A big part of my church's special-needs ministry is playing. Playing may not sound like Sunday School, and it took a while for me to come around to the idea. I have 5 tips for playing while serving, plus a free game for you, so keep reading.

Kids with special needs have a lot of demands put on them. Many of our children go from working on IEP goals at school to learning chores at home to following directions in different therapies... you get the idea. Or maybe you live the life.

And boy, did I feel pressure when I started volunteering. Ever read James 3:1? "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." Gulp. God is going to call me to this ministry - and judge me harder?

So I started thinking about what I knew and grew up with - song time, craft time, Bible story time, Bible verse memory time. And quite honestly, it overwhelmed me. Around that time, our church started a major remodel, and His Kids, our special-needs ministry, moved temporarily to a portable where those activities were not practical to carry out. God used that time to teach me new ways to minister through play.

Here are 5 things I've learned about playing:

#1 - Ministry is not therapy.

I work in the schools, and I run on IEPs and data collection and planning speech/language therapy activities. My counselor husband advised me to just enjoy the kids. How could I do that when I needed to get them to understand Bible truths? Luckily, my husband is a wonderful role model, and as I watched him and the other volunteers, I saw that...

#2 - Relationships are more important than knowing all the facts of Bible stories.

Somewhere, a few of my former Sunday School teachers just gasped. When you have volunteers living out God's Word, kids learn what love and kindness and patience are. The children are going to start recognizing the volunteers and wanting to see them. Then parents can head to worship knowing their child is happy and taken care of. 

#3 - Incorporate Bible stories into activities.

We don't skip Bible stories. There is a definite lesson time for about 10 minutes. For the rest of the time, we just present the stories differently. Our volunteers have used a child's interest in dinosaurs to act out the story of Daniel in the lions' den with plastic T-rexes, named train cars after the disciples, and built doll houses while naming the figures after characters from the story of the prodigal son.

One of our kids gets up on Sunday morning asking for his favorite cars in the His Kids room. We pull out those cars and name them "Ruth" and "Naomi" while pretending that the car track is the road that Ruth and Naomi traveled together. Pretending affords numerous opportunities to say, "Where you go, I will go" - just like Ruth said to Naomi in the Bible!

The best activities come from building and knocking down, whether it's Legos, blocks, or giant foam tower shapes. We have seen a lot of response to building Jericho, an ark, castles for kings, and many more. Tip: emphasize that God destroyed Jericho, not humans, but let the kids knock down the structure. Just trust me on that one.

Kinetic sand is another activity that leads to a lot of interaction. We can put Joseph in the well or Daniel in the lions' den or push the sand to the sides of the box to part the Red Sea.

#5 - Focus on Bible truths.

When I think of the story of Noah, I can make a lot of associations - Noah was a righteous man, there was a flood, the size of the ark is incomprehensible to me, when I see a rainbow, it's God's promise, and I could go on. 

When I say "Noah" in His Kids, I don't know what the children are thinking. What I want them to know is that Noah obeyed God and that we should obey God. 

Whatever you teach as the Bible truth for a lesson, repeat it to the children over and over and over. In fact, when you see your family and friends after serving in special-needs ministry and they say, "How are you?", you should respond with "Noah obeyed God and we should obey God" because you've said it so many times while serving. (I talk more about the importance of repetition in this post.)


I have a free game for you that's been a hit with many of our children. It's called Bible Ball. We have a small basketball goal that attracts many of our boys. I got a colorful ball from Amazon (affiliate link). We toss the ball. When a child or adult catches the ball, they look at the color their thumb is on and answer the question with the same color to earn the corresponding points. Then, they get to shoot the ball into the basket.

You get to decide how to play. It could be that points are only earned if baskets are made, that points are earned for answers or efforts, that you play a toss-and-catch game instead of basketball... just do what suits the children in your ministry.

The only rule is - always let the children win! If you have more than one child, it can be one adult vs. the children. If an adult is way ahead in points, offer an amazing number of points, like 5,000, if the child can answer a question. Or take away points from the adult if the adult misses the basket. 

Be sure to check out our other posts about special-needs ministry:
4 Lessons I've Learned
Teaching the Story

And if you don't have time to download the game now, or you want to come back to this post, just pin this image for later!

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