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Disability Inclusion: A view from church leaders

"The biggest barrier to providing ministry opportunities that are inclusive is not desire, but a lack of education that would help volunteers be more knowledgeable and feel more comfortable working with those with special needs. Because almost all those working in ministry are volunteers, people lack the time, energy, etc., to be fully educated about how to include those who may have special needs." -anonymous survey response

In the spring of 2023, I asked church leaders and pastors to complete an anonymous survey over the view and needs of disability accessibility & inclusiveness within the church. It wasn't as formal or official as Lifeway's 2019 inquiry, but it gave me a good baseline about how to best serve & advocate. The collective results had a united message: churches have the desire to serve and minister to families and people impacted by disabilities, but they're just not sure where to start.

infographic of 61/100 images colored grey

Of the responses received, it was clear that church leaders and pastors acknowledged the need for awareness when thinking specifically about disability inclusion & ministry accessibility within the church. 61% of respondents indicated that they believe that people impacted by disabilities or special needs feel welcome in the church. But, a ministry is more than welcomeness. To be sure a ministry is more multi-ability friendly, it must also be prepared to adapt, accommodate, communicate, & be willing to stray from "we've always done it this way".

Welcomeness is a small portion of a successful ability-inclusive ministry.

disability ministry infographic

The CDC reports that 1 out of every 4 adults in the United States has some sort of disability. This number has grown over time and will continue to grow and until the church embraces the fact that roughly 25% of the community in which they serve is impacted by disabilities, we will forever miss the opportunity to minister wholeheartedly. In short, churches must intentionally plan to meet the growing diverse needs of our communities.

And I'm not just talking about physical access via ramps & wide doors. Disability inclusion and awareness of a communities diversity takes effort, intention, & desire.

"We could help better minster to people in our communities with resources, training, & a better understanding of disabilities". -anonymous survey response
statistic circle that shows 26%

Limited resources and support is a barrier that many ministries face, but is far more prevalent in rural churches. As a lifelong member of smaller, more rural protestant churches, I can attest to the gap between the needs of the community and the resources available. Staffing, volunteers, attitudes, facilities, and finances all play a huge role in the church's ability to effectively minister to people and families impacted by disabilities. A mere 17% of respondents indicate that staff and volunteers undergo training related to disability inclusion and 30% of respondents said yes when asked if the church and staff feel comfortable ministering to people or families with special needs or disabilities. Churches are full of folks with gifts, desires, & a servant's heart but we have to provide guidance, and empowerment to really make a positive change in outreach.

The church faces some crucial decisions when it comes to how to minister to those with differing abilities in mind. Will the church stand on the side of intentional disability inclusion and proactive planning, or will it miss an opportunity to take hold of the Great Commission?

Dear readers, regardless of your community size or demographics, there are people in your direct circle of influence who need an advocate in the ministry. That can be you. Truthfully, as a church leader, that should be you. Without you voicing a desire to raise awareness about disability-inclusive and accessible ministries, an entire vital piece of the Church is being neglected. There's a level of urgency in the need to provide resources and support for churches and ministries and the time to do that is now.

It will be up to the church to respond.

"The Church needs training. We may have a deep desire to help families with special needs, disabilities, but we need resources and guidance." -anonymous survey response

Welcome to Intent to Include. Let's embrace this journey toward disability awareness and inclusion together!




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