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A Place in the Body of Christ

Helping Churches Become Better Equipped to Engage People with Disabilities

Did you know that individuals and families affected by disability are one of the most unchurched people groups in our communities? According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, one in four adults in the U.S. live with a disability. Between 50 and 80 percent of people/families with a disability do not attend church regularly or have a faith community they connect with.

That is a lot of people missing from our congregations!

Scripture has a lot to say about people with disabilities in the body of Christ.

  • “Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame” (Luke 14:21).
  • “Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full” (Luke 14:24).
  • “But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be” (1 Corinthians 12:18).
  • “On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable” (1 Corinthians 12:22).

If people with disabilities are missing from our congregations in essence, the body of Christ itself is “disabled.” How do we reach, welcome, and fully engage people with disabilities into the body of Christ?

The Covenant has been developing resources to respond to this need. One initiative at the national level was the development of the Covenant Disabilities Resource Committee in 2010. This group meets quarterly and is working to expand awareness and resources for local churches to help people of all abilities encounter Christ and experience belonging in the church. Make and Deepen Disciples and Love Mercy Do Justice also lend their support to this important work.

If people with disabilities are missing from our congregations in essence, the body of Christ itself is “disabled.”

Last year, committee members in the Northwest Conference began to explore how to engage churches regionally in these conversations, and the Northwest Conference Disability Ministry Connection was created. The group’s goal is to equip, encourage, and engage pastors, disability ministry leaders, and volunteers through awareness, training, resource sharing, partnerships, prayer, and mutual support.

Tyler Menssen, pastor of Lake Union Church in South Haven, Minnesota, serves on the Disability Ministry Connection Planning Committee. He says, “This pilot network is personal to me. Growing up with a disability (deaf and without ears), I was treated by the world in a way that caused me as a young adult to have depression, suicidal thoughts, and become addicted to pain killers. Yet the good news of the gospel, proclaimed and demonstrated to me through the church, saved my life. I hope this network helps equip churches and people to have the ability and passion to reach those who are unreached. Then, and only then, will we see the full beauty of God’s kingdom in our midst.”

The first meeting was held in September with 12 participants and five pastors participating via Zoom. The group was trained on the Five Stages of Church Culture, an assessment tool depicting the continuum a church moves along to become a fully engaging church, where those with disabilities are not only served but use their gifts to serve the church.

We are excited to see what God is doing through this network to raise awareness, cast vision, and equip churches to better serve, with and alongside, those affected by disability to find their dignity, hope, and place in the body of Christ. Then as Luke writes, God’s house will be full!

For more information, please contact Jane Palmer at 952-933-7777 or jpalmer@joniandfriends.org

About the Author

  • Jane Palmer

    Jane Palmer, and her husband, Hal, are 27-year members of Faith Covenant Church in Burnsville, Minnesota. She is a member of the Covenant Resources Disability Committee and Northwest Conference Disability Ministry Network Planning Committee and serves on the Northwest Conference Executive Board. She works as the ministry relations manager at Joni and Friends Minnesota.

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