Most churches have them right? Someone with a cane or a wheelchair. Typically, it is one of the elderly in the church who have been there for years and their health has declined. Many times, their health is too poor to do little more than attend – which is quite an accomplishment in itself! But are there others, with lifelong disabilities, that do not attend your church?
There are a lot of people out there with disabilities that are healthy and anxious to attend and serve God in a church. So, what is the big deal? If they want to come – let them come! No one is stopping them, right? WRONG!! You would be amazed at what may be stopping them.
The church was established by Jesus Christ Himself. He was always tripping over and dealing with the poor, the sinners and those who had disabilities. My Grandpa was a pastor/missionary, my dad was a pastor, my brother and brother-in-law are pastors, and my husband is a pastor. I tell you this pedigree because I am allowing myself the platform to tell you what I know is an absolute truth. When a church only serves itself, there will be 3 categories of people they get real snobby about – the poor, the sinners and the disabled. Isn’t that amazing that it is just the opposite of who Jesus constantly ministered to?
If the church has lost it’s ability to follow Jesus, they may as well shut the doors. Or at least just play Bingo and make it the official social club of the community.
I know that may sound harsh, but I do believe Jesus had some pretty harsh actions against those who had turned the Temple into a money changing hangout. We need to make sure that we are actively pursuing the poor, the sinners and the disabled. For this post, I will talk about the disabled.
Can I point a few realities that you may not know about?
- Do you have a welcoming, accessible entrance?
I have been to restaurants and had to be taken in a back door and through the kitchen just to eat there. Do you think I returned? NO! Have you ever been tipped upside down trying to popped up a bunch of steps? It is terrifying! Do you really think visitors will do that? No. They will find a church that is prepared for them to enter with dignity.
This is not money wasted. I remember a group of guys that took out a roof of a house to make sure their disabled friend could get to Jesus. Oh that we would be like them!
- Do you have accommodating restrooms?
I have been in an accessible restroom….after I got carried down the stairs to it! That doesn’t count! Let me also state that adding handrails does not make it usable. The stall door must be wide enough that a manual or power wheelchair can get through it. I have seen a beautiful, open handicap stall that could not be used because they forgot to make the door wide enough.
The three most important features to an accessible stall are:
1. Wide doorway (36 inches minimum)
Do not swing the door inside the stall. If you roll in, there is no way to shut the door because you are in the way. Doors swing out!
2. Plenty of room inside to turn your chair.
If I pull in and my knees touch the toilet, it is a HORRIBLE transfer. I can do it, because I can transfer well. If I was any weaker, which I am when I am tired, I would not be able to do that at all. There must be space beside the toilet. The ADA requirement (which churches are not bound too – I will talk about that in a bit) is a 5 ft. radius. Remember, power chairs are bigger and need more room to turn than even a manual chair does. So, you must have room to accommodate both.
Rails are important. They help in transferring and giving much needed balance. They help for those who walk, but have weakness, to get up and down.
- Do you have available drivers?
There are some people who would love to come to church but have no way to get there. They cannot drive and are at the mercy of others to get them around. Most insurances pay for transportation to appointments, many healthcare workers help with grocery shopping, but who takes them to church? Compassionate, loving people who don’t mind figuring this out! Maybe a church could buy a van with a lift and tie downs in it. Maybe someone has a vehicle that is easy for someone to transfer into. Ask the person with the disability. They can help figure out a plan. They just need a willing heart.
- Do you have available areas are service?
What am I even talking about? I am talking about having a church mind-set that the disabled are not there just to be served and catered to. We are there, like every other member of the body of Christ should be, to love, learn and be actively serving Jesus.
Did you know that many people with disabilities have a hard time working full-time jobs and so they make wonderful church volunteers? Did you know that our physical disabilities can give the impression that we are not capable? In some ways, that can be true…which is why we need accessible stalls and ramps.But…that is about as far as it goes.
Oh how I wish I had the time to introduce you to so many of my friends with disabilities and what they are doing!! I will admit that many of us have a little chip on our shoulder that is having to keep the scales balanced that we are very capable. And so, many of us are over achievers! Yes, guilty as charged!
What does this mean? Think of taking all that energy and plugging it into the work of the Lord! We can serve the Lord even if the church makes that hard for us, but it is such a tremendous blessing when we get to serve Him in and through our local church.
I don’t want to overlook visual, hearing or mental impairments. There are solutions for all of those things too! I would recommend that you print off this checklist for churches.
It is a beginning guide to a look at your individual facility and see where you can start!
So, when as a church, we preach and teach and sing “Whosoever will may come…”, let’s make sure we really mean it and aren’t leaving out anyone. Especially those that Jesus always included.
Churches are not required to follow ADA laws because of separation of church and state. I am in agreement with that. But I am NOT in agreement with a church that uses that to bury their head in the sand of responsibility to meet the needs of every single soul in their community.
If you need help knowing what your church needs, please let me help you! I have become pretty creative coming up with ways to make things work without spending a fortune. Every change helps and sends a strong message that those with disabilities are wanted.