The Friendship Station: A Special Needs Ministry

Last week, I shared about some of the challenges we have had with church attendance since our son Michael was diagnosed with autism in December of 2004. Many of you shared your own stories, both uplifting and heartbreaking, in the comments, and I appreciate your openness on this difficult topic.

Over the last year, we have seen some real progress in this area at our church, so I wanted to share what has been happening. I know there are many larger and more organized programs out there, but perhaps our example will encourage someone else that it’s okay to start small. 🙂

Shortly after a new director was put in charge of our children’s ministry, she expressed a desire to meet with each of the families who have a child with a disability to talk about their challenges and needs. Out of this came several common themes, which became the main goals of the special needs ministry:

  • The need for families to connect with each other for encouragement and fellowship.
  • The need for parents to be able to attend service without being worried about their children or constantly called out to take care of them.
  • The need to provide a safe, caring environment where the children were being ministered to at their level.

Making a Connection

The first goal was the easiest to begin addressing, which was done by setting up quarterly meetings for the parents on a convenient night and with childcare provided. It is a small group right now, but the opportunity to be together with other special needs parents in this setting has been wonderful.

Making a Plan

The ministry director and some of her team also began researching the topic of special needs ministry and evaluating what they could realistically put into place for the children currently represented in our church family.

They ended up deciding to create a classroom that would be specifically set aside for children with disabilities (called the “Friendship Station”), while also increasing the support of those children whose parents want them in a regular class. In order to not spread the volunteers too thin, the Friendship Station would be open on Saturday nights only.

I should explain that our church has two services on the weekend—a Saturday night and a Sunday morning—and no separate Sunday School program, so the children’s programs are running concurrently with the service. The Saturday service was the preferred choice of most of the families involved.

Making it Happen

While the team was working on the room, they were also gathering information from each family on their child and developing a “Religious Support Plan” that could be shared with the child’s teacher.

In addition, they prepared any needed materials for the children in the regular classrooms, such as visual schedules or communication books, and started talking with the regular teachers about what to expect and how to handle various situations.

At this point, the program is still very small, but it is having a powerful impact on the families involved. Although parents are not expected to volunteer, I had been feeling a desire to return to the children’s ministry, since my son is able to attend class without me, and have enjoyed spending time with the kids in the Friendship Station once a month. Our teachers are scheduled one month on, one month off, so there is consistency and familiarity in that area.

I know this has been an unusually long post, and I have probably provided too many details for some people and not enough for others. If you have any specific questions, please feel free to contact me through my blog or by emailing trish[at]anotherpieceofthepuzzle[dot]com.

Trish can be found writing here at 5MFSN every Friday in addition to hosting Try This Tuesday. You can also find Trish at her blog, Another Piece of the Puzzle.

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