Inclusion Fusion 2014 Video #KMIF14

Thanks to Key Ministry Board member Stephen Burks and his crew at Good City Productions for their work on the video for this year’s Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summit!

Help us get the word out about Inclusion Fusion through sharing with pastors, church staff, parachurch ministry leaders, volunteers and families impacted by disability who would want to be part of this FREE event!


13_JONI_KKLAWOMENSNIGHT_0005Join keynote speaker Joni Earackson Tada and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here for FREE registration.

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The four kinds of special needs found in children in adoptive and foster families

© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyThis is the second post in a series by Shannon Dingle examining adoption and the church. In addition to Shannon’s role as a Key Ministry Church Consultant, she is a co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC. 

In adoption language, “special needs” usually means anything that makes a child less likely to be adopted, including disability, ethnicity, age, and being part of a sibling group. For the purposes of churches including adoptive and foster families in their body and serving them well, I’m definitely special needs in the same way I do for any inclusive ministry purpose:

  • Special needs in church are anything that can hinder a child or family from full inclusion in YOUR church.

In other words, special needs are equal parts what’s unique about the family you’re serving and what’s happening in your church structures, environment, and programming that might create obstacles for that family.

Let’s pause for one crucially important note, though: To be able to welcome the child or family well, we don’t need to change them. We need to be willing to change OURSELVES.

I know that’s hard. Historically, change has been hard for churches. Even when you consider disability, churches were excluded from the Americans with Disabilities Act because they fought against it, arguing that changes to their buildings would be too costly to consider, even though refusing those changes literally meant that many people with physical disabilities would be unable to enter those churches.

Let’s not do that again, church. Let’s say no to any action or lack of action that tells any person, “You’re not welcome here” or “Our church is only for those who look, act, behave, feel, or act like I do.”

So what are the four kinds of special needs found among children in adoptive and foster families?

  1. The usual ones: These are the special needs we commonly see among any other group of kids: Down syndrome, autism, cerebral palsy, and so on. Also, as churches aren’t limited to a finite list of qualifying criteria a family must meet before a child can be served, these usual special needs can include some extra outreach and support for a child who is new to the church and doesn’t know her way around yet.
  2. Short-term needs related to adoption or foster care: One example here is initial attachment needs. For a child born into a family, research shows that attachment begins in the womb as the baby gets used to his or her mother’s voice and soon after birth as the newborn responds differently to the scent of the parent than to that of other adults. For children who enter a family by adoption or foster care, that doesn’t happen. The parent-child relationship begins with a baby, child, or teenager meeting a complete stranger who they’ll be living with for a foster period or for the rest of their lives. That’s a major transition, and I’ll write in one of my next posts about how church leaders can be attachment informed to support these children and families well. For one of our four children who were adopted, attachment needs faded over time and aren’t much of a consideration anymore, though that’s not the case for many children in adoptive and foster families. A better example of a short-term special need is English language learning for children adopted internationally from cultures with different languages, as those needs dissipate over time as the child’s English proficiency improves.
  3. Long-term needs related to adoption or foster care: Especially for children with multiple placements, past trauma, or adoption after the preschool years, attachment isn’t a short-term need. For our three children who joined our family a year ago at ages 2, 4, and 6, attachment is definitely still a work in progress, and I expect it to be a lifelong consideration in our parenting for at least one, if not all three, of those dear ones. In addition to attachment and trauma-related needs, these long-term ones more common for children in adoptive or foster placements include fetal alcohol syndrome disorders (FASD), reactive attachment disorders (RAD), and mental illness.
  4. Sibling needs: For our family and many other Christian families who chose to adopt or provide foster care, we have children already in the home. I’ve seen great benefits of adoption for Jocelyn and Robbie, our biological children, and for Zoe, who was adopted but then had to adjust after we adopted a second time, but the challenges are real too. These siblings need love and TLC as their family realities might mean that Mom and Dad are spending a lot more time focusing on the new addition(s) and less time spent with them. If you’re tempted to dismiss this as being no different from the birth of a new child into the family, please re-read the previous three items in this list. It’s not the same. And these siblings sometimes feel displaced, uncertain, and confused, and they tend to externalize those emotions by acting out or internalize them by not admitting how they feel because they don’t think they’re allowed to do so.

In the coming posts, I’ll unpack five concrete things churches can do to say yes to families like mine. For now, though, consider these areas of special needs for adoptive and foster families. Knowing what we may be going through is a huge step in being able to love us well.

Finally, I know this was a long post, so I want to end with my sincere thanks: If you’ve read this far, you care enough to learn more. Even if you’re still feeling uncertain about what your church’s next steps should be, please know that you are on the right track by caring and educating yourself for our sake and for the sake of the children entrusted to us, whether it be for a season in a foster placement or for the rest of their lives in adoption.

Thank you for that.


