denomination.

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Tens of thousands of families have been encouraged by the resources created by our team of 30 volunteer authors and writers. Our online groups serve over 1,800 disability and mental health ministry leaders. Our staff has responded to 185 requests thus far in 2019 for consultation, resources or training. We’ve had 143,000 unique visitors to our website this year, and we’re approaching 4,000,000 views of our ministry and special needs parenting blogs.

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Our single most impactful event in 2019 was Inclusion Fusion Live, a national disability ministry conference we hosted that was attended by over 300 pastors, ministry leaders, volunteers and family members from 25 different states in Cleveland this past April. All-day ministry intensives were offered to provide churches with all the necessary training and resources to launch a special needs ministry or mental health ministry. Catherine Boyle from our team is pictured here discussing strategies for including teens and young adults of high intelligence with autism at church.

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In addition to the 300+ persons attending Inclusion Fusion Live in-person, videos of main stage presentations at the conference have received over 200,000 views to date. The most  frequently viewed presentation was this incredibly powerful keynote presentation by Janet Parshall. In her presentation, Janet issued a powerful call to the church to minister more effectively to persons with mental illness. She identified key biblical figures who experienced symptoms of mental illness, challenged church leaders to end stigmatization of persons with mental health issues and encouraged pastors to begin addressing mental illness in the course of their preaching.

Interested in being part of next year’s Inclusion Fusion Live? Registration opens on December 1. Here’s a preview of some of the content in store for #IFL2020.

I’m also thankful for all of the people who make our ministry possible through sharing of their time, talent and treasure. We did our work on a budget of approximately $60,000 in 2019. We could very much use additional funding in 2020 allowing us to travel to more training events, increase awareness of our resources and services among pastors and other church leaders and provide for additional staff support to manage the rapidly expanding volume of requests for training or consultation.

Your prayers and financial support are much appreciated. You can click here to provide a secure donation to our ministry or contribute surcharge-free by making a gift to my Facebook fundraiser on behalf of Key Ministry.

On behalf of the staff and Board of Key Ministry, I would like to extend our Best Wishes to all of our followers for a Blessed and Joyous Christmas season!

 

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A church that truly gets mental health ministry

 

Late this past summer, I received a call from Denise Petek, an experienced and highly regarded leader in the local special needs ministry community, currently serving as children’s ministry director at Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC). She was extending an invitation to meet with CVC’s leadership team to talk about mental health inclusion. I put together a very abbreviated version of the training we typically offer to churches, in which we highlight the extent to which mental health disabilities reduce the likelihood that families are able to attend church, introduce our model for mental health inclusion and talk about the process involved in developing an inclusion plan.

Did the staff and volunteers of CVC ever pick up the ball and run with it!

We don’t expect that a mental health inclusion plan is going to look exactly alike in any two churches. With that said, there are five marks of a mental health-informed church we would look for if a friend or family member in another city searching for a church they could attend with a loved one with a significant mental health condition.

The third of the five marks is that churches develop a mental health communication strategy. A LifeWay research study demonstrated a majority of unchurched adults disagreed with the opinion that churches would welcome them if they had a mental health issue. In our trainings, we often talk about the importance of changing perceptions of the church in the communities they serve with respect to mental illness. An especially powerful tool is for churches to create social media content for members and attendees to share with their friends and neighbors who might be struggling with mental illness.

This is a video that CVC shared last month during mental health awareness week. It’s the single best mental health-related post I’ve ever come across from a church. In the video, Rick Duncan (the founding pastor of CVC) extended a powerful welcome to individuals and families impacted by mental illness, addressed many of the hurtful comments they may have experienced at church, and spoke about the impact mental illness had upon his family. CVC’s media team shared this through Facebook and promoted the post to ensure it would be seen by as large an audience as possible.

As part of the inclusion planning process, I had been invited out to CVC this past Sunday by Denise to do a training for the church’s staff and volunteers in children’s and student ministry following their second service focused on helping them better serve kids with common mental health conditions. I headed out to the church early and was able to check out most of a worship service.

A related LifeWay study to the one I shared previously noted that families of adults with serious mental illness reported one of the most valuable supports their church could provide was for pastors and other leaders to talk regularly about mental illness so that existing stigma is diminished. A few minutes after I settled in, they shared this video with Chris Matetic (a graphic designer on staff at the church) in which he spoke of his experience with an anxiety disorder.

Chad Allen serves as the lead pastor at CVC. I happened to come on a Sunday when he was preaching the second message in a five-part series on what the Bible teaches about anxiety and the peace of God. In this message, Chad is on Matthew 6:25-34, addressing specifically our fears that our needs won’t be met.

I had learned from the church bulletin that CVC serves as a host site for mental health education and support groups offered by NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and also hosts Celebrate Recovery. They also have a full-time Pastor of Care and Connections on staff who is a trained Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor. They also announced several church meetings hosted by Dr. Walt Broadbent to talk about mental health-related issues and shared a Facebook video featuring Dr. Broadbent discussing the role of therapy and medication.

I found it most remarkable that over 75 staff and volunteers took the time on a Sunday afternoon while the Browns were playing at home 15 minutes down the road to come learn about including and supporting kids in their ministry with emotional and behavioral challenges.

