Starting in Your Community of Faith

Take the first steps on your journey to intentionally welcome worshippers of all abilities.

Is belonging important to your faith community?

Belonging can transform a community of faith when religious leaders and members:

Do you create a sense of belonging for individuals of all abilities?

Individuals of all abilities know they belong when the faith community demonstrates positive attitudes in the following ways:

  • Emphasize talents, strengths and gifts rather than labeling people by their differences
  • “Walk the talk” by investing in accommodations such as accessible parking, entrances and washrooms, improved sound and lighting and large print materials
  • Give adults and children of all abilities opportunities to serve others
  • Don’t let invisible differences, such as learning differences, mental differences, cancer or heart disease, prevent people from being active members
  • Welcome children of all abilities in day school and religious education classes and provide appropriate support
  • Ask religious and lay leaders affected by a health concern what is needed so that they can continue to serve, if they desire
  • Create a “care committee” to connect with families with special needs and to offer assistance, respite, and social support
  • Train religious leaders, clergy, staff, members and students in Disability Etiquette and “People First Language” so they can extend open arms to convey the warmth of God’s love
  • Publicize your commitment to creating belonging for individuals of all abilities by displaying access symbols in newspaper advertisements, event announcements, and signage
  • Include the words “All are welcome. Please call (insert phone number) so that we can provide accommodations for your participation.” in all event announcements

Have you removed physical and attitudinal barriers?

Use the principles of “universal design” to make your buildings more accessible for everyone, regardless of need or age. As you put together your long-term accessibility plan, consider making the following accommodations:

Entrances

  • Install long-handled door hardware. It is easier for everyone to use, not only those with impaired hand function.
  • Make doorways at least 36 inches wide
  • Install a button to open at least one heavy entrance door
  • Ensure that accessible entrances are truly accessible, without any step up and with accessible thresholds that are perfectly flat

Seating

  • Place pews 32 inches apart to allow space for people who use walkers, crutches and canes
  • Provide padded seating or have chair pads available. Provide chairs with arms and a higher seat for those who have difficulty rising.
  • Open the ends of several existing pews so that people using wheelchairs may be seated with their families and friends rather than in specially designated segregated sections

Facilities

  • Do a walk-through of your campus using the Facilities Survey and make plans to address any inaccessible areas
  • Consider converting two side-by-side bathrooms into one accessible, unisex bathroom so caregivers can assist

Parking and Sidewalks

  • Install curb cuts at sidewalks and ramps at entrances to make it possible to get from a parked car to church services or school classrooms without going up or down a step
  • Place accessible parking spaces for cars and vans close to accessible entrances

Participation

  • Make the sanctuary and choir areas accessible
  • Make the ambo or podium accessible with adjustable height and a barrier free space for wheelchair footplates underneath.
  • Adjust the microphone for a person’s height or provide a lapel microphone
  • Hold day school, Sunday school classes, fellowship activities, and meetings in accessible areas

Planning

  • Consult with persons who use wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, or canes in every phase of planning new construction, building modifications, or additions to buildings
  • Start a TEAM Belong Ministry and work with the team to raise money for architectural modifications through bake sales, car washes, and memorial contributions
  • Conduct a Facilities Survey, a Survey of Congregants’ Needs and use Reflecting on Belonging to determine your accessibility and how well you are making worshippers of all abilities feel they belong to your faith community
  • Use the Accessibility Plan Worksheet to prioritize projects that will make your house of faith accessible and welcoming to worshippers of all abilities

Do you make services accessible to all?

Accommodating a wider range of learning styles and capabilities can make your services more accessible to all.

  • Present services in many different formats using words, pictures, other languages, dramatizations, and music
  • Stream worship services and sermons or provide sermons on audiotape or make them available in large print
  • Amplify sound system and provide assistive listening devices or install a hearing loop for those with hearing difficulties
  • Make sure lighting is bright enough and place fixtures for maximum visibility
  • Make it easy for people with differences and their families to suggest accommodations so they are not made to feel like “complainers”
  • Engage a Sign Language Interpreter for worship service on a regular basis.
  • Use the words “Stand or sit as you are able” and “Kneel or sit as you are able” in worship aides or at worship services
  • Consistently publicize that people of all abilities are welcome to participate in worship, ministry, fellowship, day school, and religious education and that accommodations will be provided
  • Offer transportation to people in need, provide it on a consistent basis, and publicize transportation availability in bulletins and event announcements

two happy girls together

Belonging for Individuals of All Abilities

Steps to Create Belonging for Individuals of All Abilities

Start a TEAM Belong Ministry

With the approval of the religious leaders, pastor, or principal, enlist a group of committed people and create an ongoing TEAM Belong ministry approved by the governing council of the faith community. Download the TEAM Belong Ministry Handbook and The Ministry of Jesus as a Model for TEAM Belong get started.

Who Should Be On a TEAM Belong Ministry?

  • A person with a disability
  • A family member of a person with a disability
  • A decision-maker from your worshipping community and school
  • People with skills in grant writing and fundraising
  • Someone knowledgeable about architecture or contracting

What Can a TEAM Belong Ministry Do?

Remember that making change at one point in time does not necessarily answer the need forever. Devices may break, new ideas and requests may come up and new members may join your faith community.

Plan a TEAM Belong Month

TEAM Belong Month is a good way to involve everyone in efforts to create belonging for individuals of all abilities. Use our materials to plan special liturgies and educational activities.

  • Mark your congregation and school’s calendars for TEAM Belong Month at a convenient time for your congregation and school.
  • Start a TEAM Belong Ministry and introduce members during TEAM Belong Month.
  • Run a series of educational articles in your newspapers, parish bulletins, or school newsletters about disability etiquette.
  • Plan a special worship service during TEAM Belong Month. Use the TEAM Belong Month Workbooks below for ideas, prayers, and homily hints.
  • Survey your congregation to find out the needs of your members.
  • Invite members of all abilities to participate in a worship service as a greeter, minister of communion, or reader during TEAM Belong Month. Provide any accommodations needed and make sure their participation continues throughout the year.
  • Invite members of all abilities to speak at a worship service about what belonging to your congregation means to them.
  • Educate your leadership and congregation about the stages of belonging.
  • Draw up an action plan to create a caring, accessible and welcoming faith community where individuals of all abilities know they belong and announce your plans during TEAM Belong Month.

TEAM Belong Month Resources