by Kristen Howerton
I have a young son with Down’s Syndrome, almost three years old, and it makes it so hard to go to church, as you can imagine. The church that we attend is the only one that we really enjoy in town, the only one that we align with theologically, but they don’t really make us feel welcome when we bring our child to worship services.
James (our son) doesn’t do well in the all-kids ministry, and the volunteers never know what to do with him, so we bring him into the worship service with us. We are always told when we enter the door that “Children’s ministry is around the corner, you can check him in there!” We politely tell the ushers that we’ll be bringing him with us, and we’re always given a somewhat stern look with mention of the lobby being open for disruptive children during the service. I don’t know what to do. I want to be a part of a church that we enjoy and agree with, but it’s hard to go to church when your child doesn’t feel welcomed.
Do you have any advice on speaking to the leadership of the church about this issue? What is the best way to bring up our concerns?
I am so sorry to hear that the church that you most enjoy is failing to provide a good children’s ministry experience for your son. Churches can vary greatly in terms of their culture and group norms towards kids, and it sounds like the one you attend is letting you know that they would prefer children to be out of the sanctuary during the service. If this is where you want to attend, you probably need to do some problem-solving with the church to figure out how to make children’s ministry a welcoming place for your son.
I would recommend meeting with the children’s ministry staff to address your concerns. You said that he doesn’t do well and that the volunteers don’t know what to do with him. I’m not sure how old your son is, but I would go in with a list of very specific suggestions. Does he need a shadow or a mentor? A volunteer dedicated to helping him out? Is he over-stimulated or overwhelmed? Would he do better in a different class? You know your son best – think of what they could do to facilitate a good experience for him. I have found that most churches are receptive to helping kids with special needs integrate into their programs, but they may need some guidance from you as to how to implement a good plan.
I’m concerned about your current plan because it’s making you feel like your child isn’t welcomed, when it’s likely that you are breaking some unspoken rules. If your child is the only child in the service, and you’ve been told that the lobby is the alternative, then you may also be sending a message . . . that you don’t respect this particular church’s values of keeping the sanctuary distraction-free.
If you really feel like your son needs to be with you in the service, you might want to find a congregation where this is the norm, instead of trying to push against this church’s culture.
But first, I would try really hard to figure out if the children’s ministry staff can offer you a solution that is a win for everyone involved.
Your turn: Do you have any advice for Kristine?