I met with the leadership team on September 19th. The service I attended took place on November 10th. When I think about our five marks of a mental health-informed church and apply them to CVC…

  1. An intentional mental health inclusion planning process. Check.
  2. Educating staff, volunteers and members about the impact of mental illness. Check.
  3. Implementing a mental health communication strategy. Check. Check. Gold Star!
  4. Offering practical help to individuals and families impacted by mental illness. Check. 
  5. Hosting mental health education and support groups. Check.

I think I left feeling more encouraged than anyone else in the worship service.  I don’t often get the opportunity to attend worship services at churches where our ministry has offered consultation or training. I wrote a book describing a model for doing mental health ministry without having ever truly seen what it looks like. God gave me the privilege of seeing it in action last Sunday at CVC.
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In Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions, Dr. Stephen Grcevich presents a simple and flexible model for mental health inclusion ministry for implementation by churches of all sizes, denominations, and organizational styles. The book is also designed to be a useful resource for parents, grandparents and spouses seeking to promote the spiritual growth of loved ones with mental illness. Available now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ChristianBook and other fine retailers everywhere.

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A Call for Speakers to “Illuminate” – Inclusion Fusion Live 2020

 

On behalf of our team at Key Ministry, I’d like to extend an invitation to pastors, ministry leaders, volunteers and individuals interested in ministry with children, adults and families impacted by disability to join us in Cleveland on April 24-25 for Inclusion Fusion Live 2020 (#IFL2020), our third national conference designed to bring church leaders and families together to share ideas to advance the disability ministry movement taking root throughout the worldwide church.

Last year’s conference was a huge success. We welcomed well in excess of 300 attendees from 25 of the 50 states. We had in excess of 100,000 views of our main stage presentations during the livestream and following the conference on our Facebook or Vimeo pages. Our day-long intensives on starting a special needs ministry and launching a mental health inclusion strategy were very well-attended. New relationships and collaborations were formed and a great time of worship and fellowship was had by both Christians serving in disability ministry and families affected by disability.

Our team began praying about and planning for #IFL2020 soon after IFL 2019 was complete. Around the same time, we were invited by the Tim Tebow Foundation to become one of nine recommended organizations to help churches build upon their Night To Shine events through expanding ministries to children and adults with special needs throughout the year. Our staff was drawn to the idea of serving as a light to draw attention to the urgent need for more churches to become intentional in their ministry with children and adults with disabilities. We were led to select Illuminate as the theme of our 2020 conference. We’re hopeful #IFL2020 will reflect the spirit of Ephesian 5:13-14:

But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light.

We want people who take the time to attend our conference to come away with something new they can use to advance ministry in their church or to promote spiritual growth – new ideas, new resources and new relationships. That’s where you come in!

Our Program Committee is seeking knowledgable and dynamic speakers to offer workshops (75 minute, in depth presentations on topics of interest to either ministry leaders or families, featuring one or two presenters) and briefer “Quick Takes” – 15 minute TED Talk – type presentations livestreamed from our main stage that introduce new ideas or inspire churches and individual Christians to grow their ministries.

We’re especially interested in extending the invitation to speak to ministry leaders with great ideas or experience laboring in relative obscurity who long for the opportunity to share with a larger audience. Our team knows what it’s like to feel like the outsiders looking in at ministry world. Nobody who’s part of our larger family in Christ should feel like an outsider. Ever.

With that said, the application process is competitive. Submission of a proposal is not a guarantee of acceptance.We typically receive significantly more proposals than we can accept. We have a program committee that reviews all submissions for quality, interest and relevance. Proposals from first-time speakers are more likely to be accepted if accompanied by video for our committee to review. Workshops featuring two presenters from different organizations who present complimentary or divergent views on topics of interest to our audience are encouraged. In addition to our traditional areas of focus on special needs and mental health ministry, we hope to offer more sessions this year on trauma, adoption and foster care ministry.

While we are unavailable at this time to pay honoraria to speakers or cover their travel expenses (we seek to keep registration fees as low as possible for churches and families in order to maximize attendance), speakers will receive free admission to all conference events, including any ministry intensives for which additional charges apply along with free space among our vendor tables to share products and resources with the entire audience of #IFL2020.

Want to speak at our upcoming conference, or know someone who would like to? Click here to submit your proposal electronically. All submissions need to be received by 11:59 PM Eastern Standard time on Thursday, November 14. Notices of acceptance will be sent to speakers by Monday, November 18th, and speakers need to notify us of their participation by Friday, November 22nd. The timeline has been accelerated so that we can begin to promote the conference by December 1st with a complete list of speakers.

We’re looking forward to seeing many old friends – and meeting lots of new ones at #IFL2020 -Friday, April 24th and Saturday, April 25th at Bay Presbyterian Church in Bay Village (Cleveland) Ohio! If you missed last year’s conference, here’s a video of Janet Parshall’s featured presentation.

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Interested in learning more about how the church can do more to welcome, care for and support families impacted by mental illness? Come join Dr. Grcevich and a great lineup of speakers on Saturday, November 9th at Winebrenner Theological Seminary for Mental Health and the Church, a half-day conference to learn how to better understand, embrace and respond to the uniqueness and gifts of those of us with mental health concerns. Registration is available here.

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