Recently Disability Concerns hosted a conference for nearly 70 CRC and Reformed Church in America volunteer leaders. Our speaker, Dr. Erik Carter, associate professor of special education at Vanderbilt University, provided us with a wealth of information and statistics. One of these statistics gives direction to church leaders who want to reduce the number of people who leave their church.
Thirty-three percent of families changed their place of worship because their child with a disability was not included or welcomed into the life of the congregation. Of these families who left, some of them not only left their congregation, but left their faith tradition!
Did you catch that? Thirty-three percent left their church and some of these forsook Christianity entirely.
Church leaders must understand that having a child with a disability puts significant stress on all the individuals in the family. Children and youth who have disabilities face isolation, misunderstanding, and frequent bullying. For many parents of children with disabilities, their entire family life revolves around the needs and challenges of the child with a disability; health needs, behavior issues, and the necessity of advocating for their child with teachers, doctors, therapists, and others take their toll. Likewise, siblings of kids with disabilities face additional stresses beyond the usual challenges of growing toward adulthood.
Many families look to the church for help with these significant challenges. Some churches rise to the challenge, but others do not.
If you would like your church to be a welcoming and loving community, make Sunday the best day of the week for families affected by disability! According to another survey conducted by Carter, here are the top ten actions churches can take that parents would find helpful:
- Disability awareness efforts
- Advocate to work with families
- Support group for parents
- Resource center for families
- Spiritual counseling from a leader
- Respite care
- Modfications to religious education
- Spiritual/religious education plan for child with a disability
- Support in religious education
- Support during worship services
Each of the actions above is linked to a suggested resource (all but two of these links connect to free resources). Taking action on most of these ideas will require little or no money, but they will take the investment of time - time that will significantly improve life for families in the church, time that will improve the health of the church and make a difference for the kingdom.
What does your church need to do first?