One of the potential issues with starting special-needs ministry outreach is that the scope of the disability-related problems in your community can seem so big that it is almost a nonstarter. One can be almost tempted to throw in the towel before even getting started!
Interestingly, Carnegie Mellon University did a study on this very issue. Specifically, they were looking at something called the “Drop In The Bucket” effect. The Drop In The Bucket effect has to do with one’s belief in being able to do anything about a problem/issue that is perceived as being too great for one person to handle.
In the study, the focus was on monetary donations and how people were less inclined to give money when they felt as if their donation wouldn’t really make a difference in the scope of the problem. Additionally, the Drop In The Bucket effect can also diminish people’s desire to volunteer. The research shows that when people feel as if an issue is too big to tackle, they are less likely to volunteer.
Jesus, in an interesting way, addresses this issue in the Gospels. You will find it in Matthew 25:37-40. Here it is:
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth, just as you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’”
When I hear people attempt to quote this verse from memory they almost always get it wrong. They get it almost right…but not quite right. Here is what they typically say from memory concerning verse 40:
“And the king will answer them, ‘I tell you the truth just as you did it for the least of these brothers or sisters of mine, you did it for me.’”
Close, but no cigar! Without looking at these verses again and comparing them, can you tell me the key word that is missing from the second verse that was in the first verse? Here it is: “one.”
Small word, but one that makes a big difference!
Here is what I think Jesus is saying in verse 40,
“Look, what matters to me is not that you go and try to change the world. How about you just love on one person. Let’s start there.”
By focusing on just one person you begin to humanize the problem. You are not just helping single moms, but you are helping Peggy. You are not just helping kids at-risk, you are helping Robert. It is no longer all those people with disabilities, but it now becomes my next-door neighbor Larry, who has Down Syndrome.
I believe that Jesus, in this passage, is taking away the excuse to say that the problem is too big, it’s a drop in the bucket, or is anything that’s going to really change if I get involved?
Here he is saying just focus on one. Find your one.
Don’t worry about the numbers because numbers can make you…numb.
Just focus on one person. Find your one.
A recent example that I can share with you of the Drop In the Bucket effect is our outreach mission for this year: “To end relational poverty in the disability community.” One of the issues that I have been concerned about are the lack of opportunities for social engagement in our disability community. Relational poverty is the term that I use because many of our adults in group homes are extremely poor in the area of friendships.
When our special needs ministry decided to tackle this issue, I took the lead in identifying the scope of the problem. I discovered that were 30+ special needs group homes in Orange County, Florida. The majority of these group homes were very open to the idea of our church coming out and hosting fun activities and social events that would create social opportunities to develop friendships. These 30+ group homes represent 300-500 individuals with special needs.
I would have to admit that this definitely felt like a Drop In The Bucket moment. The problem seemed so big, so beyond the scope of what we had initially thought, that we were not sure where to start. Some even voiced the idea that the need was so large that we might not want to address it.
However as we prayed about it and read through Jesus’s words in Matthew chapter 25, the Holy Spirit helped us to see exactly what we needed to do. Just focus on one! So with that said we decided to start by focusing on just one special needs group home. Since that time we have had volunteers from our church visiting that group home on a weekly basis and conducting fun social events on a monthly basis. Just focus on one.
On a side note, I was recently called by the Director of one of the group homes who had initially expressed no interest in having our church come visit. She expressed that after observing what we had been doing in other group homes, and the relational focus of what we were doing, she was beginning to change her jaded view of church.
She asked if it was possible to meet and talk about how we might be able to make a difference for her residents where she worked!
So you see, you don’t have to try and change your whole city. Start by focusing on one.
- One group home.
- One family in need.
- Or simply one individual.
And inspire and encourage your church members to find their one. Find the one group home, the one family, or the one individual to invest their time in and make a difference.
As you well know, it will not only make a difference for that person in need, but also in the heart of the person volunteering.
In 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.