Andy is the kind of guy everyone likes to be around. When he walks into a room at the Longview Heights Baptist Church in Olive Branch, Mississippi, everyone knows he’s there. Andy loves people, and people love Andy.
An illness when Andy was young left him with brain damage, which meant a typical adult Sunday school class wouldn’t meet his needs.
This is one of the reasons Longview Heights has developed Sunday School classes for people with disabilities. While Andy is in his class, his parents can attend their own Sunday school class.
“They had never been introduced to the gospel,” said Lisa Wilson, the church’s special needs ministry director. “[Having a class for adults with disabilities] introduced [the family] to the gospel.
Lifeway’s Access Program, specifically designed for adults with unique learning needs, helps the church facilitate these Bible study classes.
Wilson says having a program like Access is critical to the church’s ability to meet the unique needs of adults like Andy and their families.
Wilson notes that adults with disabilities generally enjoy hands-on activities that might not work in other adult classrooms.
“They also need friendships with others,” Wilson said. “It’s part of our ministry and part of our Sunday School experience. It’s their peer group. … It provides them with a place to be themselves.
Alice Stegemann, who edits the access program for Lifeway Christian Resources, developed a lifelong passion for serving people with disabilities through her relationship with her brother.
help his brother
Born in 1959, Stegemann’s brother is blind, autistic and developmentally delayed. Stegemann took on the challenge of helping his little brother learn to do many of the activities kids without disabilities could do — from riding a tricycle to learning musical notes.
By the time she was in high school, Stegemann knew she wanted to be a special education teacher. Today, she holds both a seminary degree and a graduate degree in special education. She believes it is important for churches to consider the spiritual needs of adults with disabilities when planning their Sunday School program.
While these adults often have little difficulty understanding their need for a Savior, understanding the Bible can be a challenge.
“You are neglecting their spiritual growth if you don’t provide for them in a way that they can understand the biblical message,” Stegemann said.
To meet this need, the Access curriculum includes hands-on activities that match Bible lessons, so students can learn in a tactile way.
Written simply, the content strives to meet the learning needs and life experiences of students.
“When you’re looking at the curriculum, you want to look at something that’s age appropriate. … But you also want something that’s appropriate for the kind of life circumstances an adult with special needs would have, so the adult can relate to it and see more clearly how it applies to their life.
Stegemann says churches of any size can benefit from the program.
“From a teacher’s perspective, it’s easy to use,” Stegemann said. “When the curriculum requires materials to be used, we try to use things that are readily available, so as not to create additional expense. And when it comes to preparation, it depends on how much you want to go.
“You can spend a lot of time preparing, but if you’re time-limited, you can step back and take a simpler approach.”