Special needs children in church

If Elevation Church can't handle a special needs child in their distraction-free seeker sensitve service, then how the heck will they put up with my Pentecostal friends from Brazil???

Now that's some yellin' and whoopin'. I tell ya!

I dont mean to make light of the situation. Its an emotional issue on the blogs right now and I dont want to stoke the fire. But I do have two nephews with cerebal palsy, one more severe than the other, and they are part of a family who loves Jesus and goes to a church that, I guess, values their contribution to the service as worthwhile and NOT a distraction.

Unlike the 12 year old special needs child who was demoted to another room (not actually kicked out) at Elevation Church worship service. Which you might have seen on the news or Facebook.

Someone on Twitter is asking for the other side of the story. Ministry Matters offers a possible alternative account entitled "In Elevation's Defence" in which they suggest an element of church-bullying from the mum and the fact that churches rarely authorize ministries started by visitors or people who are not well known in the church. That might be true. And if you have more to the story then I would appreciate a link below.

But Skye is right to point to a wider issue in seeker-senstive churches – Can the values of entertainment and hospitality coexist? and even more so in the Out of Ur blog where he says:

"In our desire to be distraction free, must we remove individuals from our corporate worship whom God has called to himself? What are we communicating about the church, God's Kingdom, and the character of God himself, if people with special needs are not fully welcomed? And we don't have to focus on these extreme examples like the boy with cerebral palsy. In many of our congregations we don't even want non-special needs children in our worship gatherings."

I agree. Worship should include participation from everyone. Especially children whether they are special need or non-special need. If you are interested in turning the desire of the congregation to participate in worship, rather than merely watch undistractedly something on a stage, then I suggest two excellent books born out of the alternative worship movement. They are Curating Worship and the Art of Curating Worship.

Update: A commenter below suggested this picture



Others: Mustard Seed Year Day 166, Rachel Held Evans, Mercy Church, Pulling Weeds


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • rick says:

    “In Defense of Elevate” devolves into a blame-the-victim screed at the end. Hardly helpful in this conversation and hardly a defense of the church.
    Looks to me like the problem is better summarized here: http://3.bp.blogspot.com/-YWQpu5EoQjw/TfAuKXENfyI/AAAAAAAAEQo/15DZb2SU7KE/s1600/BT10.jpg As long as we view worship as a “production” and treat it with production and performance values, these incidents will continue to crop up.

  • Andrew says:

    yeah perhaps, but its the only “other side of the story” i can find, at least until elevation come out with a statement.
    hey – that picture is funny. i might add it to my post. thanks

  • Jason_73 says:

    I read the Ministry Matters post, and they tend to give the mom grief for contacting the media. My everyday job is advocating for profoundly disabled people and sometimes the media is the only tool we have that works. Our clients and their families are probably some of the most marginalized people in our society. We somewhat rely on the sentimentality of others because our voice is so quiet.
    Honestly, I was really mad after watching this video, but with a little reflection, I think (hope) Elevation will learn from this. They really just represent the ignorance that is pretty prevalent in our culture. I hope they grow from this.

  • Phil Wood says:

    I’ve been talking about ‘horror stories’ over at radref recently. I mean the ‘don’t talk to me about church because of xyz, etc’ kind of ‘horror stories’. This is a good example and there’s already varying accounts out there. I have a stack of examples like this. The one my dad told about a clergyman kicking a homeless man down the steps of Manchester Cathedral springs to mind.
    We may never know what happened at ‘Elevate’. I don’t mean to say that I don’t care what happened but once the myth machine and polarization crank up, getting to the truth isn’t easy.

  • Tonya Lee says:

    The absolutely best (hence most effective) prayer group I have ever been in was with a group of other mommies back when we all had toddlers. We prayed with kids crawling all over us and asking us questions, and were constantly interrupted with screams from the other room (someone inevitably didn’t want to share). Saying that, I think there is a time and place for children, and then there are times we need a little peace and quite. Corporate worship should welcome ALL “well-behaved” children (special needs or not), but corporate worship also needs to recognize that all “well-behaved” children will occasionally have meltdowns. Some adults still act this way, as well.

  • Jason says:

    I have a son with autism and we’ve experienced at multiple churches the same kind of scenario that happened at Elevation. What angered me more than the initial incident was Elevation’s response to the woman when she complained about their treatment. I didn’t see Jesus in their response. I still don’t see it.

  • Christian X says:

    I remember spending some time in this small country church that had a man with Cerebral Palsy. He was a church Elder and would sometimes close the service with prayer. Point: Everyone has something they can contribute to gatherings.

  • You say that you don’t mean to make light of the situation…but I’m glad that you did. You gave me a chuckle, and not a malicious one, at that. Your nephews are very lucky to be part of a church that fully accepts them and doesn’t seem them as a “distraction”. I’m proud to be part of a like-minded church. I have several special needs children in my children’s ministry classes, and I have to say that the lessons just wouldn’t be the same without them—I value every second I have them (and the rest of my students) in class!

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