Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors: Including children with special needs in ministry


In this article, M. Alyssa Barnes from North Georgia College and State University looks at the real challenge families face to integrate their child into a home church and practical steps for churches to develop an inclusive children’s ministry program.


Families with children who have special needs often roam from church to church, never finding a true “home.” Parents are typically more interested in locating a supportive group that accepts their child before identifying a place they feel comfortable to grow and develop spiritually. In turn, many children’s ministry leaders are now questioning the readiness of their programs, volunteers, and facilities to minister to children with special needs. This paper examines the teachings of Jesus and how to implement the Christian calling. Woven throughout is a realistic but fictional account of a family in search of a spiritual home, the author uses Scripture to reinforce the importance of God’s acceptance of all individuals. Finally, based on Carter’s (2007) framework, the article provides an outline for children’s ministers interested in developing an inclusive ministry program. Click here to download the entire article.


  • Introduction
  • Definition of Inclusion
  • Excluding a Population
  • Benefits of Inclusion for Students with and without Disabilities
  • Opportunities for Teaching Christian Principles
  • What Would Jesus Do?
  • Barriers to Inclusion and Strategies for Overcoming Them

– Training
– Physical Accessibility
– Attitudes
– Programmatic Barrier
– Behavior Management

  • Where to Begin

– Establish a Planning Group
– Identify a Program Approach
– Identify a Coordinator
– Seek out Supports and Resources
– Revisit Program Procedures

  • Resources for Churches

– Churches with established special needs ministries
– Conferences
– On-line articles

Excerpt from the “Definition of Inclusion” Section

Including individuals with disabilities was an essential component of Jesus’ ministry. For example, Jesus told a follower in Luke 14:21, “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” Jesus wanted the church to be full with all people, so everyone could have the opportunity to know God’s grace. Thankfully, God does not see these differences within his kingdom.

Because of our one belief in Jesus being the resurrected and omnipotent God, we “are one in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2:28b). The Bible instructs us in Isaiah 35:3–4 to “strengthen the feeble hands, steady the knees that give way; say to those with fearful hearts, ‘Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, He will come with vengeance; with divine retribution He will come to save you.’” This direction given to us signifies the importance of accepting all individuals, especially those with special needs. By doing so, God promises in Isaiah 35:5–6, 10b, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy. . . . They will enter Zion with singing; everlasting joy will crown their heads. Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away.” This promise and calling is a demonstration of God’s desire to include all individuals within his ministry and his unyielding gift to those who take part. Click here to download the entire article.


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About Dr. M. Alyssa Barns

M. Alyssa Barnes (Ph.D., University of Georgia) serves as Assistant Professor at North Georgia College and State University, Dahlonega, GA.

Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors: Including Children with Special Needs in Ministry taken from the Christian Education Journal, CEJ: Series 3, Vol. 9, No. 1 Copyright 2012; p 81-100.

All rights reserved. Permission granted by Christian Education Journal.

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  1. Lora Lamberth January 26, 2014
  2. Dawn Connor January 28, 2014

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