12_JONI_SPEAKING_0001Join keynote speaker Joni Earackson Tada and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here for FREE registration.

Posted in Adoption, Advocacy, Families, Inclusion, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Finding Friendship…Christen Morrow-Ara

Christen MorrowDuring the month leading up to Inclusion Fusion, we’ll be introducing you to a number of disability ministry leaders doing great work who will be featured during this year’s Web Summit. Today, it’s our pleasure to introduce Christen Morrow-Ara. Christen was interviewed together with Pam Harmon from Young Life Capernaum for this year’s conference.

Christen has served with Young Life’s Capernaum ministry since her college years as a volunteer and on full time staff for 12 years, developing Capernaum ministry in Fresno, California, throughout Latin America and most recently serving as the Transition Specialist with the mission wide Capernaum team. Christen is an leader, speaker, and an advocate, butmostly she would say she has been privileged to be shaped by her friends with disabilities since childhood and she’s passionate about sharing those friends with the world and with the Church! Christian and her Peruvian husband live in Clovis, California and are excited to be welcoming their first child into he world this October. Christen can be reached at Here’s Christen…

Thank you, Dr. Steve and Inclusion Fusion for what you’re doing to move disability ministry forward in churches and communities around the country. We’re grateful for the opportunity to share here on your blog! We are with you in vision and passion, especially when we speak of churches!

CapernaumYoung Life’s Capernaum’s outreach ministry to teenagers with disabilities addresses the incredible need for friendship among our teenagers with disabilities. It’s the hallmark of what we do (along with laughter, controlled chaos, games and lots of joy) and the platform from which we present the gospel. Many of our Capernaum friends come from unchurched homes and have never heard the good news about a God who loves them, has created them as they are for a purpose, and wants them to know Him personally.

Because of the unique emphasis on relationship and the friendships built, our friends struggle to find a similar place for spiritual community or belonging outside of Capernaum. However, our older friends who met Jesus in high school and have been coming for many years need more. They need age appropriate community, friendships, dignity and need to be challenged to the next step in their walk with Christ as a part of the body of Christ. The challenge is finding churches that are prepared to welcome our friends and offer more than a simple program to them-relationships and a place in the life of the church.

YL LogoWe’ve begun to identify and collaborate with ministries and models of ministry around the country being done with adults so that we can learn and prepare our friends, prepare churches and help smooth the process of transition in an already challenging time when many of our friends’ services have dropped off and they experience isolation. This is precisely the time when the body of Christ can welcome our friends and experience the truth of I Corinthians 12:18-21; “But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it.How strange a body would be if it had only one part! Yes, there are many parts, but only one body.The eye can never say to the hand, “I don’t need you.” The head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.”

Not only do we believe that our friends will find a place to belong at a time in life when they may be losing parents, moving into group homes and losing contact with teachers, peers, and those who have been constant on their lives, but we know that the body of Christ will become more complete, more whole, and more alive when they experience the uniqueness and joy of our friends in their midst.

Join us for Inclusion Fusion and learn with us the heart behind these transitions, how we are approaching it, where it is working well, and how you can perhaps be a part of creating a place in your church to welcome our friends and make them a part of the life of your church.

Click here to check out Young Life’s Capernaum ministry.


12_JONI_SPEAKING_0001Join keynote speaker Joni Earackson Tada and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here for FREE registration.

Posted in Inclusion, Inclusion Fusion, Intellectual Disabilities, Key Ministry, Strategies | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hi, I’m Shannon, and this is my family

Dingle Higher Resolution

I never planned to have a large family. I never expected to have six children from three continents. I would have laughed in your face had you told me we would adopt four children from two countries in less than 18 months.

But that was our reality, adding Zoe to our family from Taiwan in 2012 and Patience, Philip, and Patricia in 2013.

When my husband and I launched Access Ministry, our church’s inclusive ministry for children and youth, we had no idea that our family would be served by it. We didn’t know then that special needs adoption would be part of our lives or that one of our biological children would be diagnosed with a couple of special needs.

Now, seven years later, our lives are drastically different. Our children’s pastor once said, “You didn’t realize you were creating the ministry that your family would one day need.” He’s right. I didn’t.

But as more and more Christians adopt children in need and more and more adoption programs are designed to find families for children with special learning, medical, or behavioral needs, I get a little worried. I see us, as a church, cheering at announcements about pending adoptions and then not knowing what to do when the child arrives and eventually joins in children’s ministry programming. I listen to friends who have had to change churches after the welcome mat was pulled away when it became too hard to include them. And I also hear church leaders saying that they want to help but they just don’t know how.

I’m convinced the first step is being willing to say yes – both to God and to these families – before having a perfect plan in place. I know that’s hard for those of us who are planners. Trust me, I know. God called our family to a reality that shattered all my plans, and I don’t have words to quantify how unbearably hard that felt at times.

