Supporting churches to include people with Autism and Learning Disabilties

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I was inspired to write this after reading this blog post from Steps, Forming a Disability Ministry 

All of you are Christ’s body. And each of you is a part of that body. God has put different people in different places in his church (among his people).”                     1 Corinthians 12:27-28 (Easy English version)

Families with children with additional needs – your church needs you. Without your family, the church is poor.  They might be challenged when your child makes noises through the services, or prefers to wander around rather than sit in one place.  The Sunday school might be challenged to change what they do to include your child and try things they’ve never done before.  The leaders might be challenged to find some training for their staff and volunteers. 


They might change and grow and learn. They could receive a family who knows what commitment and faith looks like in the hardest desert times. They could receive a part of Christ’s body with gifts and insights they had never dreamed of, things that will help the whole body/church grow.  

You might receive acceptance and support and the chance to grow in your walk with the Lord. I so pray that you do.  It’s not the rest of the church that needs to be patient with you – it’s you that has to be patient with us…as we learn…as we accept the challenges to our well ordered usual way of doing things….while we accept Jesus’s prompts to let go of our religious activities and learn to love as he did. 

I hope you will help us. Even in your exhaustion,  keep coming.

And churches – keep listening. Don’t put routines before love. Don’t tut when a child makes a noise. Don’t judge parents when their child can’t sit still. You NEED these families in your church. 

“19 A body is not a body if it has only one part. 20 But there are many parts, and there is one whole body. 21 That is why the eye cannot say to the hand: ‘I do not need you.’ And the head cannot say to the feet: ‘I do not need you.’ 22 No. Even the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are really very necessary. 23 And we are most careful about the parts of our bodies that seem not to be worth very much. And we cover carefully those parts that we do not want people to see. 24 But we do not need to cover the beautiful parts of our bodies. God has put all the parts together in one body and some parts seem not to be worth very much. But God has made those parts more important. 25 So, the parts of the body do not quarrel. All the parts work together so that they help each other. 26 Then if one part of the body hurts, every other part hurts with it. Or perhaps people say that one part is doing well. Then every part is happy.”  1 Corinthians 12:19-26 (Easy English version)

To adults with additional needs.  Please forgive us. The church needs you too but we haven’t made it easy.  We have so many traditions and religious activities that could exclude you. From books and leaflets you can’t read to pews and toilets you can’t access (presuming you can get into the building in the first place.). We can easily make you feel like a burden, just by not thinking about church from your point of view.

But your life and faith are needed in the church.  You know Jesus,  you want to learn from the Bible and use your gifts too. Whether your need is physical, sensory or a learning disability,  the church needs to learn how to make you feel welcome and included, open up the Bible to you and make the effort to provide what you need. 

They might be challenged to change things, to train leaders and volunteers to ask you for help to get it right.  They might be challenged not to patronise you or leave you out of things. They might have to change the way things have always been done. 


Churches need to be ‘WHOLE BODIED’ and people with additional needs can be and need to be part of that body.  There are no excuses and far too many people with tales of being excluded and rejected by churches.  Come on, we can all do better.  We are and won’t be perfect, but as Jesus accepts us into his church…let us not hinder anyone from coming to him.  

Please look at these great tips from DisabilityandJesus about making your Christmas services accessible. 


Comments on: "People and families with additional needs, your church needs you. " (11)

  1. This is a wonderful post. I remember my feelings as a teenager when my severely disabled brother was in church and made loud belching noises – and I wish that there had been somebody there to talk to me and also to talk to others in front of me about us being welcome. You are doing a great job.


  2. I just thought I’d comment here rather on Twitter because I don’t like commenting on family members and friends on Twitter.
    I am so sorry that some people with additional needs feel unwelcome in some churches. This is not the case in our church or in other churches I have attended as a guest with family members.
    For instance, one of our ‘Prayer Friends’ at church is one of the most delightful people I know. She has severe cerebral palsy and has difficulty moving her limbs, and she also has speech difficulties. She is also one of the most mature and witty people I know. When I first got to know her, I felt uncomfortable about asking her to repeat herself because I was just unable to follow what she had said. She told me that it was not my responsibility – she saw it as her responsibility to find different words which I might understand more easily. She also thanked me for asking her to repeat what she had said, because she said that reassured her that I was interested. She also takes responsibility for asking for help, and she often asks one of us to ‘lend her an arm’ when she wants to move from one place to another. She puts us at ease – we know exactly where we stand with her.
    Then there is ‘T’ , who has severe autism. He is also highly intelligent and sensitive. He asks lots of questions, mainly because he is anxious not to offend anyone. He often approaches me in the local supermarket and asks me, for instance, if I mind if he touches my arm. He explained that some people don’t seem to like it, and he likes to check, because he does not want to offend anyone. At our most recent supermarket encounter he told me that he had been off his food and he asked me if I though he could be sectioned for not eating much. I told him I was also off my food and that I had never heard of people like us being sectioned because we don’t eat much when we are feeling poorly. I don’t actually know much about it, but I got the impression that he had felt frightened about being sectioned in the past. ‘T’ attends our church occasionally, and he has chats with many people.
    We also have a lovely lady at church who suddenly lost most of her sight in both eyes in just one month. She is given large-print copies of all the hymns and songs we sing. She, like our friend with cerebral palsy, has a wonderful sense of humour, and I always enjoy her company. She is very brave and persevering.
    A Dementia Café has recently been launched at our church, and I am one of the volunteers.
    I could go on. In my family, my father was profoundly deaf (war disabled) and people in his church bent over backwards to help in any way they could. He also did a lot to help himself, and was brilliant at lip-reading and lip-speaking.
    The son of one of my cousins has Down’s Syndrome. He is now orphaned, and much-loved by surviving members of his family. However my cousin told me not long before her sudden death that some other pupils gave him such a hard time when he was in a mainstream state school that he became very stressed and lost his hair, so she eventually withdrew him from mainstream education. She owned horses and she had already established riding-for-the-disabled sessions before her son was born, and he benefitted from that tremendously when he was growing up. He is not a church-goer, so the only comment I can make about that is that he was treated with great compassion and respect at his mother’s church funeral.
    I am sure that there are many churches, such as ours, where all are welcome and valued.
    Thank you for raising awareness of the difficulties in churches where this is not the case.
    You are all in my prayers


    • These are wonderful stories that are a delight to hear. Thank you so much for sharing them! I want to raise awareness of the good things that go on because much is written criticising or discussing bad experiences that they can seem the norm rather than all this good work and ‘getting on with it’ that just happens. I am thrilled that you have commented and shared all these examples. Thank you.


  3. Thank you for writing this piece, Lynn. I asked for a link to it to be posted on the Through the Roof Facebook page. I had an outstanding experience of inclusive church last week and have written about it here:

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I just want to share this with you because it has made my day. A Christmas card left for me at church had these words on the envelope: ‘ As we Welsh would say…Christine, the Piano.’
    Inside was a lovely message and the words ‘Thank you for the music.’ It was from a friend who lost most of her sight in both eyes within a month ( I mentioned her in an earlier post here) I am a musician at our church. I was so moved that our friend was thanking me – I feel that she has given me far more than I have ever given her. When she lost her sight, she also lost her husband and her home, but she did not lose her generous loving heart, her courage, and her wonderful sense of humour.
    She’s an inspiration 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you, this is great, really clear & inviting… Can I share on Facebook?


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