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Every day, 1,534 deaf people around the world die without knowing Christ according to the International Mission Board. Not only are our churches failing to minister to the deaf community, be we are failing to train and equip teachers who could do just that. Implementing a church special needs ministry, specifically, a church deaf ministry can seem like an overwhelming task. In reality, all it takes is awareness, training, and a heart to reach this often overlooked people group.
As part of our series on training and equipping churches for special needs ministry, we are going to break down best practices on reaching the deaf community around you.
Deaf Ministry Resources
One of the biggest hindrances to a church trying to reach the deaf community is a lack of resources. Often fear and general ignorance about reaching the deaf can stop a church deaf ministry from ever starting. The good news is that resources exist! So, before even jumping into equipping teachers for deaf ministry, we wanted to compile a list of resources* that can benefit your church.
The following resources focus on existing deaf ministries, information on reaching the deaf, and/or tools to learn sign language.
- Deaf Bible Society
- Deaf Missions
- Silent Blessings
- Asia Pacific Sign Language Development Association
- IMB Deaf Peoples
- Life Print
- ASL Pro
- National Association of the Deaf
*The majority of these resources were found through Door International.
Tips For Ministering to the Deaf Community
Once your church has put the plan in place to actually establish a church deaf ministry, the next step is coming up with deaf ministry activities to reach and teach the deaf.
Offer Sign Language-Based Scripture
It’s a common misconception that deaf people would prefer to just read the Bible. While many of them can read, this is not the most effective way to reach them. Their means of communication is visual. Meaning, they are used to communicating through sign language, not through the writing down and reading of words. When creating a church deaf ministry, work to provide sign-language based scripture either through video or a teacher in your church who is able to sign.
Equip Deaf People to Reach Deaf People
The best people to reach deaf people are other deaf people. Not because people of hearing don’t have the right heart or understanding, but because deaf people can communicate the most effectively in their heart language. Work to teach, equip, and support deaf people in your church who could spearhead your deaf ministry.
Provide Interpreters in Worship Services and/or Specific Deaf Worship Services
As part of your church deaf ministry, one of the first steps should be to provide an interpreter in your worship services and advertise that you do so. If you aren’t letting people know that this is a resource available at your church, they won’t know to look for it.
While interpreters are a great option, an even better option is to create a specific deaf worship service. This is by no means for exclusion, but instead to foster worship that is designed just for the deaf community. Oftentimes a deaf person may have a hard time following the sermon if it references sounds or jokes they are unfamiliar with. It also may be difficult to follow the singing as sometimes the sign language doesn’t translate perfectly. Finally, a deaf service would allow those who are deaf to lead and minister too.
Minister Through Stories
The last tip for creating a church deaf ministry is to minister through stories. Deaf people are extremely visual, and the more ways you can visually tell stories, the more engaged they will be. Consider using henna to tell a visual story, or even filming sign language videos of Bible stories.
How to Be Sensitive in Deaf Ministry
This may go without saying, but in any church special needs ministry, there is a need for sensitivity. One of the fastest ways to ruin your witness or hinder your ministry is to proceed without being sensitive to the needs and feelings of those around you.
According to the World Health Organization, 466 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss. Because of this number, the deaf community really is that, a community. In the word’s of Door International, “deaf individuals do not view themselves as broken hearing people, but instead as a people with a rich language, culture, and set of experiences unique to them.” When working with the deaf, knowing, identifying, and working to understand this culture is extremely important.
Lastly, one very practical sense to be aware of is the term “hearing-impaired”. This may seem like a harmless and nice term to you, but to many in the deaf community, it can actually be offensive. Deaf people don’t want to be described as what they aren’t (i.e. impaired).
The key to all of this is relationships. Work to build a relationship with those that are deaf that you are ministering too. This will help you to cross any boundary that may pop-up in your ministry.
Ways to Keep Deaf Children Safe
The last piece of beginning a church deaf ministry is safety. As your community learns of your church special needs ministry, hopefully, more and more deaf children will attend. From the moment they walk through your doors, both parents and children should know of the measures you have in place to keep deaf children safe. Here are a few tools and procedures you can put in place:
- Implement a child check-in system that allows parents to check their children in and out, and print off a name badge that identifies the child as well as any special needs (like deafness) they may have. This will help all teachers, volunteers, and staff members know how to communicate with these children. Check-in also requires an emergency contact number so parents can easily be found and contacted in case of emergencies.
- Set up a system for parent notifications. One of the best systems to notify parents when their child needs them is a number system. This system uses numbers on your child’s nametags from check-in and projects those numbers on the screens in your worship center to notify parents.
- Meet with parents and be aware of special requirements. This will help to build relationships with parents and children alike.
- Make sure that you put additional safety requirements in place if any are needed.
- Prepare children and parents for emergencies. One way to do this is to practice how to leave the building safely and come up with a plan on where the children can meet their parents outside the church building.