Ministering to Special Needs Families

By Nichole Huggins

When the pew meets the pavement, what does it look like for your church to engage in outreach, missions and the work of serving others well? Sadly, even with our best efforts to reach all people with the message of God’s love, there is a large and unreached people group right in our own backyard. As we seek to share the Gospel and to expand the kingdom, the Church must not ignore the staggering number of families affected by disability.

Here are three important questions to ask as you seek to minister to special needs families.

  1. Whom are we reaching?

I hope your church has a true passion for people. I pray you are a group of people who desire nothing more than to love God and share His love with others. I would expect to find that missions is part of the heartbeat of your congregation.

However, there is an unreached mission field right here in America that we must seek to serve. Did you know that individuals with special needs, disabilities and chronic health conditions are likely never to attend worship services? This is especially true for those who have conditions that impact social interaction or communication. Disabilities such as autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays and ADHD cause many families to be “cut off” from the church. As the parent of a child with special needs, I can give you a pretty good reason why. It’s so hard.

Did you know that most parents of special needs children who actually make it to church on a Sunday have had much less sleep than you; many have faced several huge obstacles to get there, and are literally hanging on a prayer that “this whole church thing works today.”

It’s hard to take your special needs children into a huge crowd because (usually) it overwhelms them. It’s the awkward looks from church members when they see your child bounding through the door. It’s wondering if I can truly say, “Let’s go to church and learn about Jesus!” or if my child will actually just be sitting in a room while the volunteer nervously watches the clock. It’s wondering whether anyone will actually be able to relate to you and your family because different is often uncomfortable. It’s wondering if you’re truly going to be accepted or just tolerated.

With these concerns, many families affected by disability simply do not attend church.

The special needs community is deeply affected by the response of the Church. They are either embraced, loved and accepted, or they are falling through the cracks. Dear Church, whom are you reaching?

  1. Do we have a willing heart?

Churches often ask how they can start a disability ministry. They feel ill-equipped, have no budget, and honestly, they’re scared. Training, security and activities are all essential elements for creating this ministry. But there is one thing you must have first: a willing heart. Church, you must develop a heart for ministering to those with special needs.

My husband and I have visited churches with our own child, who has autism. Some churches had state-of-the-art equipment, but the members did not have a heart for those with special needs. It was evident the moment we walked in the doors. It made us uncomfortable to leave our child, so we didn’t.

We have visited churches that had little more than a room of bean bag chairs and a teacher who fumbled through reading the Bible to the special needs students in her class. But the church had a heart for those with special needs, and they sought to include them in all that they did. They cared, so we stayed.

Pastors, are you cultivating a heart for those in your church who are different? You will lead the charge on this, so decide now what your response will be. It is your job to guide your leaders and church members in remembering that it is not our job to pre-determine who is able to be reached by the Holy Spirit. Our job is to love all people, to welcome them, to share the Gospel with every person, regardless of ability, and to trust that the Holy Spirit will work in their hearts and minds. Lead well in this, and your church family will follow. Sometimes it will require passion for all people above the pursuit of perfection because special needs ministry is messy at times.

There are families out there who long to be accepted and loved. They want their child to belong, to be a part of a community. All you need is a willing heart.

  1. What happens if we do nothing?

Simply put, nothing will happen if we do nothing. The Church will continue being the Church. We are a beautifully broken group of people who gather under the banner of Christ’s grace and unconditional love. We will keep loving, serving, worshipping, and growing. We will continue donating to missions. We will continue in our comfortable Christianity.

But we must also know that in our communities, perhaps in one of the very houses that line the street of our church, there is a child who has special needs. This child struggles to feel understood and accepted. This child’s mom cries herself to sleep as she grapples with her child’s diagnosis. There is a single father whose autistic son is now an adult, and he fears for his son’s future once he is gone. There is a family of five who have not been to church in 15 years because they were once told that their autistic son was “too loud” in the service. These families are searching. They are looking to be loved, and they are lonely. They are falling through the cracks. They are part of an unreached mission field right under our noses.

Dear Church, if not us, then who? We have a grand opportunity to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Let us embrace disability ministry and make an impact for the kingdom in a way that few dare to!

Nichole Huggins serves as Director of Special Needs at Prestonwood Baptist Church.


  1. Thank you for sharing Nicole ?