A family has a child whose health condition limits social interaction or learning ability. How does your congregation welcome and support them?

I’ve been excited by the ways churches have answered that question. There are more respite programs. Congregations are paying attention to the individual needs of children in worship and learning settings. But according to a new study by Clemson University sociologist Andrew Whitehead, most families do not find that kind of support in churches. David Briggs interviewed Whitehead for this article in Christianity Today: “In many ways, this population is unseen because they never show up, or when they do, they have a negative experience and never return.”

Whitehead, who himself has two children with autism who are non-verbal, currently attends a Wesleyan church, though it hasn’t always been easy to get to church. “We have had a church tell us that there was no way for them to serve our child’s needs and that if we were to attend it would have to be either my wife or I providing him care every Sunday,” he said. “We’ve also spent over a year not attending because we just didn’t have the strength to try and navigate a new place of worship, try to advocate for our children’s needs, on top of all the other care-work we are involved in throughout the week.”

Whitehead’s research analyzed 3 waves of data from CDC’s National Survey of Children’s Health from 2003-2013. He found that, compared to children with no reported health conditions, children with chronic conditions affecting communication and social interaction are more likely to never attend religious services. And those rates have not changed since 2003.

What does this wake-up call ask congregational leaders to do?

  • Take the time to listen to families in your church or in your community.
  • Ask those families which one area would be most support to them – perhaps worship, Sunday school, or a respite program.
  • Pray for direction. Begin conversations about changing attitudes.

Bright Threads Ministries will be glad to help you begin those conversations. Contact us: Evelyn@BrightThreadsMinistries.org.