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Integrating People with Intellectual Disabilities

Integrating people with intellectual disabilities


Icon for Michael Evans
Resource by Michael Evans Edited and summarised from Jesus Club Coordinators' Conference 2019

Integrating people with intellectual disabilities (ID) into churches can be challenging. A classic Sunday service is often too difficult to understand and therefore not engaging. Even when churches offer disability ministries like our Jesus Club program, the common practice of meeting on a quiet weeknight means church groups rarely get to meet each other.

But if our Church is to use its gifts for the common good - for the whole body of Christ - then every member, with all their gifts and capabilities, needs to be present. But how do we find ways to enable people with intellectual disabilities participate more fully in the Church?

Rethink the definition of church

Our son, Hamish, has been very welcomed by the Jesus Club at Gladesville. But his receptive and expressive language scores are so low that following a Sunday talk is too hard. He can pick up a couple of sentences if he's focused on the speaker but sitting through a church service is just too difficult. Yet this shouldn't mean he can't participate in Church.

The word for Church in Greek is ekklesia. It is made up of the two words: ek, meaning 'out', and kaleo, meaning 'assembly'. Simply put, a church is an assembly or gathering of Christians. It is not limited to a service that happens on a Sunday.

With that in mind, what church activities are now accessible to adults with ID that are not a Sunday service, which they are not going to find too confronting?

Are there less wordy activities that people with ID might be able to integrate into? Perhaps a morning tea? Or a dinner for missionaries?

Reimagine church activities with inclusivity in mind

Besides making other activities available to people with ID, a church can also create church activities around adults with ID. Breaking down activities and identifying specific tasks that they can do, then thinking practically and critically about the barriers that are preventing them from participating.

Maybe you are planning a barbecue for your birthday, and you would like to invite adults with ID. What are ways to create a gathering of God's people that our members with intellectual disabilities can be a part of? Can we assign a person to help and go bowling as a group? Or if transport is the issue, can we organize to go together on a bus or a van?

Some churches run an easy or 'messy' church service once in a while. Maybe you can talk to your minister and ask if he can run a service that brings everyone together - where adults with ID can engage in, once a month or once a term?

Or maybe you can invite adults with ID in your Church to your weekend away by constructing the activities to make it accessible to them.

Find their gift

Perhaps adults with ID in your Church have a gift in welcoming or helping with morning tea. Think about all the different ways your church members can get involved and contribute their unique gift to the life of the Church.

Perhaps adults with ID in your Church have a gift in welcoming or helping with morning tea. Think about all the different ways your church members can get involved and contribute their unique gift to the life of the Church.

At Christ Church Gladesville, George, a Jesus Club member who loves to pray, is always the first person to put his hand up when the Church does open prayer. And the church lets him kick it off with the first prayer every time.

Perhaps adults with ID in your Church have a gift in welcoming or helping with morning tea. Think about all the different ways your church members can get involved and contribute their unique gift to the life of the Church.

Invite the Church to get involved

Many years ago, Christ Church Gladesville started rotating Bible study groups through their Jesus Club program. Each study group would visit Jesus Club and make contact with the members. They would come for two weeks at a time, and gradually the relationships are built.

So another idea from Gladesville is to create a Sunday roster for people to take turns sitting with an adult with ID during the service. One of their members, Susan, is sometimes not ready to go in when everyone does. So, the rostered person keeps an eye on her. Because she is a great writer and has a little notebook with her, they would pick out a different Bible passage each week, which she would write out during the sermon.

While these ideas might seem like small things, but put together, they give people with ID a sense of belonging and help integrate them into our Church - joining us as one Body of Christ .

Michael Evans is the chairman of the Jesus Club Ministries. He is a husband, and father of Hamish, who has intellectual disabilities.