Who is welcome at your church?

Lee and I love leading special needs ministry for families at our church. I wrote this in our Christmas letter this year: "To say we have been blessed to serve in this way would be an understatement. The best description we can offer is this: it’s not really an effort but rather it’s like we’ve been offered a front row seat to watch (and be a part of) the work God is doing in the lives of these children and their families. To Him be the glory!"

And it's true.

A couple months ago, a Christianity Today blog post was titled Is Your Church Open to Autism? I didn't find the post until someone else linked to it on Facebook today. While it's a good post, it was the comments that really caught me.

As in, caught me like a solid punch to the gut.

It's painful to know that church is the hardest place to go for some families whose children have disabilities. No, not because of anger at God or because of any other theological differences. Church is tough because many churches aren't welcoming.

I don't think they do it on purpose. But if your church isn't proactively welcoming people with disabilities as part of your body of believers, then you're probably not welcoming to them. If your church doesn't have an answer if a parent calls the church asking what Sunday morning could look like for their child with special needs, then it's simply not a welcoming place. (The same goes for churches with no answer for what Sunday morning could look like for an adult with special needs.)

I haven't been able to find the research to back this up, but I've seen estimates that 75-90% of people with disabilities are unchurched in the US.

That's just not okay.

Consider this comment left on that blog post:
The most difficult part of having a child with Down syndrome has been at church.

Although I go to a great church, they have ignored her special needs.

When she was a toddler, I was told that "she was to be treated like everyone else."

That was folly. If she had been treated like everyone else, she would have been in nursery until she was five, because she couldn't walk!

Now that she's older, she goes to the children's ministry for part of the time, but they don't require her to do what she needs to do. I walked into one activity where she was wandering and when her younger sister tried to get her to sit down, the leader said, "She's OK." She wasn't OK, and it wasn't OK for her to be wandering.

Our AWANA program has no adaptations for her, although the workers are working with me so she can make progress.

Even though she IS at church, she really isn't included in a meaningful way. It's as if she's a mascot or a pet, not a person with a soul. I read no where in my Bible that there's a special dispensation for people who were born with 47 chromosomes in every cell. The church needs to communicate the gospel to her, too. She CAN understand.

Why don't they?
It sounds like they are working to do something for children with special needs at that church, which is sadly more than a lot of churches do. But the phrases that grabbed me were "included in a meaningful way" and "[t]he church needs to communicate the gospel to her, too." Amen to both of those.

Christ didn't shy away from people with disabilities. He didn't avoid it because it was too hard. He saw in disability the opportunity for the works of God to be displayed.

I wish all churches saw that. I wish all churches preaching the Gospel were willing to communicate it in a meaningful way to those who don't fit a traditional mold of learning or behavior.

I'm glad to be working with our church to make that happen.

And I'm praying for other churches, that none preaching the Gospel would limit to whom that Gospel can be preached.