Editor’s note: Once in a while I like to look at the search engine terms (SET) that bring people to my site. Some of them I feel are important enough to address. Someone googled, “Do churches care about the less privileged and disabled?” So let’s talk about this.
In theory, they do.
This is what we know: Christian and religious organizations are sometimes the first ones to step in and provide relief efforts, aide, necessary supplies, people power or resources to the underprivileged around the world so people have a chance to a better life.
You might have heard about organizations such as Hope International, CAMA Services, Samaritan’s Purse, Food for the Poor, Compassion International, Salvation Army and many more — a Google search will tell you that much. Most of these organizations have a profound global impact.
The local church steps in to do hands-on work when there are “local needs.” For example, when hurricane Katrina hit, our church sent a team of people to go help rebuild (working alongside CAMA Services and other relief organizations).
That’s the “big” stuff.
In a smaller, local scale, churches often set up outreach events or ministries.
Many churches are proactive at reaching out to people who are less privileged, and most churches have a fund set up specifically to help people in need. However, there are not many efforts done to reach out to people who are disabled. Sadly, this is often a result of people with disabilities being overlooked or seen as being “too needy.” Yet, people with disabilities make the “bottom” of the less privileged population. People with disabilities have higher unemployment rates and a higher percentage of disabled people fall under the poverty level. Why? No equal access to education, transportation and jobs.
Also, no equal access to church.
There are churches who set up disability ministries. However, it is important to note most of these ministries are for elementary aged children. Once kids with disabilities enter middle school and high school, churches struggle to integrate them in their youth programs. Once they become adults, there is often no place for them at church.
There is a reason a vast majority of disabled adults choose not to attend church.
But there is also another reason, and one we need to talk about.
Most people do not want to be seen as a “project,” as someone who needs help and “fixing.” Being a “project” often feels condescending.
Much the same way people don’t want to be someone else’s “project,” people with disabilities do not want to be the “project” of a church.
Why? Because people with disabilities are not those you do ministry for, they are the people we should do ministry with. This. This makes all the difference.
Disability ministry should be about figuring out ways where everyone belongs and everyone serves and where accommodations are provided to allow that to happen.
Do churches care for the less privileged and disabled? In theory, yes, of course they do. But, once they are present in our congregations, do we actually care? If you asked the disabled if they believe the church cares, your heart might break knowing many in the disability community give a resounding, “no.” They feel marginalized, forgotten, unsafe, pitied and unimportant to the church.
We must recognize the value of people with disabilities in our congregations and begin to treat them as equals, as people we do ministry with. If we see them as invaluable members of the Body of Christ who posses their own gifts and talents, then we have to do better as a church.
We have to learn what it means to care.