In March of 2020, the news about the pandemic broke in the United States. Along with the news came fear and confusion. New mandates about social distancing, lockdown, and masks flooded the country. At the same time, the economy began to crumble. Racial tensions rose. The political climate lit up. Absolutely everything changed. 

These are just a few thoughts that Meaghan Wall, Director of Special Needs at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas, recalls as she reflects on the year. The truth is, several parents of kids with special needs feel like they’ve been socially distancing their child since birth.

Before their child’s diagnosis, their child might have acted differently than their peers, creating a separation between kids. After their child’s diagnosis, parents may struggle to find community with families who are walking the same road and truly understand. Many parents with typically developing children don’t always know what to say or how to act around kids with special needs, so they ignore them. Sadly, isolation feels normal for families of kids with special needs. Social distancing is nothing new for them.

As church leaders, Meaghan reminds us that our response to these families during the pandemic should be similar to the response they received from us on the day their child was first diagnosed. Just like we rallied around them on that difficult day, we should still rally around them during this pandemic. We should still help them discover new ways that God is leading their family.

To do this, churches must begin to reimagine all aspects of their kids’ ministry. Meaghan offers four practical ways that churches can support kids with special needs during the pandemic.

1. Make Everything Hybrid

Families of children with special needs are simply not able to be in physical attendance. These families are in the margins right now. And just like Jesus attended to the lost sheep, churches must attend to those who are marginalized.

When we change our mindset to think about those who can’t be physically present, we’re now reaching families of all comfort levels. We’re reaching the fully in-person and fully digital families. We’re reaching the socially-distanced people. We’re reaching people who choose to be onsite but participate in a separate space digitally. We’re reaching everyone.

Without prioritizing our families of children with special needs, we’re reaching some. But by prioritizing these families, we’re reaching all.

2. Give the Option to Serve Without Leaving Your Home

Hybrid doesn’t mean having a volunteer hold a phone and record the event. By making everything hybrid, we’re allowing those who are experiencing the event online to feel just as much a part of the event as those who are in-person. To do this, we need volunteers to use their unique gifts and talents to bless the church. 

Think about how you can encourage people to serve from their own homes. For example, have families decorate bags that can be used in another ministry. Provide volunteers the ability to serve online through Zoom if they can’t come in-person. People will be able to see and interact with volunteers both in-person and online, creating a wonderfully inclusive model of ministry.

3. Rearrange Budgets to Radically Give

This year is one like never before. Why not rearrange the budget to bless like never before? Families are enduring financial hardships due to reduced hours, being furloughed, or being laid off from jobs. Many don’t have an efficient device to connect with the church virtually. 

As your church looks at the budget for 2020, what areas can be rearranged to support these families? For instance, perhaps dinner events or volunteer luncheons are being cancelled due to COVID. You now have extra funds to radically give to families in need. This doesn’t have to mean spending tons of money—it can be as simple as providing a single meal to a family. The key is to rearrange your budget to bless those struggling during the pandemic.

4. Expand Our Reach with Community

Because 2020 has given us the opportunity to reimagine kids’ ministry by planning with families of children with special needs in mind, we’re no longer limited by physical space or volunteers! The hybrid model gives us the amazing opportunity to expand our reach beyond the walls of the church.

Now, we can become the community. That student next door to the church who has a mother who is immunocompromised? He now has community in our church through the hybrid model. That child in a group home who’s not allowed to leave? We’re now her community. That mom who lives far away and feels alone in raising her child with special needs? Now we can be her community.

You see, because of the challenges that 2020 has brought us, the gospel is making its way into the homes of people we never thought possible. 

The best news about 2020 is the possibility for positive change in the way we do ministry forever. No longer should we do what we’ve always done, since it’s no longer an option. Instead, let’s implement these practical ways to support families with special needs and reimagine what wonderful opportunity this year holds for us after all.