IEP’s at Church: Yes? No? Maybe So?

I’m a planner.

Anyone who knows me well can attest to this. (In fourth grade, I apparently made a full plan for my birthday party, calculating the time each activity would take and taking into account that guests might arrive at slightly different times…I also made sure that there would be enough time to ensure everyone’s comfort.)

Good teaching takes good planning…I talk about this often during lectures at schools and churches. The Federal Governement thinks planning is a good idea, too. In fact, every student who is identified with a disability that affects learning has a plan called an IEP (Individualied Education Plan). This plan lists the child’s strengths, needs, and current levels of performance. In addition, the plan, formulated by teachers and school staff, includes goals and objectives that create the basis for the child’s school year. Finally, the plan includes all of the supports, accommodations and related services the child needs in order to make appropriate progress toward the identified goals. Every member of the child’s team–including the child, when appropriate–works on this plan, signs it, and helps to monitor the progress.

So, If a student needs an IEP at school, then we should definitely have one at church, right?

A planner like me inwardly, gleefully shouts YES! YES! A PLAN!! Let’s make a PLAN!

We do need a plan…but the way we form a special needs plan–and the kind of plan we form–  really depends on many factors…

It depends on the parents…Some parents are very excited to share their child’s needs with a church staff, and want to collaborate with the team about goals for church. Others just want Sunday to feel “normal” and would like their child, as much as possible, to just blend in with everyone else.

It depends on the church staff and volunteers. Some churches might decide that part of their mission and ministry is to offer as much support as possible to families. We won’t assume that these are “big” churches or churches with large budgets…nor will we assume that churches that provide in-depth, individualized planning or therapeutic supports are “better” than those that don’t. Those assumptions are not grounded in truth. Every church should approach this issue by taking into account a number of factors, such as  the church’s culture, staffing, facilities, vision of the senior staff, and availability of volunteers.

It depends on the child/student. Some students are eager to accept help as they work toward goals…others are just really ready for a day of rest and fun (and that is the purpose of the Sabbath, isn’t it?) And…I haven’t met any teens with disabilities who have told me that they really want to have extra focus on their needs during youth group time…that is a normal and expected part of teen development, and we need to respect it.

It depends on the plan itself. We need to remember that the purpose of a plan at church will most likely be very different from a plan at school, because the purpose of church is different that school or work. I believe that what kids are learning at church is way more important than anything that will be taught at school, so I do recommend that churches and families work together to create a plan for EVERY child’s spiritual growth (not just kids with special needs!) In our ministry, we have created this form to facilitate the process:
GROW Plan for Spiritual Development
This also allows parents, churches and students to develop shared expectations; when we communicate about what our hopes and plans are, we are more likely to develop strong relationships that facilitate growth.

Mostly, it depends on God
. Before we plan anything, we really need to ask God what He thinks about our ministry and where He would like to see it go:  “The counsel of the LORD stands forever, The plans of His heart from generation to generation.” Psalm 33:11 NASB

Will He give you the guidance you’re looking for?
You can plan on it.


Peace in the neighborhood: Invitations

Most folks love a birthday party…and throwing a party is a great way to spread a little Christmas around the neighborhood.

The year after we moved to Cleveland, we wanted to do something special for Advent. We were still relatively new in the neighborhood, we were anxious to build relationships. So, when we turned the calendar to December, we decided that one way to reach out would be having a Birthday Party for Jesus at our home. We sat down and mapped out some plans:

1. Invitations
2. Activities
3. Story time
4. Service
5. Treats

Over the next few days, I’ll describe what we did…and then I hope you’ll brainstorm and share YOUR ideas here as well!

First: Invitations.  I wanted them to be simple enough that kids could read them…and special enough that they would be fun to receive. I also wanted them to be easy to make; I wanted Annie and Bill to be able to help with the process. Here is what we designed:

We hand delivered these to all of the kids in the neighborhood so that each child received one (if a family had more than one child, each child in the family received his/her own invitation.)

The inside of the invitation, as with any party, detailed the time, date and location. We also gave information about a special service project we had planned. (more on that in the next couple of days!)

You’ll notice that the invitation wasn’t expensive to make, nor was it very labor-intensive…and that is an important component of a family outreach: Keep it simple. I have learned this the hard way over the years…when I tried to complicate things by adding fancy details, my plans usually frustrated my kids and left me depleted. If store-bought invitations or computer-generated ones work for you, then that is the right solution. As my wonderful friend Barb Dittrich says, “Good enough is good enough!” She is right!

Coming up next: Games and crafts for the party

Everyone’s invited!

PS Congrats to Jeff C…you are the winner of Different Dream Parenting by Jolene Philo! Please email your address to me at and I will get it in the mail to you!