By Ryan Faulk
Without anyone even realizing it, a huge number of people with disabilities have been locked or pushed out of the church.
Jesus’ command to “go into all the world and preach the gospel” has led people to cross oceans, suffer persecution, and create alphabets from scratch. The “10/40 Window” has attracted missionaries eager to share Christ with unreached people groups. But today, one of the largest unreached groups of people in the world has been artificially created by the church. Without anyone even realizing it, a huge number of people with disabilities have been locked or pushed out of the church.
Multiple studies show that, all things being equal, people with disabilities are less likely than their peers to attend church even once a month. Of the 61 million American adults living with some sort of disability, there are about 2.25 million who — statistically speaking — should be attending church, but don’t. A 2018 study from Clemson University shows that children with any kind of disability are less likely than their peers to attend church, and children with autism are nearly twice as likely to never attend a religious service.
But even these numbers fail to tell the whole story. For every person with a disability who is unable to attend church, there are parents, siblings, and spouses who suddenly find themselves unable to attend, as well. If each of those 2,250,000 has even a handful of people attached to them, the real number of unreached people rapidly balloons. And the evangelistic opportunity balloons alongside it.
If you want to multiply your evangelistic impact, reach out to these families who have often faced rejection.
People with disabilities experience resistance from schools, insurance companies, and local government. Buried under a mountain of red tape, there are people who are in need of education, medical care, and public services. But most fundamentally, there are people who need the Gospel.
Schools and insurance companies have legal mandates to provide a minimum amount of services, but churches have a heavenly mandate to “feed my sheep.”
If Christ thought it was worth going to the cross to win the hearts of people with disabilities, what efforts should we make to include them in the Body of Christ? The church that can look at anyone who comes through their doors and confidently say, “You are not only welcome here, but wanted” is a church with a powerful, prophetic witness. 1 Corinthians 12 tells us that “those parts of the body that seem weaker are actually indispensable.”
Do we act like this verse is true?
The strangest part of this sad reality is that most churches don’t intentionally exclude people with disabilities. But because the world is, by default, a poor fit for people with disabilities, the church is also a poor fit, unless we intentionally include people of all abilities.
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.
Click the links below to get resources for assessing how your church can better evangelize and disciple people with disabilities.
Ryan Faulk works for Joni and Friends to equip churches in Southern California to evangelize and disciple people with disabilities. He is passionate about seeing churches reflect the heart of Christ for all people.
This article was originally posted at joniandfriends.org and is republished with permission from Joni and Friends.
Start or strengthen your church’s special needs ministry!
To help your church start or strengthen a special needs ministry, The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, partnering with The Banquet Network, will host a Special Needs Conference on June 5 both virtually and in-person at The Church at Severn Run in Severn, Maryland. Visit our website for more information or to register.