Jesus welcomed everyone.
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 (NIV)
Scripture tells us to love and welcome those different from us. Support for this can be found in Matthew 5:46-48, Romans 15:7, James 2:8-9. I believe most churches desire to welcome people just as Jesus did. It is vital to have awareness and a clear mission and vision.
In my 27 years of ministry to families, I have learned that welcoming everyone requires intentionality in creating hospitable environments and accommodating those different from us. I want to share some of my personal experiences of learning what inclusive ministry looks like.
Developing a Plan
Back in 2015, I met with families who had children with different abilities to better understand how to minister to them. These families included children on the autism spectrum, a child with Down syndrome, a child with sensory disorder, a child with a neurological disorder with limited verbal skills, and a child in a wheelchair.
I was initially overwhelmed by the challenges and obstacles the parents shared with me. Ultimately, they all wanted their children to be included in our ministry and to have a growing relationship with Jesus. So, I worked with our Special Needs Coordinator to create and implement a ministry plan for each child. I recruited and trained buddies, created visual lessons, and assembled a closet equipped with sensory items.
Our goal was to have kids of all abilities experiencing our Sunday program with everyone else, so we were attentive to each child’s needs. For example, if a child needed to leave the room with a buddy due to sensory overload, we created space.
We started seeing consistent attendance on the weekends. In addition, these families started inviting other special needs families to events such as VBS. We even had a teenager with Down syndrome volunteer with a buddy.
More to Learn
According to Children and Youth with Special Healthcare Needs (2021), approximately 20% of households include children with special needs. I wonder how many more families in the community our church would be able to minister to if those families knew about the safe and inclusive space we’ve created for their children. Our church is being intentional to serve these families, but I still have much to learn in this area. I have often reached out to experts and parents to help me learn. I encourage you to seek additional encouragement and help to develop this part of your ministry. Invite parents into the conversation and be sure to actively listen to what they have to say.
Another area of ministry where I am very intentional in is making sure that all the children that come to our ministry feel seen. As an Asian-American, I have been in many spaces where I never saw myself reflected. As I serve in multi-ethnic churches, I make sure that the videos, curriculum, and all visual publicity and literature correctly represent children of color. I prefer to use videos and photos of real people rather than caricatures to avoid exaggerated features that could be offensive.
As the ethnic landscape of our country continues to change, our churches are home to families of all colors, shapes, and sizes. It’s important that churches stay current with the cultural moment. We included a photo of a multi-racial family in our parent handbook, and the first family that reached out to me was parents with transracially adopted children. She said, “Thank you. We finally feel seen at church.”
During COVID, my cousin’s 5-year-old son, who is half-Asian and half-Black, called me to say, “Auntie Gloria, I like your church videos [online lessons]. They have brown kids that look like me.” Representation matters in the church because Jesus loves people of all colors.
I want to pause and point out that visual representation is just the start. Relationships will communicate the loudest about how people are welcomed in the church.
I recall when a dad emailed to ask about same-sex parent support groups after their first visit. We didn’t have one, but I told him I would be happy to meet with him to discuss further. I assumed that they wouldn’t come back after that email exchange. To my surprise, they came back week after week. He told me that it’s because his daughter loved coming to church. She loved it so much that she would drag her dads to church every Sunday morning. I also had the privilege of witnessing a Buddhist single mom come to know Jesus as her Savior after a year of coming to church week after week. Once again, it was her daughter that dragged her mom to church every Sunday.
Jesus demonstrated radical inclusion. Jesus spent time with the outcasts and the marginalized, and He extended His grace and mercy. The Bible clearly tells us the importance of “loving your neighbors as yourself” (Mark 12:31, John 13:34-35, Galatians 5:14). We have many marginalized groups in our society today. These include immigrants, refugees, migrants, the mentally ill, the LGBTQ+ community, people of different religions, incarcerated people and their families, unemployed, etc.
Inclusive ministry is important because the way we welcome, love, and care for children are often what keeps families coming back to church. The greatest moments of my vocation are when a child decides to follow Jesus, and I get to witness the transformation of their lives. Kids will often be the catalyst that brings the whole family to church. I want to seize every opportunity I have to share the love of Jesus with every family that comes to church.
Inclusive ministry is important as we welcome everyone the way Jesus welcomed people.