If you were going to visit the Louvre in Paris for the first time, what might you want to know? 

You already know it houses the famous Mona Lisa painting, but you need information such as how to get there, what to expect or how to buy tickets. It’s not as though you can just turn up at the front entrance and know everything to expect before you get inside!

It’s similar to a church. Most people know that when they go to church, they’ll hear from the Bible (like knowing that the Mona Lisa is in the Louvre!). But what do they need to know, prepare for and expect? 


Visitors might be wondering...

When we open the doors for people in our community, we need to show them what church is, and how they can be part of it – including how they’re going to access the space and the teaching.

For a person with a disability, or the family of a person with a disability, it is similar to anyone visiting for the first time, but with an added layer of questions.

Parents of a child with a disability might wonder if he or she will be welcomed by their peers and if things will go smoothly. There may be uncertainty about whether the family will be welcomed back or whether leaders will understand their child’s communication and behaviours.

We need to show them what church is, and how they can be part of it – including how they’re going to access the space and the teaching.

Parents wonder if they might hear comments such as “They were hard to manage” or “We’re not sure this is the place for your child”. They will wonder if they’ll get to have fellowship after the service, or whether they will be called upon to assist their child and forego meeting and talking with others. 

Adults with disability may simply wonder if people will talk to or spend time with them at all.


Clear information can reduce worry

It’s great that church websites are starting to add more information for those planning to visit for the first time. However, there is often little to no detail about what the church space looks like, the access options (e.g. ramps for mobility aids, hearing loops or transcripts) or what happens during the service. 

Often the first thing you see on a website is the service times, followed by the latest sermon series. These are good things, but what’s the next step?

Here are some suggestions for useful website information: 

  1. An Accessibility tab — Even if you already have an “I’m New” tab, it saves scrolling through lots of information to find what you need to know. 
  2. Service structure — It can be helpful to include a detailed structure of the service – with as much detail as “from 9.45 people start arriving to check into church and socialise before service starts at 10”. Describe what the kids’ and youth programs look like.
  3.  Include photos —These are helpful to describe such things as the location of the accessible entrance, how to get to the toilets, the fenced-in area for kids, where the hearing loop section is and so on. 
  4. Video — A walk-through video that gives a tour of the church can be helpful, particularly for people to see the bigger picture and catch details photos might miss, such as door width or a lip in an entranceway that would make it hard for someone in a wheelchair
  5. Closed captions — Use captions If your church posts speaking videos online, be sure to add captions to them. If posting images, put an image description to help people with vision impairment understand what’s being posted. 

Any information that saves a person with a disability needing to ask for the support they need will be greatly appreciated. 

We want to prepare people for what to expect. If someone is nervous about sensory overload, for example, knowing how long the music runs in a service can be helpful. 

If a child knows there will be a game followed by the Bible, they can start readying themselves for the next transition rather than being surprised and having only a few minutes to shift to a different activity. 

In addition, it’s always good to invite feedback, such as: “We would love to see you here, and if there’s anything that we can be doing to help you access church, please do let us know”. 


Prayer points

  • Give thanks for the gift of church and community, that the Lord gathers people together from all nations under him. Pray that people, no matter who they are, will know the love of God and be able to join their local church community
  • Pray that our churches will be places where all feel welcomed, and that church members will be prepared to connect with others
  • Pray that God will help our churches have greater accessibility to people in the community, and be a beacon of light and hope through the saving work of Jesus

Bec Baines is the Youthworks Accessibility Ministry Advisor