Greetings from the 20Stuffers!
Sorry I don't post very often. :-) We aren't at all driven to be a high-traffic or monetized blog. Just sharing a few thoughts here and there (both of them).
We are members of a local congregation with a normal weekend attendance of 12,000 (or at least that's what it was when we became members four or five years ago). We took a seven-month break to attend Chinese church, but we are now back to attend this "megachurch" congregation, which I'll call Hope CC for the sake of this post.
We chose Hope CC for four reasons. One, it is within our "denomination;" two, a college acquaintance of ours was the senior minister; three, the main campus was only ten minutes from our house; and four, it has a large, thriving adoption community. We did attend almost all the other congregations within our "denomination" within reasonable driving distance, one Sunday each, before deciding on Hope CC, but because of the four factors above, we were fairly certain we would wind up at Hope.
One of the most common complaints that I hear about "megachurches" is that "you can get lost in the crowd" (I tend to think that is a ridiculous and defensive excuse. GET INVOLVED!), but we knew more than 100 people within our first two months there, and I'd say we know closer to 400 people now -- after all, 12,000 people in our area attend there -- we're bound to know a certain percentage of them away from church. We see someone we know every few minutes as we walk down the hall (or the concourse, as it is appropriately called) and have a hard time getting to class on time because we see so many dear friends. Those people fall into different groups -- school friends, work friends, Sunday School class friends, community people that we have met here and there, former therapists of our kids, etc.. One of the bigger groups is made up of adoptive parents.
I have a little game that I play sometimes as I walk down the hall with our kids. For every five internationally adopted kids that I see, I give our kids a kiss on the top of their heads. We ride a shuttle bus from the parking lot to the foyer area (largely for our children's amusement, as there is closer parking available), and regardless of which shuttle we take, there is nearly always at least one family on board with one or more internationally adopted children, not to mention children who may be fostered. When we walk into the foyer, people don't stop and stare at our interracial family because there are other international/interracial adoption/foster families larger than ours walking around. There are other internationally adopted children in each of our kids' Sunday School classes. Our congregation celebrates Orphan Sunday in the fall and actively promotes adoption at other times and in other ways.
It is not considered by the congregation to be a "problem" that our kids have special needs (and of course there are other adoptive families, foster families, and bio families whose children have bigger special needs than ours do). This congregation welcomes people with special needs and even holds a special "prom" each fall in which more than 500 adults with special needs attend, wear fancy clothes, dance to the accompaniment of a live band, eat a meal in the cafeteria, and otherwise "have a ball", while hearing the Gospel message at some point in the midst of the fun. These special adults who were probably not able to attend their high school prom, if they were even able to attend high school, year after year have their own prom here, hosted by this congregation, an evening that is entirely dedicated to them and is usually "over the top" in everything from the band to the decorations to the red carpet treatment to the overall experience.
That having been said, there is really not a good set-up for Sunday School for children with sensory processing issues, which many, many adopted and foster children have due to childhood trauma of one kind or another (abandonment, neglect, abuse, malnutrition, untreated illness, etc.). I'm told that our congregation used to have a special classroom just for sensory issues, but I can easily imagine that it was difficult to keep staffed in a way that was legally ok, and besides, there is such an enormous variety in the nature of these sensory issues -- how could one classroom possibly accomodate all the needs? Some children are sensory seekers, some are avoiders, some go back and forth from one minute to the next. I cannot imagine one classroom that could accommodate the needs of the extremes that are out there, and some parent would feel that his or her child's needs were not being taken seriously.
So I really don't have a problem with the fact that our gigantic congregation does not provide for our children's particular needs.
But I myself do have a problem in that my anxiety-ridden children struggle with the Sunday School set-up. As with many megachurches, the children are "warehoused", so to speak, in big groups of 40, 50, 60 kids. Sunday School follows a particular pattern each week and there is movement and preparation and smaller "life groups" within the big groups and all of that, but in the end, my children are herded around for an hour with 40 or 50 other kids that they really don't know and can't hear, anyway. Both of my daughters complain first and foremost about the noise. On the eight Sundays that I attended their class with them as a visitor, I couldn't have agreed more -- there were just too many kids and too much piped-in music for the noise level to be bearable for people with sensory issues.
It's not the same as school. Yes, there is noise at school, especially in the cafeteria, but at school there is recess, mealtime with their class, stops by the waterfountain, friends whom the children see every day five days a week, quiet times of working, their own desk and cubby for a sense of belonging, a teacher with whom they build a relationship, etc. and just a great deal more dependability in what is happening around them. Church is just once a week, they have no spot to call their own, they don't know from one Sunday to the next who will be there, and they can't hear the people who are there, anyway. The volume of the piped-in "worship" music or skit music is beyond what the children deal with at school. The noise level is very different than what they experience at school.
It's not that my girls hate the class time, even as chaotic as it is. They enjoy the activities once they arrive and once we make the separation. But the class is always sensory overload, and they dread going and start fussing about it on Saturday. They have to "gear up" for it every week, and they're very fussy after they come home, even if they had been happy at the time we picked them up from class.
We have considered a variety of options: attending a smaller congregation, getting a babysitter to take care of them at home while we attend, volunteering in their classroom so that they can cling to us anxiously every single second, not attending church at all while the kids are small -- we do teach the children at home -- etc.. Nothing seems to fit the situation as well as simply telling the children they need to attend class and get used to it.
Real life is not easy and quiet and orderly, not for anybody, special needs or otherwise. There are things we just have to get used to doing.
But I wish so much that real life WERE easy, and that my children didn't have to struggle so much, so often, to get through "normal" life. I wish there were a great, easy solution that fit our particular situation and our kids' particular needs.
Anyway, just thinking aloud about the benefits and struggles involved in attending a large congregation when we have special needs kids. Thanks for listening!