My family walked into a church a couple years ago and, outside of the greeters at the front door, no one spoke to us. We lingered in the lobby before we decided to find some seats in the Sanctuary. What we found was that, because of my wheelchair, the only place for my family to sit was the back row… where no one else sat.
After the gathering was done, we did have one guy introduce himself to us. About two minutes into the conversation he introduced his wife to us. They left a few minutes later, and since we knew no one and no one else approached us, we left.
We didn’t feel welcomed. We felt out of place.
But that’s how it normally goes for someone disabled (and their family). Usually, the disabled live on the fringes of society and the Church, with little deep and meaningful conversation and even fewer genuine and long-lasting friendships.
Most disabled people feel unwelcome at most churches, and most disabled people feel overlooked and ignored in the presence of God’s people. This is not okay and needs to change.
Pastors, again, this post is for you.
At your church you (hopefully) want all people to feel welcome. And, since the disabled don’t normally experience that, at your church or others, you should probably start some new habits.
Only being disabled for 3.5 years, I have plenty to learn still, but here are three ways to welcome the disabled.
1. Pursue the disabled on Sundays, and ALL days
Because most disabled people, and their families, live on the margins of society and the church, it is crucial for pastors to pursue interaction and connection on Sundays. Approach them, talk with them (just like you would with anyone else), and introduce your family to them. Get to know them and let them get to know you as well. Doing this on consecutive weeks can make a bigger difference than you think.
On top of those connections on Sundays, it is crucial to seek them out outside of a formal setting. Just like any real relationship, spending quality time during the week is a given. Share a meal, hang out at their place, etc. Just remember, Jesus did this, and plenty of Godly leaders of the past, so aim for Christlikeness and you’ll be setting a great example for your church.
2. Integrate the disabled in the life of the church
Most disabled people who’ve attempted going to a church have had at least one bad experience (In 3.5 years of being disabled, I’ve had plenty of bad experiences). With that being the case, be sensitive to the fears that they might have. Avoid minimizing or rationalizing those hurtful experiences. Be sensitive and be humble in your attempts to assimilate them into the church.
An easy, but often overlooked, way to welcome the disabled into your church is to invite them. Invite them to corporate church events but also invite them to personal rhythms of your life (ex. meals, parties, your small group, one-one-ones, etc). Integration is simple. Invite them.
3. Listen and learn from the disabled and their family
Disabled people get to talked at and talked down to all the time. You would be shocked by how much it happens, so they’re used to having people treat them like they’re less than compared to others. So, what you need to do to welcome them is simple: listen. Just listen. They want to be heard and they need God’s people to be different than the world. Lead your church by listening.
Also, when you choose to listen, you’re going to learn a lot! You’re going to learn how the disabled see the world from a unique perspective. Beyond that, you’re going to learn about God by listening. The disabled and their families can teach you more about God, His word, and the enduring joy of faith in Christ in the midst of trials.
Pastors, I urge you to welcome the disabled by doing these three things:
Pursue. Integrate. Listen and Learn.
Jesus welcomed the disabled. Does your church? Do you?