Welcoming Deaf People in Your Church
Recently, a letter from a medical student, who is also learning ASL to communicate with deaf clients, asked how to make church an inviting and welcoming place for deaf people. These are some of the points we shared.
Thanks for investing yourself in preparing to communicate directly with deaf clients! I trust you are taking ASL classes and are also working in a community of signers who are teaching you the language and the culture. Relying on books alone can be a starting point, but you also need the face-to-face interaction because the face conveys meanings and grammar that are not so clearly described in a book. Also, grammar and a great deal of meaning are conveyed on the face, not the fingers.
A key element in ministering to the deaf community is preparing your congregation to welcome them. A core group of members of your congregation who are committed to embracing deaf visitors can learn basic conversational sign language. This includes greetings, invitations to lunch, and directions for restrooms and classrooms. Finger spelling is also important because if you don’t know a needed sign, you can always spell out words to convey your meaning.
When deaf visitors arrive and see the effort by several people to communicate with them, they will feel honored and welcomed. Then they will likely be eager to teach the people around them, because we all desire clear communication and community.
A number of good resources are available online. Some of them are still in process of being completed, but they can all be helpful to you. For example, Deaf Missions has already translated most of the Bible, the full New Testament and a significant portion of the Old Testament. Find their website at www.deafmissions.com.
DOOR International (www.doorinternational.com) and Deaf Harbor (www.deafharbor.org) provide other excellent resources, such as videos of key Bible stories and discussion points. Find them at deafmissions.com and doorinternational.com. Also, check deafbible.com and deafbiblesociety.com for other resources that address the need for and challenges of deaf ministry. A very effective resource is available at bible.is/asl and is titled “In That Day.” DOOR International has an excellent video on some of the common misunderstandings about deafness and deaf culture. Although it highlights the African region, the principles apply worldwide. Look for this, and other videos to share with your congregation to raise awareness, at doorinternational.com/misunderstanding-about-deaf-culture.
Your efforts are so important! Did you know that fewer than five percent of American churches have deaf ministries of any kind? Sadly, many of them are not particularly helpful. About four percent of deaf people attend church, and only about two percent testify to a relationship with Jesus. One reason is that many congregations think that investing in deaf ministry is poor stewardship. Why? Because they don’t see an immediate or measurable return on investment! Add to that the fact that many so-called efforts are lukewarm, or they simply just backfire because of inadequate preparation and lack of understanding. This leaves many deaf people disillusioned and bitter towards hearing people and, even more tragically, towards the church.
Many times deaf children in hearing families are taken to church with good intentions. But due to the lack of adequate communication, they find church a boring and unnecessary place to go. That is why Silent Blessings, in cooperation with Deaf Missions and Deaf Video Communications, has created two Finger Food Café videos and the television series Dr. Wonder’s Workshop. These resources are fun for all ages. Learn more at silentblessings.org.
Much of our effort focuses on preparing these resources, but we also are available to advise individuals and congregations who are interested in developing local church ministries and other outreach to deaf people. Contact us for more information.