But? I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. I’ll be sharing a few more posts here leading up to the Together For Adoption conference October 17-18 in Greenville, South Carolina, but the gist is this: Our kids are worth it, so please partner with us in a way that shows that you’re in it with us for the long haul.

Just as I never expected that our family would be what it is now, our church didn’t know what the future held either back when two newlyweds entered Providence Baptist Church for the first time in the summer of 2005. Yet they’ve shown great love for us by being willing to serve, adapt, and learn so that all of our kids can be involved in the body of Christ.

What love! What sacrifice! What radical commitment to living, breathing people rather than static, dead plans on paper!

So now I ask you: what would it look like for your church to do the same?

IMG_0361Editor’s note: This is the first post in a series by Shannon Dingle examining adoption and the church. In addition to Shannon’s role as co-founder of the Access Ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Raleigh, NC, she serves as a Key Ministry consultant. Shannon will be speaking this weekend at the Together for Adoption Conference in Greenville, SC.


12_JONI_SPEAKING_0001Join keynote speaker Joni Earackson Tada and 20+ leaders representing the scope of the disability ministry movement this coming November 12-13 for Inclusion Fusion 2014, Key Ministry’s FREE, worldwide disability ministry web summit. Engage in interactive chat with many of our speakers and watch each presentation at the time of day that works best for you in the environment in which you’re most comfortable. Click here for FREE registration.

Posted in Adoption, Key Ministry | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

HERE’S JONI! Registration opens for Inclusion Fusion 2014


Our team at Key Ministry is honored and delighted to announce Joni Eareckson Tada as our Keynote Speaker for this year’s Inclusion Fusion Disability Ministry Web Summit, to be available everywhere on November 12th-13th, 2014.

Joni serves as the Founder and CEO of Joni and Friends International Disability Center, and is an international advocate for people with disabilities. A diving accident in 1967 left her, then 17, a quad­riplegic in a wheelchair, without the use of her hands. After two years of rehabilitation, she emerged with new skills and a fresh determination to help others in similar situations.

During her rehabilitation, Joni spent long months learning how to paint with a brush between her teeth. Her high-detail fine art paintings and prints are sought-after and collected.

Her best-selling autobiography Joni and the feature film of the same name have been translated into many languages, introducing her to people around the world. Mrs. Tada has also has visited more than 47 countries.

Abby, Annie, JoniMrs. Tada has served on the National Council on Disability and the Disability Advisory Committee to the U.S. State Department. She has helped guide evangelism strategies among people with disabilities worldwide as Senior Associate for Disability Concerns for the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization.

She has received numerous awards and honors, including the Victory Award from the National Rehabilitation Hospital and the Golden Word Award from the International Bible Society. Joni has been awarded several honorary degrees, including: Doctor of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary; a Doctor of Humanitarian Services from California Baptist University; and a Doctor of Humane Letters by Indiana Wesleyan University where she was inducted into IWU’s Society of World Changers

Joni has written over 50 books. She has received the Gold Medallion Lifetime Achievement Award from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. Joni’s latest book is Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story published by Zondervan.

Since 1982, Joni has been hosting the short-feature radio program “Joni and Friends” which is aired on more than 1,000 outlets. In 2012, the National Religious Broadcasters inducted Joni into its Hall of Fame.

In 2012 The Colson Center on Christian Worldview awarded Joni its prestigious “William Wilberforce Award.” She has been interviewed on “Larry King Live,” “ABC World News Tonight,” and in magazines such as Christianity Today and World Magazine.

Joni and her husband, Ken Tada, have been married since 1982.

Inclusion Fusion for Key TVInclusion Fusion is a Disability Ministry Web Summit made available free of charge by Key Ministry.  The conference is an opportunity for Christ followers everywhere to share ideas and resources to advance the movement to fully welcome and include children and adults with disabilities and their families in the life of the local church. The theme of Inclusion Fusion 2014 is INNOVATION.

Inclusion Fusion offers prerecorded videos made available “on-demand” to conference registrants, supplemented by interactive online chats and experiences. We encourage discussion of diverse ideas and views and promote the development of new relationships between pastors, church leaders, and families. We seek to promote a dialogue around how to most effectively share God’s love with families who historically have confronted substantial barriers to church participation and form relationships that advance the building of God’s Kingdom.

Our two previous Web Summits involved 46 speakers representing a broad range of ministry interests and passions. Videos from Inclusion Fusion have been viewed well in excess of 20,000 times. Check out all of our past Inclusion Fusion presentations at Key Ministry’s NEW You Tube channel!

Inclusion Fusion 2014 registrationWe encourage you to register for this year’s Web Summit. Advance registrants will receive invitations to exclusive, pre-summit events and activities. You can click this link to access our registration form, or scan the QR code pictured at right. Later this week, we’ll be releasing the full speaker lineup for Inclusion Fusion 2014. Help us get the word out by using the hashtag #KMIF14 (short for Key Ministry Inclusion Fusion 2014).

