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Creating Ministry Space for Children with Special Needs
June 19, 2017

Nothing makes my heart sing more than knowing that a family with a special needs child can get in their car, drive to church and arrive where they can attend as a family. God has given me many opportunities to watch that happen over the past 30 years as I have cared for children. For you who are creating a space for children, I truly commend you for stepping out in faith and following Jesus! You are doing your very best each Sunday to prepare for the typical children in your community.

Now that I serve at Houston’s First, which in itself is a huge church campus, I continue to tweak and refine each week what would be best for each individual, child and family. A question I often ask is, “How in the world can we do more than we are already doing?”

In a church body of believers, we should be prepared in advance to expect anything and anyone to join us to hear the word of God preached and taught. In the Bible, Jesus usually showed up where the crowd was soon to follow. There were people from all walks of life who desired to hear what Jesus had to say. In these times, Jesus specifically spent a great deal of time with people with disabilities.

You cannot get to the book of Acts unless you deliberately step over four men… Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These men often write of those with skin disease, the lame, the blind, the paralyzed bodies, paralyzed hands, those with seizures. There are even stories of parents who often felt cursed – felt as if they had done something to cause their child’s disorder.

As a mom who had a child born with special needs, this sounds very familiar. It also relates to so many families especially today with the rise of Autism. When I began in special needs ministry in the church setting back in 1994, 1 in 1,000 children were diagnosed with Autism. Today, Autism is affecting 1 in 88 children (according to www.tacanow.org). As a church body, we have to gain knowledge and be prepared for those little ones we may have in our nursery and preschool areas. The next child who joins our ministry may be that statistic.

How are you going to serve them in a portable church with limitations of space, staff and volunteers?

I can tell you that storage isn’t a problem. Special needs tools can travel well; they can pack up neatly and a Rubbermaid tub or two can be stored each week in your specific case or trailer. The greater challenge is, what goes in those tubs and who will be using them?

Begin praying that if God sends you families, then he will also equip you and bring those who have a deep desire to welcome them. Just like us in Thru the Roof, we open that door each Sunday.

I have found that some children require only one buddy. Some only require a buddy in the classroom space just in case there is a need for support. Other children require a one-on-one buddy that NEVER leaves his side (a lot of children are runners… or, what we like to call elopers… who like to explore parts of the campus). A Buddy helps keep these children safe, secure and in the right place.

In Mark 2:1-5, we learn of the buddies that brought the crippled man to Jesus through the roof. At your church, they will not have to open the roof; they will be welcomed through the front door as they should be!

Here Are Some Important Things to Have on Hand: 

  • Gluten-Free snacks
  • Soft paper towels (Viva) for wiping mouths and drool
  • Musical toys
  • Legos
  • Puzzles with knobs
  • Veggie Tales movies
  • Mats to sit or lay on
  • Bean bag chair
  • iPad (these children are beyond gifted to show you how it works)
  • Non-latex gloves, baby wipes: some of them will require diapering/pull-ups
  • Train sets, play cars, trains
  • Board books that are able to be wiped down
  • Bible story sheets that are laminated
  • Small inflatable pool with balls or a small ball pit for sensory issues
  • Small tent with a blanket inside, also for sensory and calming issues
  • Noise-cancelling headphones (reduces stress from loud noise and music)
  • CD Player or iPod Dock for music
  • DVD player for movies (find out their favorite and use it as a reward for good behavior)
  • Bagged snacks like gummy bears, skittles, starbursts (reward for good behavior)

It will not be the items in the Rubbermaid tubs that will make the life changing difference in their lives! It will be that life changing difference that only Jesus Christ can bring. Just like in Mark 2:5, it was when Jesus saw the friends’ faith, the crippled man’s sin was forgiven. He was spiritually whole!

Go forth mighty warrior and peel back some roof tile! You will not believe the difference you can make in the family! They will begin serving and loving because of the way you served and loved on them!

About Denise:

Denise Briley began working with special needs children in 1981 as a babysitter. However, God had much broader plans for her life. She became the mother of Clayton in 1983, who was born with severe cerebral palsy and medical and physical needs. While raising Clayton, Lauren and Dillon joined the Briley family. As Denise and her husband Thad relocated to Tomball, TX, the need for a new church home surfaced. There were not many churches in the early 1990ís offering care, much less a class for children with special needs. Denise founded The JOY Ministry in 1994 and grew that special needs ministry in Tomball until a couple of years after Clayton went to Heaven. Denise and her husband Thad are now members of Houston’s First Baptist Church where Denise is on the Children’s Ministry staff as Special Needs Coordinator. “I love it!” Seeing families have a place to worship and where siblings can say, “They like my brother there!” Denise is a gifted conference speaker and has written a book about her journey called Feathers From Heaven. “Nothing makes my heart sing than to know a family can worship and not worry about what their child with special needs is doing or may do… Church should not be hard.”

Twitter Handle: @denisebriley

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