top of page

Evangelization for Disability Inclusion

Disability Inclusion is a needed and necessary component of Church health. Some churches are just beginning their journey towards the intentional inclusion of those with Disabilities or other diverse accessibility needs and some churches have well-established systems and services with disability inclusion well embedded. Wherever your church sits on this range, it's vital for continued church health and growth to know how to approach Evangelization - the spreading of the Gospel message - both for people who have yet to join your church community and those already attending disability-inclusive ministries. There are three main areas of focus in healthy evangelization to help guide thoughtful and intentional inclusion of people with disabilities.

two woman sitting on a park bench sign to each other. one woman is wearing a black skirt, polka dot top, and has long dark hair signing  "know", The other woman is wearing light jeans, a dark yellow top, and has a dark bob hairstyle. She signs what looks like the word day or morning.
Two Women Have a Conversation in Sign at a Park

Witness

First, focus on Witness. How do you witness with people with Disabilities? Witnessing to a relationship with God is not something we are doing to people, it's something we do with people. No one ever came to a healthy relationship by being forced into it. We are walking or wheeling alongside people with and without disabilities toward a deeper love of God.


Just as with all people who enter the church building, it is important to show people with Disabilities that they matter, the Gospel personally applies to them, and they are a welcome part of the church community. It would be hindering, to say the least, if I were to see someone with blue eyes come into the church and immediately assume they must be a sinner because they were born with blue eyes. I was born with a disability (actually I was also born with blue eyes but that is beside the point) and while I am a sinner, my disability has done more to show me the goodness of God, His mercy and redemption, and God's unique path for me than a lot of experiences that were choices. We can get deeper into disability theology another day, but the important thing is that we as a church need to stop treating people with disabilities as if their disability is what makes them a sinner and as if the non-disabled are less of sinners. I see this most often in how people with Mental Illness, Invisible Disabilities, Mobility-Related Disabilities, and late-onset Disabilities are treated.


Strategy: Include disability-positive language in your sermons and faith formation.


In what ways is it apparent that your Church welcomes and is accessible to people with Disabilities? One of the most foundational principles of the Christian faith is Relationship. In fact, God models for us the idea of relationship in both the Trinity and His revealing Himself to us. Not only does God want a relationship with us, but He went out of His way to repair that relationship. Relationship is at the core of our interaction as believers. This requires that - to the best of our ability - every interaction we have is inviting and an opportunity for connection especially where disconnection has previously been the only experience. In working with a lot of churches, this is one area in which I see a lot of apprehension. Often, churches are afraid to directly invite people with disabilities because the concern is that it will feel like they are being singled out. But I can tell you, people with disabilities already feel singled out - almost all of the time - because many places weren't made for their access and a lot of time is spent figuring out how to even physically get into a place, let alone socially fit in. If churches intentionally said, "Yes, there is room in this ministry for you" or, "Yes, people who use wheelchairs will have space here" it can be powerfully connecting, healing, and relieving.


Strategy: Intentionally invite people with various disabilities and needs to the events and services your Church offers.

A young man with Down syndrome works on a laptop

Formation

Second, focus on formation. How do you establish a disability-inclusive ministry - in the moment, in planning for events, and in the execution of events? Provide kids, teens, and adults with disabilities the same access to the Gospel Truth as those without disabilities. The temptation may be to just keep things status quo and say, "but people with disabilities are welcome". Access for people with disabilities may look different than the way we already do things. Access means that there are no physical, social, emotional, or learning barriers separating a person from having the same, full experience as others. If the Church hosts a prayer service where people are expected to pack together, there is a barrier to people with immunocompromised medical conditions and anxiety. Consider setting up the space with pamphlets spaced apart in the pews or putting a ribbon on every other row to visually cue that people should spread out. It should be a part of planning for a ministry event or meeting to consider how people with various needs will join and participate.


Strategy: Plan for accessibility for the needs of your church members and communicate or advertise specific accessibility features.


In what ways does your faith space focus on the intentional formation of all in the community? There are some people who learn by doing and others who learn when information is repeated multiple times. There are some people who communicate using their mouths/vocal cords and others who use a device or their hands. (I intentionally didn't write voice for the first example, because we believe that whatever method someone uses to communicate is their voice.) Each of us is on a unique journey of faith and so formation typically does not look exactly the same for each soul. There are some who were raised in the faith, experienced a time of rebellion and questioning but then returned as an adult. There are some who did not know about God until a friend showed them where to get fed. We often forget that everyone isn't the same and so assuming that one standard process for formation works the same for everyone is silly!


"But how can I do it all?" you might ask. It's about providing different options, which I bet you already do, and practical strategies. Your church may already offer prayer that involves contemplation and quiet, and prayer that involves worship with singing and outward symbols. Each form of prayer hits different for each person. Consider the needs of your community and use what you already have to make it work. Train volunteer religious education or bible school teachers to support the needs of the students in their class. Use visuals when doing faith formation to make stronger connections for people with learning or processing needs.


Strategy: Ensure Kid, Teen, and Adult formation includes multiple modalities and multiple types of accessibility.

A woman leads a training group

Sending

Lastly, focus on sending. How do you provide opportunities for people with disabilities to be a witness to the church? Allow people with disabilities to have opportunities in leadership and to share their faith story. Now, your first inclination might be to have them share about their disability and all the ways they have overcome and this may be a part of their testimony. As much as possible, opportunities for people with diverse needs to be a witness to the church should not solely focus on their disability. A person's disability may be essential to their witness, but it should not be so defining. Some of this has to do with the fact that stories of people overcoming the barriers they experience with their disability have become this viral inspirational addiction for the public when in reality, many, if not all, of the barriers people with disabilities experience shouldn't even exist. We shouldn't (only) feel inspired when a person using a wheelchair somehow makes it onto the stage, we should feel angry and frustrated that the stage wasn't accessible in the first place! True celebration for disability-inclusion comes when a system is set up for that person to access and they are able to live like others.


Consider having a person with a Neurodiversity such as Autism, Dyslexia, or ADHD give a talk at an event. If you are worried about how that will go or think it won't be as good, remember that about one-fourth of the people in the crowd are neurodivergent and it would be great for them to connect with the talk on a personal level. Not only that but school-aged kids and teens already know other kids and teens with neurodiversity as their classmates and friends.


Strategy: Give opportunities for people with diverse needs to share their faith journey and testimony.


Do the leadership opportunities for people with disabilities point others to God or hide them in a safe and acceptable corner? When we equip church members to share their stories and faith journeys, we don't want the victory to focus on making us comfortable or making things picture-perfect, we want the victory to be focused on God, His goodness, mercy, and grace - and how undeserving we are of that! People with Disabilities should have opportunities for leadership. A church member who uses a wheelchair or mobility aid should be on the Welcoming/Hospitality Team because they can help in planning, easing fears, and accessibility for new members who also have a physical or mobility disability, which often also includes our older population!


Strategy: Give people with disabilities leadership roles across different groups and ministries.


Disability inclusion is needed and necessary for successful Evangelization because disability is a part of the church community. Disability is a beautiful part of the Church and despite being overlooked, is often an indicator of a thriving and growing Church.

 

If you already have some of these strategies in place and want to take it a step further or don't know where to start, reach out to our team at contact@witnesstodignity.com! We love empowering and equipping Churches and Private Schools to use what they already have to provide better access for people with Disabilities, Neurodiversity, and Mental Health Needs.


Join us in the conversation on Instagram: @witness.to.dignity

Commentaires


bottom of page