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Surrendering to help…Barb Dittrich

Barb D.In addition to her role as Executive Director and “Foundress” on SNAPPIN Ministries, Barb Dittrich is serving as our Social Community Director at Key Ministry. Barb wrote this post yesterday on her SNAPPIN’ blog. She gave us permission to share as today is National Depression Screening Day. Here’s Barb…

Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Matthew 23:12 (ESV)

In a “pick yourself up by your boot straps”, “God helps those who help themselves” culture, it’s hard to accept that you need help. When the expectations of everyone around you scream that you should be able to handle life, you begin to self-impose that same pressure. Some may extend a hand again and again, yet you smile, downplaying your difficulties, assuring, “I’ve got this.”

For too many decades of my life, I suffered needlessly because of this faulty thinking. Unfortunately, that meant everyone around me suffered as well.

I probably lived with chronic depression since my youth without it ever being diagnosed. I was raised by a mother who had untreated mental illness and an addiction to prescription pain relievers. My father held the pervasive attitude of that generation when it came to these issues, uttering, “Get ahold of yourself,” if we were ever less than cheerful.

It wasn’t until I was a young adult and had made several bad decisions that I softened to the idea of seeing a psychologist. I was willing to get some input when I had a boyfriend abuse me in my college years, or when I miscarried my first child, or when my first marriage was falling apart. At least at that point I discovered how helpful Cognitive Behavior Therapy could be to a person like me. Rather than blaming everything on my past, I learned that I could discuss challenges and put new tools in my tool chest to deal with them. I learned the skill of doubting my doubts and challenging my despair.

Zoloft_bottlesEven so, I recoiled at the notion of medication. Perhaps it was my own mother’s addiction coupled with the attitude that my father had engrained in me, but the thought of psychotropic drugs was something I felt compelled to avoid at all costs.

It wasn’t until I got to the point of nearly suicidal depression early in my second marriage that I finally acquiesced. At my psychologist’s referral, I saw a psychiatrist for medication, and my life has never been the same since. As my therapist put it, the prescription literally puts a floor under my depressive free-fall.

Don’t get me wrong. It doesn’t do the emotional work for me. A person can take all the drugs they want, and that won’t magically make their problems disappear. But the medication has been like a ladder to help me climb out of a deep, dark, impossible hole.

I had to humble myself before I could be lifted up. I had to admit my inability to solve this problem on my own.

Contrary to the popular nonsense so pervasive in the world of prosperity gospel, I could not just think my way out of this illness with a good attitude. That is one of the most difficult parts of chronic depression. A person can logically look at themselves wishing to get better, sensing their emotions are larger than anything that is happening in their lives, yet they can’t shake the mood. It is miserably heavy, uncomfortable, and exhausting. There are things that can be done to improve it. Exercise, sunlight, proper diet, adequate sleep, and filling the mind with our Eternal Hope are extremely important. Even so, for so many people just like me, God still allows us to walk with this stubborn “thorn in the flesh”.

Yet, in my weakness, He is strong. My depression keeps me ever-humble, realizing that it’s all God plus none of me that accomplishes His will in my little world. In my place of brokenness, I have the privilege of learning that God’s faithfulness and trustworthiness far exceeds any emotion I may have. I may feel that I will be crushed by my circumstances to the point of utter hopelessness, but my cognitive mind can always ride out the darkest episode assured that I know better than that. God’s goodness transcends my feelings. This Eternal Hope helps me to ride out any depressive episode I may have to endure like a pesky head cold. I know that it is miserably uncomfortable, but I also know that it will eventually pass. The Holy Spirit holds me close and ushers me through it.

When I first had to face this monster of depression, I felt great shame, and kept to myself about it. Yet, as God equipped me to live with this chronic diagnosis, He also compelled me to be more transparent with others. He showed me that in admitting my brokenness, I made the world safer for others like me. As I opened up about my battle, I helped remove the stigma for others. I could reassure people that, just because I struggle with depression does not mean that I am a bad Christian, or that I am faithless, or that I am a worse sinner than anyone else. No, instead, I could demonstrate that living with this diagnosis means that I have a faith that is continually tested, yet comes out solid as a rock. And on the days when my depression is winning the fight, telling me that God has abandoned me, He still remains ever loving, ever devoted to me. When I can’t feel Him by my side, He is still there.

In God’s great grace, He also enabled my depression to blazon a trail for one of my children who struggles with a mental health issue. While my child’s diagnosis differs from mine, I am still able to be of comfort in between episodes of that child’s anxiety, “God is real, no matter how you feel.” I am able to equip my child to do the hard work of dealing with ugly mental health issues, because I have been there myself. It is a blessing to bring a calming effect to a situation because I speak from hard-fought experience, and this child of mine knows it.

