Helping People With Intellectual Disabilities Feel Included in Worship

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Our Friendship Class has recently been blessed by a large group of new members from 19 local group homes. Our class normally meets on Sunday mornings before church. Many of our friends find it hard to sit through class and then worship time so they go home after class. We are now taking a break for the summer so we have invited everyone to come to the 10:30 worship time. 

I would like to hear from churches who have adults with intellectual disabilities who attend your worship services. My concern is not potential disruptions in the service. Along with our friends, we are blessed to have a large number of staff attending as well. My concern is how do we make worship meaningful to them? What are some useful tips to help our pastor to preach his sermons in a way which will be understood by everyone? What about the rest of the service? What has worked in your church and what has not worked? 

God has called all of us to worship and adore Him. This includes people with disabilities. Our challenge is to learn how to worship Him together. 

Steve Nyenhuis

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Steve,

You have asked some excellent questions. I checked in with some of my colleagues in the Church Services division here at CLC Network on their advice for you; below are some of their suggestions for you and your church as you strive to be an example of God’s Body.  

For worship—If someone is nonverbal, or likes to move around, a great way for them to worship is to have wrist ribbons. These ribbons can be put around the wrist and moved around during singing.  Flags can also be available for people who are able to use their hands and grip objects. Instruments can be another option, such as a maraca or finger symbols. Instruments can even be as easy as putting rice inside of a container to shake! Lastly, when thinking about song selections, you may want to incorporate songs that have been previously sung in Friendship class.  

In terms of learning more about Jesus and the Bible, specifically during sermons, the pastor could use a few pictures or symbols to portray the main points. It could be projected or put at the front of the sanctuary for everyone to see. It could also be printed in the bulletin. Since you have Friendship class before church, the mentors and mentees could work through the meaning of the symbols together, preparing them for the sermon.

My colleague Barbara Newman wrote a blog about “Sharing Jesus with a Child with Down Syndrome”, which you may find helpful. Also, Barbara has published several materials about including those with disabilities in churches, and there are two in particular that might be useful. The first is the G.L.U.E. Training DVD and Manual, which helps churches implement a planning process to better include individuals with disabilities in the church (you can even apply to get it for free for your church!). The second, Inclusion Tool Box: 52 Practical Ideas to Include Individuals with Disabilities is a DVD that gives churches practical strategies to better include those with disabilities in the church. These resources can be found here. 

Please let me know if you have any other questions. Blessings to you as you continue to model God’s body in your church! 

Sincerely,

Katie

Katie

Thank you for your response and suggestions. I will check out the resources you mentioned. New situations like this require people to step out of their comfort zone. This includes existing members as well as the new people attending. 

Hi Steve,

This is true, but the end result often creates a stronger, richer church community. We've found people are surprised at how simple steps toward inclusion can make a significant difference. I hope you find those resources helpful! 

Blessings,

Katie