Small Changes for a Big Difference
Whether part of your church family or not, the whole congregation needs to be equipped to welcome people with additional needs and love them well.
Many of us pride ourselves on the warm welcome that our churches offer to newcomers. From the handshake on the door to the welcome from the platform; from the introduction to kids groups to the cup of coffee at the end; all these things are geared towards making it as easy as possible for someone to set foot into our Sunday gatherings.
But when someone arrives who doesn’t fit our preconceptions about what a newcomer will be like, we quickly discover that our welcome may not be as warm as we were hoping it would be. The mention of ‘additional needs’ can make us panic and, despite our best-laid plans, we inadvertently end up driving newcomers away.
It’s certainly not welcoming to begin by suggesting they would be better off in a different church, one with more resources, one that can handle people who are different.
Over the years at Bush Hill Park Community Church, we have seen a wide range of people come through the doors on a Sunday. But in recent months, we have been challenged to consider whether our welcome for people with additional needs was as good as it could be.
A young person who is neurodivergent had been attending services with a parent intermittently for several years. We would always do what we could to make them comfortable, but with no clear pattern of attendance, we weren’t always prepared. Then the person started to attend on an almost weekly basis.
Very quickly it became clear that not only the leaders of the church but the whole congregation would need some specific help if we were going to consistently show the love of Jesus - not only to this family but to others in the future who came with different needs.
At this point, we decided to get some whole church training and we contacted the Additional Needs Alliance, a Christian organisation which exists to help churches include, support, welcome, and spiritually grow people with additional needs or disabilities. Our training was delivered by Kay Morgan-Gurr, one of the co-founders of the organisation.
Kay and her husband Steve have a long history with FIEC churches and are mission partners with Knighton Free Church in Leicester. They know from experience the joys and the challenges of ministry within Independent church settings and understand our theological commitments.
Chatting to Kay beforehand gave us a great opportunity to work out what the particular priorities needed to be for training in our local setting. Before we began to approach specific questions of what practical steps we could take to make our church a more accessible place, we knew that we needed to help the congregation put in place the groundwork as to why our church should be a welcoming place for everyone.
Small changes, big difference
Over two sessions on Zoom, Kay helped us understand the kinds of additional needs that may be present in our church, encouraged us to make small changes that would make a big difference, and made us go away and think more about the next steps.
We were never made to feel stupid for the mistakes we might have made in the past and we were never allowed to think that making church accessible was only for churches with more resources.
Instead, Kay helpfully guided us through the specific context we are facing now in addition to broadening our perspective to consider things that we might never have thought of.
The leaders and the congregation of the church really appreciated the input that Kay provided. We learned a lot and were challenged to see areas where we need to improve as a church. But we are also aware that listening to a couple of training seminars is only the start.
We now need to start consistently putting the things we have heard into practice. The difference is that now we feel much better equipped to do that than we did before.