I have a 13 year old son with special needs. I know that he does not fit the typical mold for kids his age. At school his teachers have made accommodations for him that allow him to learn and grow just like the other kids.
When children come to our church with unique challenges, I want to do everything I can to help them learn and grow just like the rest of the kids. If our Sunday morning program doesn’t work for their learning needs, then we need to adapt the way in which we teach them. We have a ministry called Special Friends. It’s a volunteer role for one-on-one ministry. The same volunteer spends time with the same child each week.
Here are 3 reasons why we have a Special Friends Ministry:
1. Safety – A Special Friend can watch over the child with special needs, and help them be safe in a kids ministry environment.
2. Growth – I know that each child with special needs is unique. However, if they are able to grow & learn then we need to to all that we can to help them learn while they are at church.
3. Parent Respite – Having a child with special needs can be challenging for the parents. Giving them time where they can attend the adult service without worrying about their child is a huge gift that you can give them.
If kids can benefit from having a one-on-one volunteer with them, we find one for them. Their role is to help that child feel safe, loved and accepted in the kids ministry environment, and to learn and grow in a way that is unique to them. Here are the steps to making this happen:
#1. When a family attends for the first time, I make an extra effort to welcome them, chat with them & see how we can serve them. If they plan on coming on a regular basis, then I start to look for someone to be their child’s Special Friend.
#2. The volunteer (Special Friend) meets with the parents of the child to find out about their specific needs and methods that will help them learn.
#3. The volunteer meets the child when the parents are there so they can interact together.
#4. Once they have connected, I leave the communication up to them. They connect as needed, and adapt what they are doing as needed.
#5. The volunteer goes with the child every week to the class. They stay with the child as they move up in age groups. They don’t help other children in the room, and they don’t teach the lesson to the class. They are there to focus on that one child, and they have no other responsibilities.
The picture in this post is of a Special Friend Team at our church. It is so great to see the two of them together. The bond they have developed is truly amazing.