5 Ways to Make Families With Special Needs Feel Welcome in Your Church

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A couple weeks ago was “Rally Sunday” for many churches of the Christian faith. A kick-off, of sorts, for church programs. 

It was the first time since 2019 my boys went to Sunday school. We’ve been church vagabonds these past few years. Never truly finding a home where we felt welcome. That is until now. We’ve found a place where I feel Lucas is able to be himself. The person God truly intended him to be. I didn’t feel the need to explain. To share how he wasn’t like typical 9-year-olds and all his struggles. They speak to him. They see him. They accept him. And that’s all families like mine want. Not to be expected to follow an agenda or the way it’s always been. No one to bully him or make remarks about his inability to participate in a certain activity.

Statements like “All are welcome!” or “Come as you are!” are usually plastered all over worship centers, bulletins, and church websites. But for families like mine, those words are not always true. 

If you ask a special needs family if they belong to a church, most often they say no. And not because they don’t want to. But because they were made to feel unwelcome—or even worse, asked to leave. A place that should be accepting of all people.

So I thought I’d share what would make families like mine feel welcome at a place of worship. Maybe you can use these ideas to bless a family already attending your church or to encourage a family to try one more time.

1. Understand how much it took to just arrive at church. Change in routine can be difficult. Logistics can be hard. Just getting through the door deserves a smile, a glad you’re here or even a hug.

2. Get to know the individual and not the disability or diagnosis. So many times I’m told by someone that their cousin’s neighbor’s sister in-law’s hairdresser’s brother has autism. Ok maybe not so specific but you get the idea. It’s still not necessary. That person is not sitting in front of you, my child is and he has many wonderful qualities!

3. Get to know the family, too! Oftentimes we are in need of more support. And by getting to know us, we’re more likely to allow you to help, if you so choose.

4. Don’t stare during struggles. And please do not tell families what you did with your children! I’m so glad you were able to take your children to church for 4 hours and they sat like perfect angels. That’s not happening in our world. We bring fidgets, snacks, and endless amounts of coloring books. Some families have iPads or tablets. There is no need to judge.

5. And lastly, just make us feel welcome. All of us! No matter how we look, what we bring or how we act. Live up to that statement, Come as you are.

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