by: Katy Patchett

Our mission at Church of the Open Door is to lead people in the adventure of becoming like Christ. God loves all people and He calls us to do the same. We work hard as a church to heed that call. I would like to bring attention to a specific group of people that we, as a church, can work to reach out to and include within the fold of God’s love: people with special needs and their families. There are a staggering number of people with special needs who need a good dose of God’s love and a loving community to gather around them.

The amount of Americans diagnosed with a disability has hugely increased in the past decade. 19% of Americans are classified with some form of disability. This is equivalent to entire population of Florida and California combined! Over 16% of children under the age of 18 have some form of disability in Ohio. This is approximately 1 out of every 9 children in Ohio. 1 in 88 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.

These disabilities not only affect the person with the need, but impacts their families as well. Studies that have shown that the divorce rate among parents of children with special needs is near 85%. However, many studies show that this percent decreases greatly when the family feels like it has support and help from a community of people. This is where the Church comes in. Unfortunately, many families with special needs have had negative experiences at a church where they were either made to feel left out or even, sadly, pushed out if the church was unprepared to adjust to certain needs.

I believe that Church of the Open Door is able to step up and  fill this gap. I believe that we are ready and willing to make our church a community that will envelop families with special needs in love. This has already begun in a couple of ways. First, we are hosting a Night Out for families with special needs quarterly, with the next one happening on March 10th. This is a fun night where the children of these families get to come to the church, be paired with a buddy, and enjoy a variety of games, activities, crafts, and snacks. While their children have a blast with us for a couple hours, the parents are free to go have a night out themselves.

The other major way we are preparing to welcome these families is to have a safe, easily accessible environment for those with different abilities. We are starting by having buddies ready for children who need a little extra attention in our children’s ministry area. By providing a buddy, the children can engage with their peers, hear the same lesson, and enjoy our programming while also having a chance to take a break if they become over-stimulated. We are planning how to prepare our youth ministry and service as well to make it inclusive of everyone.

I am so excited about the potential to grow this ministry. I know that Church of the Open Door is going to do an amazing job of reaching this largely unreached group of people because I have seen the heart this church has. I cannot wait to see how God is going to use us!