Over the past 2 years or so I have had the privilege of serving Key Ministry as a Consultant. In the process I have grown very close with the founder and visionary leader of the ministry, Dr. Steve Grcevich. He's a tremendous leader, visionary and most of all a great friend. It's been an honor to serve the ministry and get to know Steve better over this time. Here are three questions that I recently asked Steve:
1. What led to the creation of Key Ministry from the beginning and how have you seen the ministry develop over the years?
I was serving on our local church’s Board in 1997 when Libby Peterson (at that time, the children’s ministry director, now Key Ministry’s Vice President) came to a Board meeting to report on the efforts the church was engaged in to serve a cohort of highly committed families who adopted children from orphanages in Russia and Bulgaria after the fall of the Iron Curtain. Many of the families experienced challenges maintaining their involvement at church because of the emotional or behavioral challenges their children demonstrated when they attempted to bring them to church, or experienced difficulties finding qualified child care to sustain participation in small groups or other church activities.
As a physician specializing in child and adolescent psychiatry, I started to wonder if church attendance was a problem for the families we were serving through our practice. For several months, I conducted an informal survey about church attendance of the families served by our practice and was floored by the number of families in a practice like our who were unable to attend church because of the struggles presented by having a child with a common mental health condition.
When we started in 2002, we sought to help churches minister to families of children with “hidden disabilities.” Kids with difficulties maintaining self-control or managing emotions as a result of a mental health disorder…kids with ADHD, kids with mood disorders, kids with anxiety disorders, kids with autism with average or superior intelligence. Kids who have been exposed to toxic substances in utero or toxic experiences resulting in difficulties navigating close relationships…kids who struggle with social communication or sensory processing.
Since we were led to enter into this field of ministry, the disability ministry movement grew by leaps and bounds in its’ capacity to help kids with “special needs” to attend church. By “special needs”, we’re referring to kids with intellectual disabilities, chromosomal syndromes and kids with medical conditions associated with significant cognitive impairment. But we’re just scratching the surface! Kids with “special needs” represent only a small portion of the population of kids with significant disabilities interfering with their ability to be active participants in a local church.
The reality is that most kids and families impacted by disability would NEVER think of themselves as candidates to be served by a “special needs” ministry. They are reluctant to self-identify and flee from ministry interventions that draw attention to their differences…because they desperately want to fit in with and be treated like everybody else.
Our Board determined that the need God uniquely called and positioned us to meet that other ministry organizations haven’t been able to address is to provide knowledge, innovation and experience to the worldwide church as it ministers to and with families of children impacted by mental illness, trauma and developmental disabilities.
2. What led to your bringing so much focus online and how do you see this developing in the future?
First, I’d have to say that I definitely discerned a call to online ministry. I can’t say I’ve ever had the sense that God was speaking to me, but I was driving down the interstate on a ministry trip in 2009 and had an overwhelming sense that God was leading Key Ministry to a significant online ministry presence.
An online presence was highly desirable to us for training purposes because such a training budget made our training scalable. We always wanted to offer as many of our services as possible to churches free of charge, but travel costs and the availably of our volunteer trainers greatly limited the number of churches we could serve. We also wanted staff and volunteers from small churches lacking the financial resources fund travel to conferences to have access to the best possible training. When we did our first Inclusion Fusion Web Summit in 2011, the servers being used by the company hosting the conference crashed in the first hour from the traffic. We knew we were onto something after that experience.
We got interested in online church after developing an appreciation for available technology at the 2012 iMinistry Conference in Dallas. The idea of using online church as a strategy for reaching families of kids with mental illness or trauma seemed spot-on.
· Online church is outwardly focused. It represents a strategy for helping overcome the social isolation that keeps many families away from church. Families can develop relationships through online church that ease the transition to worshiping in the physical presence of other Christ-followers inside “bricks and mortar” churches.
· Online church doesn’t require families to identify their child’s disabilities in order to attend. No one needs to be labeled as having a “special need.”
· Kids with hidden disabilities struggle with the environments in which we do ministry. Online church allows us to introduce church to families at the time that works best for them in the environment that works best for them.
· Online church isn’t costly in terms of money or volunteers. It represents a strategy for serving the disability community for churches reluctant to launch new “programs.”
We’ve now found that online groups can help families experience Christian community who lack the childcare or scheduling flexibility to be part of traditional Bible Studies or small groups in most churches. The next step is likely to be online church for teens who struggle with anxiety or difficulties in social communication.
3. What advice would you give to churches when it comes to effectively ministering to families impacted by disability?
No church can do everything, but every church can do something. Our team and many other fine ministry organizations are willing and able to come alongside churches seeking to share the love of Christ with families impacted by disability in ways that resonate with the culture of your congregation. Contact us and let us help you take the next step.
Here are some ways you can connect with Dr. Steve Grcevich and Key Ministry to learn more about the work that they do: