PHYSICAL CHALLENGES & A Case Study: At this church, ‘special needs’ are nothing out of the ordinary

HELEN JERMAN, Baptist News Global, 9/2/20.

For many families, the most challenging aspect of going to church on Sunday morning is getting out the door: making sure everyone is dressed, fed and in the car on time and in one piece. For families who have children with special needs, going to church is fraught with additional challenges:

  • Will we be welcome and included?
  • What, if any, support for my child’s needs will be available?
  • Will I have to stay with my child during the service, or will qualified and trained individuals be able to care for my son or daughter so I can attend service alone?
  • Will my child be invited to participate in religious activities, and in the way that meets his or her needs?
  • Will other members of the congregation welcome and accept us, or look at us as “special” and “other”?

At Irving Bible Church in North Texas, those fears are quickly put to rest.

“The needs are so diverse, and the kids are unpredictable,” said Lori Baldridge, a church member who has a 16-year-old daughter with Down’s syndrome and a 10-year-old son who is typically developing. “What I’ve seen is that these kids come away feeling loved and they know they’re accepted. We know she’s in a place where she’s safe.”

And not only safe, but loved and accepted.

“This is not a pity ministry,” said Shannon Pugh, director of the special needs ministry at IBC. “We need to make sure those parents can go to church. And it’s also about empowering and including people with special needs of any kinds to use their gifts and teach others about God.”

An ever-evolving ministry

Getting to that point has taken years of hard work and intentionality, Pugh said.

When Pugh joined IBC as a congregant, the church had a respite program that offered free care for individuals with special needs so that their caretakers could have a few hours to themselves. Then, families who had children with special needs formed sort of a buddy system, she said. Volunteers looked after kids with more intensive needs in a separate room.

“There was not a really cohesive ministry,” Pugh said. “It was fragmented. The church saw a need and that the ministry was starting to grow. Kids were getting older, and it was no longer a children’s ministry but a children’s and teen ministry. In 2012, the church thought it would be better for one person to provide vision and direction.”

Pugh, who had training as a special education teacher and who had volunteered with the program for several years, took the job.

Although the role was part time, “it was a big step for IBC because a lot of churches that have a special needs ministry don’t have a specific person on staff,” she noted.

Since that time, the ministry has grown — so much so that it has its own name, Arise, and its own website.

Today, Irving Bible Church includes about 25 families who wouldn’t be able to attend worship services in a regular church setting. Lucy Holden, who asked that her real name not be used to maintain her family’s privacy, is one of them. Her son, Jacob, (also not his real name) has autism.

“We adopted our son, and going into it, we knew he had special needs,” Holden said. “Our old church was super supportive throughout our adoption, but once we started going to church, it became apparent that he wasn’t able handle our church environment. The people at our old church expected him to adjust to the classroom where he was, and he just couldn’t.”

After that, Holden and her husband started alternating who would go to church each week and who would stay home with their son. Soon, though, they began to pray about finding a church that already knew how to deal with Jacob’s issues. That led them to Pugh and IBC.

‘Such a normal question’

“When I dropped him off at IBC, Shannon had someone lined up to be his buddy, and she asked, ‘What does Jacob enjoy doing?’” Holden said. “And it was such a normal question that it was such a relief to me to know why we were there.”

One major program at IBC is a respite ministry, which offers monthly activities and child care for kids with special needs and their siblings — allowing the parents to take some time for themselves to rest, recharge or take care of personal business.

“It’s easy to become isolated if you have kids with special needs.”

The respite program has been particularly helpful for Baldridge and her husband.

Read more at … https://baptistnews.com/article/at-this-church-special-needs-are-nothing-out-of-the-ordinary/#.X0_DLi2z0q9

FACILITIES & Megachurch Expands Reach by Downsizing Main Facility

Commentary by Dr. Whitesel:  I’ve written a chapter in one of my books about how “over building” usually stunts church growth (you can read that chapter, the “The 7 Don’ts & 7 Do’s of Building” here).  Below is a recent story about how over building has thwarted one church’s missional flexibility.

(Download the chapter from my book by clicking on this link > BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – GROWTH BY ACCIDENT Missteps with New Facilities 2. If you like the insights please support publisher and author by buying a copy here. Excerpted from Growth by Accident – Death by Planning: How Not to Kill a Growing Church, Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 76-80.)

“Southern Baptist megachurch to downsize its campus by 90 percent.”

by Bob Allen, Baptist News Service, 9/10/19.

First Baptist Church in Jacksonville, Florida, once one of America’s most influential megachurches, determined Sept. 8 to downsize its downtown property footprint by 90 percent in a cost-cutting move the senior pastor described as necessary for the church’s long-term survival.

Under the leadership of pastors and co-pastors Homer Lindsay Sr., Homer Lindsay Jr. and Jerry Vines, First Baptist Church earned the nickname Miracle of Downtown Jacksonville after buying up real estate left behind when department stores and smaller retailers started relocating into suburban malls in the 1970s.

Today the church covers 10 city blocks with buildings including a sanctuary built to seat nearly 10,000 people that was dedicated in 1993.

image.pngHeath Lambert, named last year as sole senior pastor of First Baptist, said once a blessing, the congregation’s central location has become a curse as the city continues to expand farther away from its urban core.

“If you want to get people to come to First Baptist Church on Sunday morning, you have to get them to do two things they never do,” Lambert said during his Sunday morning sermon. “You have to get them to come to church, and you have to get them to come downtown.”

Lambert said that after 20 years of declining membership, the downtown church needs about one-tenth of its current space. Plans approved by the congregation on Sunday call for consolidating all operations into one city block.

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Wikipedia

“What we can’t do on one block, we won’t do,” the pastor said.

The plan includes borrowing $30 million to renovate Hobson Auditorium, the original 1,500-seat worship space built after a fire destroyed much of downtown Jacksonville in 1901, and to replace other buildings now used for offices with state-of-the-art construction.

Lambert said the church will eventually sell off downtown property and move toward a multi-site church model. The church currently has a south campus in Nocatee, which moved into its own building after meeting at Ponte Vedra High School for a decade in 2019.

“Instead of being the big church downtown that we ask everybody from all over to come to, we want to be a church for the whole city,” Lambert said. “Instead of asking our city to come to our church, we’re going to take our church to the city.”

Read more here … https://baptistnews.com/article/southern-baptist-megachurch-to-downsize-its-campus-by-90-percent/#.XXkddC3MywQ