Ministering to Special Needs Families

Matthew Anderson is the Director of Special Needs Ministry at Rock Point Church in Arizona. Our founder interviewed Matthew to get his tips on running a world-class special needs ministry. He also shared his tips for utilizing Playlister.

Chris Holland
July 9, 2021
Kids Ministry Leadership

46% of families with special needs don’t attend church because they’re worried the environment won’t be conducive to their kids.

We believe in partnering with the whole family. We believe that it's not just a kid coming to church. It's not babysitting. We're here to guide this child, this youth, whatever age they're in, we're here to guide them in a relationship with Christ, plug them in to serving, get them involved with just peers their age, and just be able to care for all of that.

But we also care about the parents. These parents go through a lot. And like I said, with that statistic there's a lot of parents who don't get to attend church. So when they do get to attend church, we have what's called a resource center in our lobby just for special needs parents. We have Bibles there. We have different things that these families can use to be able to feel like we're really not just offering them stuff, but partnering with them. That we really do genuinely care about them and the whole family and their kid.

Matthew Anderson is the Director of Special Needs Ministry at Rock Point Church in Arizona.

So we offer something on the front end for parents and then we also offer that home stuff for the kids to be able to still interact. And these families have such demanding lives with therapy, different schools when their kids have special needs. So that at-home playlist lets us be part of their schedule during the week. And then also when they come to church and they get to experience those same lessons, same teaching. So they're familiar with it already.

Understand the impact you are making

It's been a blessing just across the board and in the past three months since I've started, God has just really blessed our ministry. Every week, we have one to two families that reach out saying they're looking for a special needs ministry in a church to start attending. Some of these families are coming from very rough backgrounds or just rough experiences when it comes to church and the world of special needs.

So our biggest, biggest, biggest job is to bridge that gap so that these parents, these families can actually come attend church and their kids can get plugged in with other kids their age.

A big job is getting their kid plugged in with other kids their age.

So it comes full circle for us. It's really a blessing to see just how much growth we're having as we start to develop new things, care for the whole family and just really, really meet them where they're at.

I would say just the biggest and the best blessing about special needs ministry is not what you get out of it. It's what you can pour into it.

So whether that's the church ministry side of it, whether you're part of an organization that helps individuals with special needs, whether you're working at a school, it's really all about making an impact. Ultimately, just being there for them. You're not there to change anything. You're not there to force anything on them. You're literally just there to walk alongside them. That's our philosophy as a church is we just walk alongside individuals. We don't change anything. We don't push them anywhere. We're just there for them.

Focus on inclusion

One thing we really focus on, and I think this is the most important part of any realm of special needs, is inclusion. How can we really welcome everybody, whether that's special needs, whether they might have anxiety, ADHD? There's so many different things that people just struggle with across the board.

Ultimately, just being there for them. You're not there to change anything. You're not there to force anything on them. You're literally just there to walk alongside them.

So if you're thinking about any realm of ministry or school, just really figure out how to be inclusive, figure out how to be more welcoming as a community, as a church, as a school, whatever that may look like. And in your realm, just be including and be loving and bridge the gap. That's all it really is about.

Be consistent

So my advice there would be to start small work on the things that really matter- address the needs that your church already has. As you do that, you'll start to grow. You'll start to learn and you'll start to see how much of that need you're actually meeting.

It can be scary at first, but the biggest thing that I've learned is you just have to do it and then let God show up. Let him really lead that ministry. Then you're just there to keep serving, keeping a part of it, keep developing it, whatever that may look like in your church, just keep on caring for that population and you'll see amazing things happen.

Share what you’ve learned

A lot of churches don't have special needs ministries. Not because they don't care, just because they might not feel equipped or know how to. And that's the biggest setback I feel a lot of churches have.

What we're doing as a church, because of the underserved churches out there, is that we're launching a special needs network in Arizona to be able to offer training to churches of actual practical steps to take to start to develop their own special needs ministry.

We’re doing this because we're not called to just lead our church. We're called to lead the church. We're called to lead our community. That's how we come together, especially in the world of special needs, because that's some area where people just don't know where to start or how to start. That's why we're partnering with them to help guide, how do you launch a special needs ministry? What does inclusion look like? Just really practically walk alongside every church here in our area to be able to do that.

What were you using before Playlister? How has Playlister been better?

So Rock Point's a fairly big church. We have over a thousand kids a weekend. So, obviously, we need great solutions in place for that. In our special needs ministry, before it was just someone would drag files from their computer onto another computer and then put that into a ProPresenter file. So it was just this step, this step, and it would take hours just to download the files alone. So for me, I'm like, "All right, we need a better solution."

Playlister has helped us make that, for me, it's less than a 30-minute process sometimes to do the whole month. That makes my life so much easier to just be able to have those files in there. And then I do it a month in advance, so that way our leaders are always prepared and we do that at home as well, the video hub. So that way we can schedule the curriculum in advance. So that way families can be able to use that at home.

Rock Point Church, Arizona

I don't know how familiar you are with the special needs world, but the statistic out there is that 46.6% of families sometimes don't even attend church, because there might not be something in place for them.

So to be able to offer that at-home experience so they can get familiar with what we do before coming to check out our church in person and see what our ministry is like, it helps us bridge that gap between the families that are yet to come to church to the families that will be able to experience what church is like, who might have a child with special needs.

How has Playlister helped your ministry?

When I got started at Rock Point, there were a lot of moving pieces to handle. The first thing that came to my mind was "All right, we need one solution for just everything we're doing."

My whole philosophy is that we have to bring the whole thing together. So not just what we do in the service, but also what we sent home, stuff like that. So I was trying to figure out a great solution. I love Playlister. I've been familiar with it before, which is what made me really want to be able to start integrating it. There's a couple of key aspects of just how it benefits us and why we use it.

It’s easy for our volunteers to use.

First of all, for volunteers, it is so much easier for them to have a system in place where they can navigate it. They know how to use it, like Apple TV, it's just that simple for any volunteer. Because we have young volunteers. We also have older volunteers in our ministry. So to have everyone come together and just understand what we're showing our curriculum on.

The Orange integration saves a lot of time.

The other side of it is also being able to integrate it with the Orange curriculum, so having Playlister and Orange curriculum come together just makes life so much easier. It gives me more time to focus on meeting with parents and then also developing the ministry as we grow.

And then being able to also create and add custom files in there. Sometimes we add some different worship songs, especially for our special needs ministry, because it's not cookie cutter. A lot of what we do, we have to tailor towards the needs of these individuals and Playlister lets us do that through adding in maybe some worship videos, things that, along with using the Orange curriculum. So it just brings the full picture in and just, for us, it makes life so much easier, but also allows us to do more long-term. 

What tips would you give churches considering Playlister?

Determine your service structure

I would say if you're considering or just getting started in Playlister, it is to figure out the structure of how you're going to do things. How does your service run? Playlister lets you organize all of those files, but you’ll need to plan the order of everything and what you want to show on certain screens.

Start small and expand

We're starting with special needs, but we're also trying to get rolled out in our preschool ministry and then slowly but surely being able to develop into something that we just use as a church.

Use Playlister at-home for families who haven’t visited in-person

It kind of depends on what state you're in, but restrictions might look differently. So being able to offer not just in-person stuff, but at-home stuff matters. It matters a lot to build or reach certain families, people that might not be comfortable coming to church yet.

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