This world has been broken since the day that man invited sin into it by disobeying God. Mental illness is just part of that brokenness. It is no different from my osteoarthritis being part of that brokenness, or my daughter’s severe allergies being part of that brokenness, or my son’s hemophilia being part of that brokenness. It may be a serious challenge, but it doesn’t solely define who we are. In this world, we may be undergoers, but in Christ, we are overcomers as we surrender to His help.

PRAY: Thank You, Lord, that when we are weak, Your true strength shines through. Help us to talk back to the devil, pushing back the stigma and false accusations of mental illness. Heal that wounds that exist between Your Church and those dealing with mental health issues. Nothing is too big or too small for Your deliverance!

~ Barb Dittrich


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

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What keeps kids with ADHD out of church?

shutterstock_148715915_2Since we’re filming a training this weekend on the impact of ADHD on spiritual development, I thought today might be a good time to review some of the impediments to kids and adults with ADHD becoming involved and staying involved at church.

Let’s start by looking at this issue from the perspective of the parent. In all probability, the kids aren’t coming to church if the parent doesn’t bring them to church.

By the weekend, many parents of kids with ADHD are very tired. Kids with ADHD often have a very difficult time getting through their morning routine. They need constant reminders to get out of bed, get dressed, eat breakfast and are easily distracted by the TV, the dog, just about anything. If kids are taking medication, the stuff does take a little while to kick in, so that mornings often become a great source of frustration to parents.

shutterstock_155968427_2If the parent(s) can get their child up and ready in a reasonable time, the next challenge is the car ride to church. Compared to kids without ADHD, the child with ADHD is more likely to be angry about going to church, more likely to be screaming, yelling or crying because of some perceived grievance about their sibling’s behavior, and the family as a whole is less likely to arrive in a worshipful mood.

A major obstacle is the perception of many parents that they’ll be placed in a situation where they’ll be expected to explain their child’s behavior to others, or where they’ll be judged by others. Like it or not, there’s a stigma associated with many of the hidden disabilities (while this study from the American Journal of Psychiatry doesn’t address ADHD, it does reinforce the point). I was at a worship service in our church a number of years ago for Disability Sunday at which a couple got up to share their story of what it was like looking for a church with two young boys with ADHD. The mother’s words illustrated the expectations parents of kids with ADHD and other hidden disabilities bring to church:

“People in the church believe they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”

shutterstock_55828720_2Another common complaint I hear from parents whose experience of church has been in denominations or traditions in which children and parents are expected to attend worship services together is that they can’t get anything out of the experience if their primary focus is monitoring their child’s behavior during the service. We’re seeing a growing trend among Catholic churches we serve to offer (at least periodically) separate worship experiences for kids and adults as a strategy for addressing this problem. I’m admittedly apprehensive about the well-intentioned efforts of some in the family ministry movement to discontinue separate worship experiences for kids because I suspect we’d lose many of the families of kids with ADHD who have difficulty with self-control.

Finally, we have the issue of parents who themselves have ADHD. They’re more likely to have difficulty following through on good intentions. They may want to come to church, they may know it’s important for their kids to be involved at church, but they have a hard time pulling things together to make it to church. They’re more likely to suffer from insomnia, or be “night owls” themselves, and struggle to get themselves up in the morning, much less their kids. They have more difficulty with establishing priorities and managing time. I can spot the families affected by ADHD in our church parking lot ten minutes after the start of the last service with Mom hopping across the parking lot putting her shoes on with three kids in tow.

For parents who themselves may have ADHD, the ease and clarity with which a church communicates where to go and what to do when you arrive is especially important. They tend to be easily frustrated looking for parking. They have a very difficult time remembering directions, resulting in the need for signage that is highly visible and processes for checking in and checking out kids that are as simple as possible.

Here’s one more issue to consider: Unlike families in which a child has an autism spectrum disorder, in which divorce rates are no higher than in the general population, the divorce rate nearly doubles in marriages where there’s a child under the age of eight with ADHD. Kids with ADHD are more likely to be alternating from household to household on the weekend, making establishment of a consistent routine of church attendance more difficult.

What about the experience of church from the perspective of the child or teen with ADHD?

shutterstock_46864729_2Kids with ADHD are often capable of intense focus when they’re engaged in activities they find interesting. In fact, the vast preponderance of the time kids come into my office with a history of wetting themselves during the daytime, their “accidents” occurred while playing a video game or outside in the middle of play with their friends. In many ways, ADHD should be thought of as an attention dysregulation as opposed to an attention deficit…kids with ADHD pay attention to too much stuff, much of which is unimportant, at the expense of what they need to pay attention to.

Kids with ADHD don’t do well in situations when they perceive the activity or the topic as boring or irrelevant, and unfortunately that’s the case in too many churches. I’ve said on many occasions that I believe it’s a sin to bore kids with the Gospel. And that’s exactly what happens when kids are required to sit through worship services designed for adults, especially kids with ADHD.

