Churches and like-minded organizations are working together to advance inclusive ministry and awareness alongside people who experience disability, chronic illness, mental health difficulties, aging-related conditions and caregiving.
Strengthening the Church with People of All Abilities
These are exciting days in the disability ministry movement!
People with disabilities are reportedly the world’s largest unreached group of people. According to recent studies*, 56% of families have kept their child from religious activities due to a lack of support. Forty-six percent of American families say they have never been asked by a faith leader about how to include their child.
Statistically, we have a long way to go in experiencing churches and a culture that effectively reflect the heart of Christ about people with disabilities. Still, remarkable progress has been made.
There is a growing leadership community empowering people affected by disabilities with the Gospel, promoting a biblical worldview on disability and multiplying disability-effective churches. Leaders are interacting in interdenominational groups to help people of all abilities encounter Christ and experience belonging in the church. Some groups connect through online discussions (e.g., Facebook Groups), some meet up in person from time to time and some combine online connection with live meetings. In January 2013, Walk Right In Ministries hosted the first meeting of the Minnesota Disability Ministry Connection. That group continues to meet monthly in the Twin Cities, now under the leadership of Joni & Friends.
Not since Joni Eareckson Tada first started Joni & Friends in 1979 has there been such a notable season of growth involving awareness and resources devoted to bringing the Gospel to people affected by disabilities and their families.
Churches and the disability ministry community now look to several organizations for valued leadership in consulting, resources, conferences, caregiver care, and education for individuals and families living with special needs. Among these highly regarded organizations, you will find: Key Ministry, Ability Ministries, SOAR Special Needs, 99Balloons, All Belong, The Institute on Theology and Disability, Faith Inclusion Network, Reframing Ministries, Nathanial’s Hope, The Elisha Foudation, and so many more.
Thanks be to God, the inspiring work that Joni started 40 years ago continues growing tremendous momentum!
FIND A NETWORK NEAR YOU
One of the nation’s premiere networks is the Special Needs & Disability Ministry Leaders Forum, founded and moderated by Key Ministry. It is a private Facebook group that connects over 2,000 leaders from around the world to share support and ideas.
Individual denominations nationwide can often be a helpful connection point for leaders and pastors looking for information, ideas or support. Examples of these networks include the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, The Evangelical Covenant Church and The National Catholic Partnership on Disability. Check with your denominational offices for resources and networking opportunities.
Several other interdenominational networks also exist to strengthen the church for people with disabilities. If you are part of a group you do not see listed here, we would love to help others find you! Please contact us with the name of your group and a link to your website or Facebook page.
Faith Inclusion Network (VA)
Minnesota Disability Ministry Connection
Special Needs Ministry Network of Des Moines (IA)
Northeast Ohio Special Needs Ministry Leaders Consortium
Southern California Disability Ministry Network
Kansas City Special Needs Ministry Network
Nebraska Special Needs Ministry Network
North Texas Disability Ministry Network
NW Church Disability Network (Seattle)
Special Needs Ministry Network of North Texas
Wisconsin Christian Disability Network for Churches
Don’t wait for more reasons to get connected.
- Encourage one another and spur each other on.
- Learn about resources.
- Share and test ideas.
- Get answers to questions.
- Identify best practices.
- Collaborate with other ministries to optimize resources.
- Be alert to future career opportunities and make opportunities known to others.
- Promote awareness in your community.
- Pray for each other and with each other.
- Explore together ways of making Christ known to all.
Read more about reasons for networking with peers in disability ministry.
*Whitehead, AL. Religion and Disability. 2018.
**Ault, MJ Congregational Participation and Supports for Children and Adults with Disabilities. 2013.
“Key Ministry credits the Minnesota Disability Ministry Connection with the model for growing the disability ministry movement in Northeastern Ohio.”— Beth Golik, Ministry Coordinator at Key Ministry
Irresistible Church Booklet Series
(A resource of Joni & Friends)
Twelve books focus on specific topics, sharing practical tips and encouragement for including people impacted by disability in your church and community. Download all 12 books, plus free supplementary resources here!
Disability and the Church
(by Lamar Hardwick)
This book offers a practical and theological reconsideration of the church’s responsibilities to the disabled community. It offers practical steps and strategies to build stronger, truly inclusive communities of faith. Download it free here.
Mental Health & the Church
(by the founder of Key Ministry)
This is a a ministry handbook for including children and adults with ADHD, anxiety, mood disorders, and other common mental health conditions. Find it here.
- Amplifying Our Witness: Giving Voice to Adolescents with Developmental Disabilities by Benjamin Conner
- Beyond Suffering: A Christian Perspective on Disability Ministry by Joni Eareckson Tada, Steve Bundy, et al
- Disability & The Sovereign Goodness of God by John Piper (FREE DOWNLOAD)
- Every Child Welcome by Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo
- From Longing to Belonging: A Practical Guide to Including People with Disabilities and Mental Health Conditions in Your Faith Community by Shelly Christensen
- A Guide to Accessible Worship: Welcoming All to Your Congregation by Live Control
- Including People with Disabilities in Faith Communities by Erik Carter
- Irresistible Church Series by Joni & Friends (FREE DOWNLOADS)
- Jesus, Let’s Talk by Lisa Jamieson
- Just the Way I Am by Krista Horning
- Leading a Special Needs Ministry by Amy Fenton Lee
- Mental Health and the Church: A Ministry Handbook for Including Children and Adults with ADHD, Anxiety, Mood Disorders, and Other Common Mental Health Conditions by Steven Grcevich M.D.
- Same Lake Different Boat: Coming Alongside People Touched by Disability by Stephanie O. Hubach
- Sibshops: Workshops for Siblings of Children with Special Needs by Don Meyer and Patricia Vadasy
- Sundays with Scottie by Milton Jones
- Zeal without Burnout by Christopher Ash