The IndispensABLE Conference

The IndispensABLE Conference is designed to equip churches to minister to families and individuals who have been impacted by special needs.

All members of the body of Christ are essential. 

Gary Spangler, director of operations at Ability Ministry, a Christian nonprofit organization that provides services for adults with special needs, believes this to be true regardless of age or ability.

Southeast Christian Church is partnering with Ability Ministry to host the second annual IndispensABLE Conference, Saturday, March 21, at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus.

The regional conference is designed to equip churches across Kentucky and Indiana with resources to better minister to families and individuals who have been impacted by special needs.

“In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about the different parts of the body of Christ,” Spangler said. “First Corinthians 12:22 says, ‘Those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable.’ That’s the heart behind the IndispensABLE Conference. The people in our churches that seem weaker are not only valuable, but they are indispensable.”

According to Spangler, around one in five families in the U.S. are impacted by special needs, but less than 10% of churches offer any kind of outreach or ministry for people with special needs.

The IndispensABLE Conference is designed to help fill in gaps and introduce new ideas.

“We’re going to be offering a lot of very practical information that churches can take home,” said Mary Tatum, Southeast’s Shine Disabilities Ministry leader.

The conference, held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., will include breakout sessions covering topics such as volunteers, inclusion in children’s ministry, social media and communications, big events, disability ministry in student ministry, myths about starting a disability ministry, caring for the caregiver and disability ministry in small churches. There will also be giveaways and a panel discussion with people who currently serve with the special-needs community.

Conference attendees don’t have to be pastors or vocational church leaders. The conference is for anyone who is interested in helping their church embrace the individuals and families impacted by special needs in their church and community.

“One of the greatest benefits of the conference is providing a place for connecting with other people who are like-minded in ministry,” Tatum said. “Many of those who attended last year’s conference were parents of children or adults with special needs who attended a church and were looking for ways to make their church more inclusive to the special-needs community.”

In February, many local churches host Night to Shine, a prom-like event for adults with disabilities sponsored by the Tim Tebow Foundation.

Spangler said the IndispensABLE Conference is a great place to gain resources and education on next steps that churches can offer to individuals and their families who attend Night to Shine events.

“Night to Shine is a great event that makes people in the special-needs community feel loved and valued,” Spangler said. “It’s a great outreach event, but embracing the disabilities community has to happen more than once a year.”

Spangler said he hopes the conference can help debunk and demystify some of the preconceived notions people have about the disabilities community.

“Disability ministry is not just about ‘How can we serve you?’” Spangler said. “It really starts when people say ‘We want to embrace these beautiful people that God has made and come alongside them.’ One of the most frequent pieces of feedback I received from last year’s conference was ‘I didn’t know.’ Many people don’t know how easy it is to start a ministry or begin the work of changing the culture of a church to be more inclusive to those with special needs.”

The conference is a resource for churches of all sizes. Many of the breakout sessions will be geared toward smaller churches.

“Each church is different and will take on disabilities ministry differently,” Spangler said. “Not every church has the resources that a church like Southeast does, but everyone can love the people around them the way Jesus did. That’s what we’re hoping to help churches do.”