Every Child WelcomeWhen we talk about ministering to and helping children, whether in the church or in the culture, we often use the phrase “the least among us”, in part, to emphasize the responsibility we have to them. They often do not know or cannot be a voice for their own needs so adults are given the responsibility to do so for them. While ministering to them can be a challenge at times, it can also be one of the greatest sources of joy and blessing. There is nothing quite like explaining the gospel of Jesus to a child and seeing the lights turn on in their eyes as you teach them the Bible.

Added to the natural challenges of teaching children are the challenges brought on by children who have special needs. Whether it is autism, learning disorders, physical handicaps, or children who suffer from one form of abuse or another, ministering to children with special needs is a challenge that very few are equipped to handle in a church setting once or twice a week, let alone feel comfortable handling.

As a father of two special needs children (two girls who were born without eyes) and as a children’s teacher in my local church, I am daily living with the challenges of working with children with special needs. While there are a lot of resources out there to help parents with special needs children, there are not many resources to equip children’s workers in the local church to more effectively and confidently minister to special needs children for the few hours a week they might have with them.

Since resources are sparse I welcome new works aimed at equipping children’s ministry workers to work with special needs children. One such new resource is Every Child Welcome: A Ministry Handbook for Including Kids with Special Needs (Kregel, 2015). The authors, Katie Wetherbee and Jolene Philo, are definitely equipped and qualified to write this book. Both of them have children with special needs, have degrees in education, and have spent most of their professional careers teaching special needs children in public schools.

The premise of Every Child Welcome is that every child, despite having special needs, needs to be ministered to with the gospel in the local church. This is grounded in Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:14, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” Since Jesus’ statement included ALL children so should the aim of our churches children’s ministry. The kingdom is for every child and “no child is disqualified because of preexisting physical conditions, mental illness, or behavioral issues.” (9)

As the subtitle of the book indicates, this is a handbook. As a handbook, the book is structured more like a manual on how to address needs and apply the numerous strategies the authors lay out in the book. This style of book fits well with the goal of equipping children’s ministry leaders to clearly see, understand, and effectively implement the various suggestions and strategies the authors present.

While the content is presented in a handbook style, it is woven together through the picture of how a person would host dinner guests. Each chapter addresses another stage in the meal process for guests. From the main dish to desert. For ministering to children with special needs this ranges from creating a space that is welcoming and sensitive, to creative ideas for enhancing their learning through fun activities meant to supplement the lesson.

While there are many ideas that would work for non-special needs children, the authors definitely give workers a ton of helpful advice and tools that will equip them to more effectively, and less stress-fully, minister to children with special needs. Some readers will feel overwhelmed with all of the advice offered. There is no need to feel like everything in the book needs to be implemented overnight. What you are reading is the result of years of working with children and not overnight quick fixes. It will take time to implement the strategies suggested. There will be trial and error as their was for the authors. But the children are worth it.

Every Child Welcome needs to be read by every children’s pastor and children’s ministry worker. The authors have thought of everything and have presented the material in an easy to read and helpful format for easy referencing. This book will help to ease the natural frustrations that children’s ministry workers may feel when ministering to children with special needs. Though the desire to minister is there, the tools and ability are not always. This book will give you the tools, thus enabling you to minister with more understanding and confidence to those children with special needs that God has brought to your church.

I received this book for free from Kregel for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”