Want your church to become the kind of community in which people know they are welcome, delight in being together as a body, seek to serve God and the church willingly? Then make some resolutions that will not only benefit the people with disabilities in your church, but also will help your church to become the loving community God intends it to be.
1. Ask, "How well are we doing at being the kind of community in which people with disabilities will know that they are welcome?" Don’t decide the answer to this question by yourself, but ask the people in your church who have disabilities. Therefore, . . .
2. Make a list of everyone in your church who has a disability. Remember to include everyone who has a disability including the people with hearing and vision impairments (who uses hearing aids?), people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (including autism and severe learning disabilities), people with hidden disabilities (like fibromyalgia and post-partum depression), people with physical disabilities (anyone who uses a walker, who has trouble climbing steps), people with mental illnesses (don’t forget to include the people who have dementia), “shut-ins”, and people with chronic health problems and severe chemical sensitivities.
3. Cement your commitment to resolution 1. by adopting a church policy on disability.
4. Assess at what stage you and your congregation are at in the journey of disability attitudes. Take 20 minutes during a church council meeting to do this assessment.
5. Make sure someone will help your church leadership follow through on the commitment to be a welcoming community by asking at least one person to serve your church as a church disability advocate.
6. Take simple steps toward making your church fellowship more welcoming. A good place to start would be making your communications more accessible.
7. Provide needed support to the loved ones of people who have disabilities. In a very real sense, they live with a disability too. Ask them how they are doing, what kind of help they might need. Some churches have set up respite care programs that can literally be a God-send for people who are feeling the stress of giving 24/7 care.
8. Thank God regularly that God has blessed your church with members who seem to be weaker but are, in fact, indispensable.
Following these resolutions won't cost your church a penny. More importantly, becoming a welcoming congregation to people who have disabilities will help your church think through what Christian hospitality and love are really about. You’ll be a better and more loving community for the effort, and 2014 will bring new blessings that you couldn’t possibly imagine.