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Two weeks ago I wrote about Chelwood Church and the significant contribution that several people with cognitive impairments have had on their outreach work. It all started because Chelwood welcomed one young man 25 years ago.

Most churches believe in the importance of outreach, and some have reached out to their neighbors in extraordinary ways, but few have considered the significant impact they can make by reaching people with disabilities in their outreach work.

According to research, about 1 in 4 households is directly affected by disability, and about half of them attend church at least once per month. This number will increase as the average age of the population in North America increases. Research also indicates that two thirds of these households affected by disability who do not participate in church would like to be involved.

To give a specific example, let’s say that there are 160 households in the immediate neighborhood of your church. Of those, about 40 are directly affected by disability and about 20 of these 40 are currently attending a church. Another 13 households affected by disability have a high spiritual interest and would become involved in a church if they knew that they would be welcomed.

So why aren’t these 13 households currently attending church?

Some cannot attend because the disability makes it impossible for the person to be in church on a Sunday morning for worship. As for the rest, sadly, it’s very likely that they have not felt welcomed by churches they attended in the past.

Without meaning to, churches have erected various barriers to people with disabilities and their families.

  • Architectural barriers keep away people who have mobility impairments. Steps, inaccessible bathrooms, lack of pew cut outs, and narrow doors all send a message that people who use walkers and wheelchairs are not welcome.
  • Communication barriers keep away people who have visual and hearing impairments. Slide projection on fancy backgrounds can be difficult for people with visual impairments to read. Lack of availability of large print materials and lack of hearing assistive devices send the message that only people who hear and see well may come to church. People who are deaf need sign language interpretation.
  • Attitudinal barriers keep away many people and families who deal with disability. Parents of children with autism often hear the comment that they need to give their child more discipline, when lack of discipline is not a problem at all. Some families have been asked never to bring a child with a disability back to Sunday school again. Some people who use wheelchairs get ignored by congregation members. Many congregations assume that people with disabilities are burdens on the congregation and have nothing to offer.

Many dedicated congregations have overcome these barriers and engage people with disabilities in their life and ministry. The 10 households in the neighborhood of your church would like to start participating. Will your church welcome and engage them? What has your church been doing to make that happen?


Hi Mark,

 Could you please send them to the churches too.  Maybe your way ahead of me, but some how the word has to get out.


Mark Stephenson on April 13, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ken, sorry, I'm not sure what you mean. What are you suggesting I send to the churches? Tx, Mark

Hi Mark,

   I can understand. What I was referring to is a notice by email or an announcement of some sort about the webinar.

 Thanks Mark


Mark Stephenson on April 13, 2011

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

That's a good idea. I kept a fairly low profile with this webinar because I have never led one before, so I didn't do wide promotion. Will publicize more the next time. Thanks for the suggestion. It's not available yet, but a recording of this webinar will be posted in the "Webinar Archives" at the bottom of this page.


You asked me to comment on how churches can help persons with disabilities in their congregations with finding employment?  Some thoughts on that:

Talk with the person about their interests and experience/skills.  What family and community supports are in-place to assist the person. 

Share information about employers and businesses that you are familiar with (but, be aware of the need for confidentiality regarding not naming the person's specific disability.) 

If the person does not have a job developer or other agency person working on emloyment with them, ask if you could help them with obtaining and completing job applications.

If they have professional help, find out who that person and agency is, and offer to help with contacting employers, and with acting as a mentor.  Agencies that the person may be involved with include: State Mental Health Services, State Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Services for the Deaf and/or Blind, Private Rehabilitation agencies, Special Ed. Transtion Program (if still in high school), to name a few

Offer to help with transportation if needed.  In rural communities, this is often a barrier for people with a disability who cannot drive, or don't have access to public transportation.

Speak with business people in your congregation and the community on behalf of the person to find out if they would be willing to meet the person to talk about their company and the jobs that people do there.  

Hi John,

 Great suggestions on helping disabled persons find work and more to live for.  My problem is no one is there to talk about anything. People are to busy with other things they consider more important and rarely leave their social cliques to ask anything.

   It is nice to know this isn't occurring everywhere like at Chelwood CRC. They have the gift of understanding and care for the hurting.



My wife and I have worked with people with disabilities for over 30 years. We live in Washington state so there is not 50 percent of any group that goes to church. Our experience that less than 20 percent of Chrisitan families that have a member with a significant disablility goes to church on a regular basis. Many of them do not go becuase of the three reasons you list above. I beleive that this is the ripest of mision fields in America. Most churches I have worked with that have made a serious effort in reaching people with disablilities have seen significant growth not only from people with disablilities but from extended family and the community as well. Here is a resource I recomend offten it is a great chapter on reaching out to the disablility community.


Dynamic Community Outreach

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