Sharing the gospel with anyone can be a daunting and difficult task. It’s easy to be consumed by worry or fear as you think about how the other person might respond and what they will think about you. Sharing the gospel with people with intellectual disabilities may appear to be an even more challenging task.
How to Share the Gospel with People with Intellectual Disabilities
You may wonder how to explain complicated theological concepts or what questions the person might ask. According to the National Disability Navigator Resource Collaborative, there are over seven million people in the U.S. with intellectual disabilities. Therefore, it is worthwhile to consider how to share the gospel with this large and valuable group of people.
Put Yourself in a Position to Share the Gospel
First, consider areas in your community where you will be around people with intellectual disabilities and then spend time with this community. Most likely, there are many more opportunities to spend time with people with intellectual disabilities in your own community than you may realize.
Many churches need volunteers to be paired with kids and adults in their special needs ministries. In the city where I live, a local church hosts a respite night that gives caregivers relief from the constant demands and provides a safe environment for people with intellectual disabilities.
Furthermore, there may be a sports team or educational program for kids and adults with disabilities in your community. These organizations and ministries need volunteers and one-on-one buddies to be able to support the children and adults with intellectual disabilities that form them.
This can be an incredible opportunity to form a relationship with someone and an amazing gospel opportunity. If you don’t know where to start, talk to the children’s ministry director at your church and ask if there is a special needs ministry at your church or if there are established programs in your community.
Recognizing the Isolation that Intellectual Disabilities May Bring
Sadly, families impacted by disabilities are often isolated from church and community. Ryan Faulk explains this reality in his article The Largest Unreached People Group You’ve Never Heard Of,
The strangest part of this sad reality is that most churches don’t intentionally exclude people with disabilities. But because the world is, by default, a poor fit for people with disabilities, the church is also a poor fit, unless we intentionally include people of all abilities.
This isolation from the church can cause limited gospel exposure for a significant number of families impacted by disabilities. Ryan Faulk explains how significant this number is:
Multiple studies show that, all things being equal, people with disabilities are less likely than their peers to attend church even once a month. Of the 61 million American adults living with some sort of disability, there are about 2.25 million who—statistically speaking—should be attending church, but don’t. A 2018 study from Clemson University shows that children with any kind of disability are less likely than their peers to attend church, and children with autism are nearly twice as likely to never attend a religious service.
It is important to recognize that, statistically speaking, families impacted by disabilities, such as intellectual disabilities, are less likely to attend church and therefore are less likely to be consistently exposed to the gospel. This should further encourage us to build relationships with people with intellectual disabilities and to share the gospel with them and welcome them into our churches.
Remember the Need Everyone has for the Gospel
Remember that everyone needs the gospel. Someone’s intellectual disability should not stop us from sharing the gospel with them. Joni and Friends, a ministry founded by Joni Erickson Tada, reminds us that
Every single person on this earth needs the gospel. Just because a person is unable to respond verbally or fully articulate the gospel, we cannot doubt that the Holy Spirit is working in their heart. We do not have the privilege of understanding how the Spirit is at work in an individual’s life, we must simply share the gospel.
Praise the Lord that intellectual disabilities do not limit people from coming to know the Lord.
We cannot ignore sharing the gospel because we don’t think that someone will be able to understand it. We are called to share the gospel even when we do not know if we will see any fruit. In this case, we are called to share the gospel even when we are told that someone won’t understand it. God moves in hearts when we do not see it and works in minds that the world may label “broken.” Praise the Lord that intellectual disabilities do not limit people from coming to know the Lord.
Teach the Gospel Faithfully
While sharing the gospel with someone with an intellectual disability, remember to share each of the main points of the gospel. Do not ignore teaching difficult parts like Jesus’ death on the cross in an attempt to make it easier or less overwhelming to understand. Explain that sin is what separates us from God and that Jesus came to earth where he lived a perfect life and then was killed on the cross.
When he died on the cross, he took the punishment that we deserve. You could say something like, “We were the ones who were supposed to be punished and get in trouble, but Jesus was punished instead because he loves us.” He then came back from the dead and saw many of his disciples and friends. It is only because of Jesus that we can have a relationship with God.
When talking about having a relationship with God, you could say something like, “We can know him with our minds and then love him and others with our hearts.” No matter how you explain the gospel, make sure to include its essential truths.
Take Advantage of Opportunities
Finally, take advantage of gospel opportunities as they present themselves. For example, while praying before a meal, try outlining gospel truths. Consider thanking Jesus for what he has done for us on the cross. This could be a great way to start a longer gospel conversation. Another idea is to listen to or sing a Christian song and then talk about what that song means later.
Talking through the lyrics of “Jesus Loves Me” and “Amazing Grace” provides a great opportunity to discuss the love of Christ, what the Bible is, and what grace is. These are just a few of the many, many ways you could start a gospel conversation that could leave an eternal impact.