Visuals come in many formats and we use visual images in many ways in church. Stained glass windows told the stories from the Bible to people who couldn’t read in times gone by. When I was a girl, the minister used a ‘flannel graph’ board to illustrate the Bible story, and as a child, it certainly kept my interest.
There are many good reasons for using visuals to help people with additional needs access what is going on in church and connect with the Bible teaching we are presenting. The best thing to do is ask them what works for them, but by also adopting some good practice, you are accessible to those who potentially may yet come to your church.
Here are four main reasons:
1. Visuals are inclusive. If you can’t read so well, have hearing difficulties, speak a different language, have working memory difficulties, or find it hard to sit and listen then a visual image is there for longer than the words you speak. Well chosen visuals can also help those with visual impairments. A visual image allows the brain to process the message or information without having to remember the information at the same time.
2. Visuals (such as a visual timetable) help everyone know what is happening, in what order and when it all will finish. This can help people who feel anxious, who have autism or ADHD, for example. They can check for themselves what is happening and if needed, can add their own choices of activities to help with their managing to be in the service or group.
3. Visual pictures link parts of a story or series events together by putting them in a sequence you can see. It helps someone to recall what happened and see the whole story linking together.
4. Preparing visuals for a talk that you are writing helps you check how much it makes sense to others! It is easier to explain complex spiritual language using a visual illustration…but take care…people may take it literally. Here’s an example…
Set my heart on fire..
What does this really mean? Maybe something like “give me power and passion to be enthusiastic for Jesus every day.” It is good to explain our spiritual terms, not just for those with additional needs, but think about those new to Christianity and those who don’t understand our language very well.
Here are some ways you can start to use visuals in your church and children’s groups.
1. Have a visual timetable of your service. If you use a projection onto a screen have a plain background (and avoid moving pictures with text on top) with large font writing. Dark blue backgrounds with yellow writing can work well. But then at the bottom of the screen you can put a timetable of the service. It isn’t too difficult to take one picture off as each part of the service continues. You can use specialist software such as widgitonline (try the free trial) or just a set of free clip art images that are available online. Alternatively, have a visual timetable in a prominent place at the front of church or even on the service sheet. If possible have someone take off the picture symbol as each section finishes, maybe there is a child or adult who would love this job in your church!
2. When writing a sermon or children’s talk, prepare a key point you can illustrate with pictures. Try to think literally. One key sentence for people to take away. When you are speaking, a visual picture as you move from point to point, helps people keep up and focus on each part. It also helps you slow down and keep on point! Here’s a link to how to write an accessible sermon.
3. In children’s groups a visual timetable should have the place they are going to and the place they are going to after the session is finished. You are breaking down the session into manageable chunks. If necessary a child with additional needs could have their own. They may need included; a safe space and a sensory or favourite activity that helps them engage.
4. Picture sequences of Bible Stories can help children who struggle to listen, read, write or speak. They can follow the story as it is told, put the events in order and answer questions by pointing to the pictures. Here are some good resources …
www.widgitonline.com – try the free trial but plan what images you would like to have and keep in that trial time. Then you can make lots and reuse them. Consider if it is worth buying a subscription for one or more people who would be making these every week for you.
freebibleimages – my old favourite – but free – so what’s not to like?
Additional Needs Alliance website – lots of free resources people have added.
This is just a beginning and I’ve tried to show as many examples as I can. Please add examples that have worked in your church in the comments below. Let’s share our good practice.
Here’s the catch up for the recent Methodist Church Belonging Conference. all about including additional needs in church.