For many kids with ADHD, especially those with the “H” component, the mental energy required to maintain self-control for an extended period of time takes away from their ability to get the desired “take away” from their church experience. They don’t like sitting for extended periods of time. Many educators are starting to catch on to the importance of movement and exercise on learning.

As kids with ADHD get older, rates of insomnia increase. Many of these kids are “night owls”…they stay up very late because they have a hard time slowing down their brains to settle enough to fall asleep. The problem is compounded when they have to get up very early (6:00 AM in the case of our tenth grader) on school days. By the weekend, getting up and out of bed may be more of a challenge for the teen with ADHD than their friends. One of the wiser moves the leadership made at the church our daughter attends was moving high school worship service from 9:00 AM to 6:06 PM on Sundays. Let’s just say there weren’t a whole lot of kids with ADHD responding to invites from their friends to check out 9:00 AM church!

shutterstock_68372575_2Here’s another consideration… there are a lot of kids with ADHD who need to take medication to have a successful school experience during the week who don’t have that option available to them on the weekend because of concerns their treating physician or parents have about the effects of medication on appetite and growth. Think about this: If many kids with ADHD require medication for school during the week despite accommodation plans and assistance from teachers with special training, how do you think they’re going to do at church on the weekend without medication and a volunteer leader who lacks a teaching degree?

One of the main points my former ministry colleague Katie Wetherbee makes when training church staff and volunteers is that kids want to be successful. My kids with ADHD often get very frustrated and discouraged and start to see themselves as a disappointment to parents and teachers. Put that kid in an environment in which the behaviors resulting from their inability to maintain self-control may be labeled as sin and see how excited they’ll be about coming back next week!

shutterstock_173700593One final word on the issue of environments…there is such a thing as too much stimulation for kids with ADHD. When kids are struggling with sensory overload…too noisy, too many kids talking, lighting is too bright-they don’t learn and may experience the environment as unpleasant or aversive. Let me share an example…

We’ll call my friend Jake. Jake has ADHD along with auditory processing difficulties. When several people are talking at once, Jake’s experience is like listening to a radio with lots of static. Because of his ADHD, he notices all the different sounds in his environment. One day, I was hanging around in the lobby of the church about five minutes after the start of our second service and Jake comes up to say hello:

Jake: Hi, Dr. Steve

SG: Hi Jake. How you doing?

Jake: Just great

SG: How’s school?

Jake: Really good this year. (Hesitation) Dr. Steve, Can I ask you a question?

SG: Of course

Jake: When I go into my church service, there are too many kids yelling and screaming and talking and pushing…I can’t concentrate on what’s going on. Do you have any suggestions for what I can do?

Jake just had too much trouble tolerating the level of stimulation in the large group worship area that was present at the time. He liked the discussions when he broke out into his small group, so his parents and leaders came up with a great solution. Jake was given an orange vest and made a part of the parking team between services. We had people who drove around the lot looking for Jake on Sunday morning because of his friendly demeanor. He’d finish directing traffic about the time his large group worship was winding down and the kids were getting ready for their breakout groups.


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Key Ministry, ADHD, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Families | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Doing Ministry Like a Missionary…Mike Woods

Heidi_Baker_BabyhouseI think that we’re going to have to think differently about special-needs ministry in order to reach the special needs population with the Gospel. Statistics may vary, but many report that approximately 80% of the disability community are unchurched. And though there are several factors that may account for this, I would like to focus on one important factor called “cultural distance.”

The concept of “cultural distance” is one paradigm that will help us to understand the reason why special-needs ministry outreach is an essential activity in bringing the gospel to the disability community.

Cultural distance is a simple concept that was initially developed by Alan Hirsch. Alan is a South African-born missiologist, author, and an acknowledged leader in the missional church movement.

What is cultural distance? According to Hirsch:

Cultural distance is…“a conceptual tool that we can use to discern just how far a person or a people group is from meaningful engagement with the gospel.”

Let’s say that you take a continuum that is a line. And on that line you indicate cultural barriers from left to right, evenly spaced. Each cultural barrier needs to represent a real significant barrier to meaningful communication of the Gospel.

What are some significant cultural barriers to the Gospel? Try thinking of cultural barriers in terms of missionaries who go to foreign countries to plant a church. What are some of the significant cultural barriers that missionaries have to cross in order to effectively share the Gospel with people of other cultures? Here’s a few of the primary ones:

  • Language
  • Values and beliefs.
  • Current cultural practices.
  • Past history.
  • Stereotypes
  • ________ ?

Here’s what it would look like visually depicted:

Missionaries and Cultural Barriers

Make no mistake about this: missionaries go through a course of training to overcome the obstacles to reach a people group. To be a successful missionary you must be willing to learn the language, the cultural practices, the history, and the values & beliefs of the people you are going to in order to reach them with the Gospel.

