Inclusive Children's Ministry
This year at the Elim Leadership Summit we will be offering a seminar focused on what it means to have an inclusive children’s ministry.
The Bible says that we are all made in God’s image. This means that no one is excluded or exempt from being part of his family.
You may ask yourself: How can I support these children without any experience?’ What can I do to include them?’ The simple answer is: Love them.
Inclusion isn’t about knowledge and qualifications. It’s about the heart, acceptance, understanding and love. When you walk into a room, you want to feel welcomed and accepted. You don’t want to feel isolated and different.
‘Every child welcome’ by Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo highlights this point really well. They described inclusion like a dinner party. When you go to a dinner party you would expect certain things.
to feel welcomed.
to be strengthened,
to enjoy each other’s company
to be excited to return.
This is exactly what we want for our kids in church to experience no matter their need or background.
Inclusion isn’t just about children with SEN (Special educational needs) it is about children who have English as an additional language, children from different cultural backgrounds, children with difficult backgrounds, children with difficulties in their family, such as divorce or a death.
Inclusion is ensuring that every child’s need is taken into consideration and acted upon. Inclusion is about understanding that every behaviour has a reason behind it.
Here are 10 simple points to help you begin to set a focus on including SEN children:
Set an inclusive environment. Look at the needs of the children you have and work your session around those needs. Do not exclude or make them feel ‘different’
Set a culture of acceptance across the whole of the church, not just in the children’s Ministry. Create an understanding.
Create one-page profiles (with the help from parents) to use on a Sunday morning. These are one-page information sheets about the children’s, likes, dislikes, talents etc. This will not only help to remind those regularly working with the children but also new people coming in. It also helps to focus on their strengths rather than weaknesses.
Create visual timetables and other visual aids which may help support communication. Children with Autism like to know what is happening next.
Work with the parents. The parents are the best experts about their child, get them involved. Also, support siblings within the process.
Use simple words and phrases to communicate with the children. Don’t use complex sentences or confusing phrases. For example, “that’s cool” could mean multiple things to a child with Autism and therefore cause confusion.
Collect some simply sensory resources for sensory stimulation. For example, tactile, textures, sounds, lights etc. For those children who find it hard to sit still and listen you may want to provide resources such as fidget toys or wiggle boards.
Check the noise levels. In larger churches, noise and busy environments can affect children with additional needs, therefore be sensitive to this. Provide ear defenders or a quiet area where they can have some chill out time if needed.
Try to make connections with other organisations which the children attend, for example, School. See what they are doing to support the child in their environment and try to implement the same on your own, this creates consistency for the child.
Build a team. If you can, try to begin developing a team of people who can provide 1-to-1 support for those children needing it. Within this team appoint an ‘inclusion champion’ someone who can help on this side of the ministry and begin to set a focus in putting these 10 points into action.
And always remember that every Child is different. Our experience has been that a child may look distracted and unengaged, but they take in a lot more than what we may think! You often will not know until years down the line the impact your love and care has made to that child and their family.
For more information on ‘inclusion in our children’s ministry’s’ we would love to see you at the Elim Leaders Summit in May where you will hear some testimonies from our children, team and parents and I will share with you our process as a church in building a SEN ministry.
You will also be able to explore a range of resources and visuals, which may be helpful for you to see as you take this step in your own ministry.
Here are some links I have found useful on the journey we have been on as a church.
Free Visual Aids
Visual Aids used by most professional environments such as schools:
One page profiles
A blog by Mark Arnold (urban saints) - Mark is a father of a boy with additional needs and shares challenges and joys with biblical principles in his blogs. Well worth a read
A Facebook support network for carers, workers and parents with those who have additional needs in a church environment. Details
New wine accessible church event
Urban saints ‘all inclusive’ (this can be trailered to individual church’s)
Every child welcome - Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo
Leading a special needs ministry - Amy Fenton Lee. Paperback Kindle
Autism and your church - Barbara J Newman
The Life you never expected - Andrew and Rachel Wilson
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