Starting A Special Needs Outreach Ministry
The first step in creating any outreach ministry requires prayer. Ask God to help you identify the group leader and participants who will make this ministry a success. You want people who have a heart for service, care for the needs of others, and often have experience with similar needs. I strongly recommend, however, that you don’t select current caregivers to participate in this group. While they may seem the logical choice due to their knowledge and experience, you must minister to them instead. You will find that caregivers need your help more than the ones receiving care.
Defining Special Needs
Within every congregation are several types of special needs. Therefore, you must determine what you mean by that term. When creating a ministry to support those with medical needs, most will fall into one of the categories below. Catastrophic loss may not seem like a medical-related Special Needs category; those who experience significant loss often suffer from depression and post-traumatic stress syndrome, and some even commit suicide.
Below are Special Needs groupings to consider.
- Disabled due to chronic illnesses–a medical condition lasting over six months.
- Individuals with developmental disabilities – mental or physical.
- Catastrophic Accidents – Injuries requiring more than six months of recovery time.
- Catastrophic loss – death, divorce, fire- leaves a family with significant alterations to life.
- Mental Health – Addictions, Depression, Memory Loss, Mental Illness, Dementia
- Caregivers for all the above.
After seeing the list above, I bet you’re reconsidering the number of people in your congregation who might need support.
Determining the Type of Support Needed
Many individuals with special needs cannot come to church due to fear of exposure to infection or the inability to gain access to their Sunday School classrooms or the worship areas for their age group due to structural barriers. For others, the issue concerns bathroom designs not being user-friendly. Still, others cannot see or hear the media or materials used during worship or class time.
Just as hundreds of medical conditions exist, so does the need for accommodation. Each church must survey its members to determine what types of needs exist. Many families suffer in silence but will happily share their needs with you if you ask. I recommend checking your membership roster to identify who used to attend church but hasn’t come in months. Visit them to find out why. Even if it’s not a medical reason, you will gain important information about your church.
Data Collection Process
To determine what the needs may be in your church, you need data. How you go about gathering your data depends on the size of your church.
- You’ll probably need to design an electronic survey if you have a large church. If it’s small, you may be able to do it 1:1.
- Allow those surveyed to remain anonymous or to identify themselves at the end. Some people do NOT want anyone to know about their medical conditions.
- Keep the survey short and easy.
We need your help. We are interested in discovering how we can help those in our congregation struggling with medical or personal issues and need help. We intend to find ways to possibly help reduce your life’s challenges, not create new stressors.
Medical Accommodation Need
- Do you or any family member have a medical condition (physical, emotional, or mental) that makes it challenging to attend church-related activities? Yes No
- If you answered Yes, what type of difficulty do you have? (e.g., can’t hear, walking, etc.)
- Please describe what changes to the building, equipment, materials, etc., would help make it easier for you to participate in the worship service or church program offerings.
- If we provided the accommodation suggested above, would you likely return to church, or is your condition such that you don’t have the energy to attend?
- If you cannot attend in person, what would help you feel connected to others at church remotely?
- Can you connect to the internet if you cannot attend in person?
- Would you like to participate in group activities?
- Could you participate in group activities without someone replacing you at home?
Place a checkmark beside the areas of help you need.
- Assistance with vehicle maintenance
- Yard work
- House cleaning
- Meal preparation
- Clothing (Type and Sizes___
- Medical Supplies (What type)
- Respite for ½ day – day
- Home repairs
- Financial assistance (estimated amount_______)
- Furniture/equipment (describe____________)
- Legal Services
- Counseling Services
- Support group Type ______________
- Child Care
- Other needs
Forming a Plan
After reviewing your survey data, you should know your greatest need. With that information, you can plan your needs and how to meet them. Let God design your program. Match talents to needs when establishing programs. Keep programs simple and appeal to your membership’s need to care for one another. Today, they are caring for a neighbor; tomorrow, the neighbor may be caring for them. Try to make it a church-wide program of caring for one another. Not only will you find rewards for the service given, but word will spread about the love within the church, and your membership will grow, too.