The problem that I see happening now in many churches and church-based special-needs ministries is that we’re not the ones crossing the cultural barriers anymore.

Many church-based special needs ministries (and churches) have sunk a lot of time and energy and effort into developing a great special-needs ministry located within the walls of the church building. And there is nothing wrong with that…in fact, it is a good thing. I spent my first two years working hard to create a welcoming special needs ministry at First Baptist Orlando.

But realistically, this type of “come and see” special needs ministry only shares meaningful communication of the Gospel with people who are within the walls of your church building.

In other words, the Gospel is only shared with those differently-abled individuals who attend your church and participate in your special needs ministry. The problem with that, as I have mentioned earlier, is that the larger percentage of the disability community is nowhere to be found within the church building.

In essence, by operating only in the “come and see” mode we place the burden of crossing cultural barriers on the disability community. In other words, they now have to become the missionaries and take the initiative to cross significant barriers to get to the church. The more barriers that someone has to overcome the less likely they will be to cross them.

Here’s what it would look like visually depicted:

Come and See Ministries

That’s crazy! Each barrier presents a potential reason for someone to say, “Forget it.” That would be like a missionary going to Botswana, building a church building, and waiting for the Gciriku people to come to church after having made no effort to engage and relate to them. The “If you build it, they will come” philosophy isn’t a sure bet.

Whether you want to call it “outeach,” “missional,” or “go and tell,” I think it’s important for church-based special needs ministries (and churches without special needs ministries) to start operating again like missionaries.

We need to be the ones to shoulder the responsibility of being missionaries and take the initiative to cross cultural barriers in order to reach the people that we’re passionate about to meaningfully communicate the Gospel.

What’s one thing you could do this week to begin to do ministry like a missionary?

Mike-Woods-Joy-Prom-@-1024x615In addition to serving as a Church Consultant with Key Ministry, Mike Woods currently works as the Director for the Special Friends Ministry at First Baptist Orlando. Prior to joining First Baptist Orlando, Mike worked for nine years as the autism and inclusion specialist for a large school district in metropolitan St. Louis. Mike regularly blogs for Key Ministry on topics related to “missional” Special Needs Ministry…how churches can “leave the building” to share the love of Christ with families impacted by disabilities in their local communities.

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The chasm is bigger than I ever imagined…

shutterstock_110076620Some of our readers have picked up on my recent frustration in discussing topics related to mental illness and church. Since this is Mental Illness Awareness Week, it seems an appropriate time to espouse on the topic.

In our very first post on this blog, I discussed the chasm that exists separating many of the families I serve in my workplace as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and the people who compose the social network my family experiences through our involvement at church.

Once my church friends get a handle on the families in their communities who come to practices like mine, we can problem-solve together how to welcome them into our environments and  include them in the stuff we do so they can come to know Jesus, accept him as Lord, and grow to be more like him. Just like we do.

Together, God will help us figure out how we as church can welcome and include families of kids with real, but invisible disabilities.

facebook-miaw-badgeI’m not necessarily the most patient person when I see something that needs to change. Progress has been slow. I’ve wondered what we need to do to get folks in the church to notice the resources offered by Key Ministry. I probably came down way too hard on Focus on the Family and Lifeway here and here over their surveys looking at mental illness and the church. The truth be told, I think the Lord was giving me a little taste of what it feels like to be left out of something at church I wanted to be part of. Not at all dissimilar to the experience of the families served by the churches we support.

One thing the guys at FOTF and Lifeway did well in their executive summary of their surveys was include comments and observations from a panel of experts in the church on mental illness in adults. A number of their comments provide excellent insights into the challenges facing the church in addressing these issues. I’ll share some of them here..

  • People with mental illness or their families deal with a large amount of social shame and stigma around the illnesses.
  • Conversations about mental illness need to change in frequency and tone.
  • Labeling a mental illness as only a “spiritual issue” is not helpful and can be detrimental. 
  • Strong faith does not make a mental illness go away. People who deal with mental illness tend to be more honest about their relationship with God.

I’m not sure I agreed with what the folks on the panel had to say about kids and families. I sensed that the space needing to be bridged separating the church from the kids and families we serve was more like a chasm, especially when the folks who church leaders rely upon for education didn’t seem to know the questions that needed to be asked. The experts seemed a lot less hopeful than I am about kids overcoming the conditions for which their families seek treatment.   In any event, here’s what I would’ve said had I been invited to participate on behalf of Key Ministry…

  • shutterstock_104938268_2Including kids with mental illness at church is incredibly important, given the evidence that suggests most people who come to faith in Christ do so before they reach adulthood.
  • While the church is appropriately becoming concerned about adults with mental illness leaving church through the “back door,” very few pastors or ministry leaders appreciate the size and scope of the mission field awaiting outside their “front door” composed of families impacted by mental illness who have little or no experience of church.
  • Parents of kids with mental health conditions are especially prone to be stigmatized at church because of the lingering belief among many in the Christian community that mental illness is a byproduct of sin, kids who struggle with managing emotions and maintaining self-control are the product of parents who are ineffective or indifferent and much of the mental health profession can’t be trusted.
  • shutterstock_162382229The conditions that produce the greatest obstacle to church participation and spiritual growth for the greatest number of families impacted by mental illness are anxiety disorders.
  • Because the “apple often doesn’t fall far from the tree,” a family-based ministry approach will likely be required for the majority of kids and teens with mental illness to be assimilated into the church.

