Young adults with disabilities often have difficulty navigating adult ministries upon graduation from high school or college. We encourage you to take some time to think about what supports need to be in place to help your young adults thrive as they enter into women’s and men’s ministries in church.
Be intentional and strategic with relationships. Planning for young adults with disabilities to thrive in church and in their walks with Christ begins with relationships. Look at the kids in your youth group and consider who is approaching graduation and start interacting with them, their buddies, and their youth ministry workers. Think about the families you know who have children with disabilities who are in their 20s.
Relationships can begin with routine conversations at church, over a fellowship meal, on Sunday mornings before worship starts, and even in the parking lot. Don’t shy away from a family touched by disability simply because you’re unsure of what to say. Simply begin by saying “hello” and making small talk.
Embrace any feelings you may have of not knowing what to say by continuing to work at conversations every time you see the family. You can build relationships with the young adults who have disabilities in your church by doing simple things to spend time with them. They often love the same things you do; perhaps a trip to get ice cream, sharing a good laugh, a freely offered hug, and a kind and encouraging word spoken.
Hospitality can start at church. Young adults want to be independent, including those who have disabilities. Consider your college-age kids who routinely sit with their families for fellowship meals at church. Their friends from high school may have moved on, and they would likely enjoy new friendships. Asking a young adult to sit with you for a meal at church is a very easy way to extend hospitality and begin to get to know them better.
Consider ways that young adults can serve. In church ministries, we’re always trying to think of who can help, i.e. which members have free time and aren’t already serving in several areas. Young adults with disabilities often have an abundance of time on their hands since school schedules have ended and work schedules typically aren’t full.
Think of service, ministry, and outreach opportunities you could invite your young adults to be part of. Learn what their gifts are and help them find ways to use those gifts in the church. Often, people with disabilities shy away from volunteering, but if you help make needed accommodations and find friends who can assist with things like transportation, you are likely to get a very enthusiastic “yes.”
Young adults need buddies, too. The buddy system is a term that is often used in children’s and youth ministries for providing people to come alongside and help children and teens with disabilities navigate Sunday school and church.
Graduation from high school doesn’t necessarily mean that our youth with disabilities no longer need buddies. Many young adults would greatly benefit from adult friends to serve as buddies in Sunday School classes, taking them to fellowship events, etc.
Shift the conversation to the young adult. Children’s and youth ministries typically involve parents heavily in decision-making regarding their kids. As they enter young adulthood, it is appropriate to shift the conversation to the people who have a disability.
Ask them what they want to do, what Sunday School classes they want to attend, if they would be interested in a Bible study, or if they would like to go to a fellowship social.
Consider reverse inclusion Bible studies. We need to remain intentional in our efforts to accommodate discipleship needs with our young adults. Bible study is one area in the church that adults plug into for growth in Christ and relationships with others.
However, Bible studies may have barriers that impede both growth and relationships if accommodations aren’t carefully thought out. One alternative to consider is a reverse inclusion Bible study setting where the lessons are adapted and other adults in the church are part of the study, providing fellowship and helping with life-on-life application of Scripture.
College and RUF Ministries can help. Many college ministries and RUF (Reformed University Fellowship) ministries are very willing to enfold young adults with disabilities, but they may need help getting to know your students and understanding what supports are needed. Reach out to your local RUF campus minister or call us.
Engaging Disability has relationships with many RUF ministers. We can help the RUF staff think through steps to take. We can help you think through discipleship and fellowship for young adults with disabilities in the college context.