Commitment to special needs ministry involves a vision, a strategic plan, and human resources.
Vision: A ministry to those with special challenges must be met by the entire church leadership team. To provide a ministry just in the children’s department does not foster long range success. At some time, the individual will grow out of the children’s program and if their needs cannot still be met in the youth and adult departments, they may end up leaving and feeling rejected. A successful program will have a vision with forward thinking. There should never be a time when someone outgrows the plan of God for a church’s ministry, but rather that person should be assimilated and grow with the ministry and become all God planned for him from the beginning. For a church to be truly successful in starting a ministry for special challenges in their children’s department, they must also be providing greater connecting factors with other church ministries: family ministry, youth ministry, men and women’s ministries, senior’s ministry, music ministry and so on with whatever ministries are available in your church. Yes, you can be successful in this ministry when together your church follows the leading to build a greater God-honoring children’s ministry, extending the family of God to all.
Strategic plan: As God has led each church to formulate a strategic plan for other ministries, a strategic plan must also be in place for a special needs ministry. The strategic plan must be clear as to the way it will promote the financial, environmental, and outreach mechanisms of this ministry. Beginning a program without these issues being addressed, as well as the level of commitment to them in place with local church buy in, is one reason some churches have failed in getting this ministry to be successful. Work closely with your church strategic planning team to make sure the overall strategic plan is in place from the beginning to achieve success that is long lasting and identifies with your church’s overall plan. This will provide your program guidance and support that will foster on-going success.
Human Resources: One concern voiced so many times is, “Do we have the people to operate this ministry?” It has been my experience that if we feel this call and rely on God, He will bring those we need to labor with us. When God moves on a church for ministry, it is amazing who sits in the pews willing to be used. Leaning on the Holy Spirit for guidance and sharing the need, brings results from God’s promise to equip those He calls.
There are several good organizations that might be of great assistance in identification, training, and supporting your ministry. Look to local programs for training in special needs with educators (focused attention to the paraprofessional certificate programs), Allied Health Professionals (Occupational /Physical/ Speech and Language Therapy), nursing, and social work to name a few. All of these programs also require observation and community service hours in most states for their program participants. These people might be willing to volunteer at your church. Of course, you must complete your own background checks and make sure everyone shares the same ministry understanding, but this is a resource you shouldn’t overlook.
In most states if a child has an Individualized Person-Centered Plan (IPCP) with the Department of Disabilities, they are eligible for services that can be funded through a Special Needs Waiver Program with Medicaid. In these instances, if the IPCP identifies faith-based desires for services and community integration, one-on-one staff time with a participant can be paid for through the waiver program plan. This connection is an excellent resource to identify staff already trained for working with the individual, since in their plan they probably also have other requested services. Individuals who staff the other services might also have an interest in working with you as well and provide a double ministry outreach. This combination is usually very helpful if you are working with a participant you do not know or with a disability you are unfamiliar with. Always pay attention to those in your church that might already be contemplating a career with a special population as well. Bringing the community together will produce needed staff from surprising networks. God will supply when we honor the commitment, wait on His time, and rely on Him for our success.