Here are three resources I’d suggest for Mental Illness Awareness Week…

Our friends at SNAPPIN’ Ministries have put together a Facebook event site for Mental Illness Awareness Week. I’d encourage you to check it out.

An excellent place to go for information about mental illness in kids and teens are the resource centers developed by the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Kay Warren and the crew at Saddleback Church are hosting 24 Hours of Hope beginning at 3:00 AM Eastern time on Friday, October 10th.

If you need more resources, you might find a few useful links from Key Ministry under “Past Blog Series” in the sidebar of this page.


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Mental Health, Resources | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A special little church in Chicago…

Christian Fellowship ChicagoThis past Sunday, my wife and I were in Chicago for Parents’ Weekend at Loyola University. It’s our habit to find a place to worship on Sunday when we’re out of town and we were looking forward to doing church and breakfast with our oldest daughter (Leah), studying hard in pursuit of her goal to be a research physician.

I’d heard great things about Christian Fellowship Church, located on the North Side of Chicago in a lovely neighborhood (Roscoe Village) about a mile or so west of Wrigley Field.

Seven years ago, Sergei Marchenko moved into the neighborhood with his wife Gillian and their four daughters to become pastor of the church. Gillian is a well-known author and national speaker who writes and speaks about parenting kids with Down Syndrome, faith, depression, imperfection, and adoption. Gillian was a faculty member for our Inclusion Fusion Web Summit in 2012. Her video, Loss and Grief in Parenting Children With Special Needs was the most viewed video from the Web Summit that year.

Marchenko girlsOur family arrived a little bit early…I was pleasantly surprised by how plentiful parking was on the street in front of the church. I’d messaged Gillian to let her know we might be coming by…we were welcomed by Gillian and given a brief tour of the facilities.

On the morning we attended, the preponderance of kids attending church would have an identified disability or special need. Christian Fellowship is truly an inclusive church…a church where typical families and families affected by disability can worship together. The children’s area was designed to be sensory-friendly and includes a sensory wall along with a quiet area for kids who need a little break from overstimulation. Kids with significant special needs have 1:1 buddies on Sunday morning. Christian Fellowship also offers a free respite program on Thursday evenings for parents of kids with disabilities (families served DON’T need to belong to the church) staffed in part by students from the Moody Bible Institute a few miles away.

Everyone we met at Christian Fellowship was very friendly without being the least bit pushy. Sergei comes across as the polar opposite of the self-promoting pastor. He was teaching on the parable of the unforgiving servant from Matthew 18…his was the most thought-provoking (and challenging) teaching I’d heard on that passage from the Bible. A sign of a pretty good sermon is a message that continues to provoke thought six days after attending church.

Christian Fellowship RespiteMy biggest surprise was to find that the church wasn’t completely full. I can’t get over the irony that on the morning our family visited Christian Fellowship, we shared this story from an anonymous reader that became our most-viewed guest post ever. At the same time that many of our followers share their experiences of rejection at church, there’s a friendly place with good teaching in a cool neighborhood offering a great experience for families impacted by disability with free respite care in the middle of a city with millions of people and they still have space? I don’t get it.

I asked Gillian if it was OK to share our family’s experience with our readers and she agreed. I’m a little afraid after posting this that they’ll be overwhelmed with visitors. I would ask families planning to visit on a Sunday bringing children with disabilities or Pulling to Standseeking to take advantage of the high quality, free respite care they provide to contact Christian Fellowship in advance to let them know you’re coming so they might be prepared to welcome you in advance.

God’s clearly at work through Christian Fellowship. You’ll be blessed if you check it out.

Editor’s note: In celebration of Down Syndrome Awareness Month, Gillian is giving away the electronic version of her new book, Pulling to Stand: Glimpses of Parenting Two Children With Down Syndrome on Very Different Paths to readers who sign up for her monthly newsletter. Click here to learn more.


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry is pleased to make available our FREE consultation service to pastors, church leaders and ministry volunteers. Got questions about launching a ministry that you can’t answer…here we are! Have a kid you’re struggling to serve? Contact us! Want to kick around a problem with someone who’s “been there and done that?” Click here to submit a request!

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