Building Inclusive Culture in a Small Church

Building Inclusive Culture in a Small Church

There is a very popular warehouse store close to my house where you can buy nearly anything in bulk. Need 300 packs of cheese crackers? Aisle 4. Four dozen dishrags? Aisle 12. Sheet cakes the size of Nebraska? At the bakery in the back. While many in my community thoroughly enjoy the thrill of purchasing 60 pounds of fruit snacks in one fell swoop, I find this type of shopping completely overwhelming. Everything is just so big. Is bigger always better? When it comes to snacks and churches, not necessarily. While it may be tempting to assume small churches cannot create or sustain meaningful and impactful disability ministries, it is helpful to remember that “bigger” does not always translate to “better”. Each church bears the unique fingerprints of its particular history, community context, leadership, goals, and mission. Is your church small? Do you feel small? Be inspired by the Biblical examples, and virtues expressed therein, in building and sustaining your church’s disability ministry. 

Be Innovative

One of the very best aspects of disability ministry, and ministry in general, is there is no single right way to do anything. There exists great latitude for innovation and creativity, small churches included. Take the example of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Zacchaeus was small in stature but did not let that preclude him from having a life-changing encounter with Jesus. He thought to climb a sycamore tree in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus above the vast crowd. Jesus took notice and called the short and relatively insignificant Zaccheaus out of the crowd. While everyone else around him elected to keep their feet on the ground, Zacchaeus embraced his small stature and leaned on his creativity and innovation. In what ways could your small church begin to innovate and create pathways for inclusion and belonging, just as you are? Begin identifying the specific strengths, needs, and available resources of your church and congregation and dive headlong into ingenuity. 

Be Bold

In Mark chapter 2, a paralytic is healed, after being brought to Jesus by four of his friends. But that’s not the full story. Jesus was amidst a crowd and physically inaccessible to the paralyzed man. His friends, using creativity, ingenuity, and copious amounts of boldness, cut a hole in the ceiling to lower the man until he is eye to eye with the Messiah. While small in number and few in readily available resources, these four faithful, emboldened friends, take a divinely inspired risk for the benefit of their friend. They saw a need and met it. What divinely inspired risks can your small church take to better support, serve and love those in your congregations and communities with disabilities? Assemble a few members of your congregation–those with disabilities, those caring for individuals with disabilities, and those passionate about disability ministry–to brainstorm and identify ways God may be calling your church to take decisive steps toward establishing or sustaining disability ministry and building a culture of inclusion.

Be Resourceful

The early church found themselves in the midst of a chaotic and overwhelming time in history. In order to advance the mission of the Gospel and preach the resurrected Jesus, they had to band together. The end of Acts chapter 4 details a beautiful scenario where the believers “were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had: (Acts 4:32). As a result, “with great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them” (Acts 4:33-34a). If you are a smaller church desiring to serve the disability community but are in desperate need of resources and encouragement, consider banding together with other churches or disability-minded organizations. Pool resources and share generously. Take stock of the current strengths and resources of your church. What do you have more than enough of? What do you need more of? Where might God be calling you to join with another in the sharing of resources toward the fulfillment of a common mission? Do not shy away from making connections beyond your church walls! The sharing of resources may empower an entire community toward greater love and service to and with marginalized populations.

Time and time again, Jesus uses small people, groups, and things to make a profound Gospel-inspired impact in the lives of individuals and communities. Believe He can also use your church, no matter the size. 

 

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