A Guide to Accessible Worship: Welcoming All to Your Congregation

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December 10, 2021

Making worship accessible is one of the most important actions you can take as a community leader in the modern age. You can use new technology to your advantage, reaching new people on digital platforms, making online connections, and sharing your message with the world.

Everyone deserves the opportunity to worship with other people - whether it’s online or in person. You will be able to welcome more people into your community and create a spiritual haven for everyone who needs or wants one.

Benefits of Accessible Worship

Improved accessibility is good for all current and prospective members of your congregation. More people can access your message and connect with the community in a way that is comfortable for them. This removes some of the potential stressors associated with community worship, allowing each congregant to relax and focus on their spiritual engagement.

With greater access to spiritual resources, congregants can also integrate worship into their lives more easily. This may take many forms, such as exploring new methods of worship or discussing religious questions and issues with others. Some may even engage with their faith more frequently, simply because they have more opportunities to do so.

Benefits for Leaders and Organizations

In addition to supporting worshipers, there are several ways you and your church can benefit from making your services more accessible.

Perhaps the biggest benefit is the potential to grow your congregation size. Some people specifically seek out an accessible church because they’ve struggled with inaccessible ones in the past. Others may appreciate your dedication to inclusivity and want to participate in a church that makes it a priority.

Try to look at accessibility from the “business” perspective. A larger congregation is likely to receive more donations or a greater number of referrals. With more resources available, you can then re-invest in your church. If you play your cards right, this can lead to even more growth, donations, and referrals, creating a sort of virtuous circle.

Common Barriers to In-Person Worship

Many religious individuals who don’t attend church services have a particular reason for doing so. Common barriers to in-person worship include:

  • A physical disability, or mental health condition
  • Lack of access to reliable or affordable transportation
  • Having caregiving responsibilities, such as for young children or seniors
  • Environmental barriers at church, such as no wheelchair ramp
  • Reducing the chance of spreading illness or getting sick, such as during the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Being unable to effectively engage with the service or materials

Group worship is a crucial component of many people’s spiritual lives, but not everyone can safely or comfortably do so. By making sanctuary upgrades, offering online services, and giving people options, more individuals can enjoy your services with greater ease and frequency.

That being said, people don’t have to face a significant barrier to benefit from accessible worship. Say you choose to live stream your church service to improve access for people with mobility disabilities or who lack access to transportation. Additionally, individuals who are ill, traveling, or who just feel like staying at home can all benefit from watching the live stream, even though they don’t face the same barriers.

How To Use Technology To Improve Worship Accessibility

After physical updates, turn to technology. Digital churches are the key to improved accessibility. 

With so many developments, technology itself is now easy to access, implement, and use for worship. By incorporating several different kinds of technology into your church and congregation, you can include even more people and build up your virtual community.

Here are some of the primary ways you can use technology to make your church more inclusive:

Digital Communities and Social Media

Thanks to social media platforms, it’s easier than ever to connect with your congregants online. You can use social media platforms — such as Facebook and Twitter — to help keep your community engaged with your church. 

You can send out church updates, pose discussion questions reflecting on a previous service or in advance of the next one, and check-in with people throughout the week. Ask questions or check in with people during your live services to further boost engagement. Help people form smaller groups for specific purposes, such as youth groups or event planning committees. Share pictures, videos, and other content related to your faith that you know people will enjoy.

Keep in mind that digital events aren’t meant to be a replacement for community worship, but simply another avenue that people can use to access it. To that end, focus on sharing information, promoting connection, and supplementing your services through these platforms.

Creating Materials and Sharing Your Message

In addition, you can use these digital platforms to create marketing materials and share your church’s messaging with other people. This is yet another avenue you can use to increase active participation among current congregants and encourage newcomers to join your faith.

Try using a variety of marketing channels — including social media, email newsletters, and your website — to reach a bigger audience. Use these platforms to communicate the tenets of your faith. This provides a sort of “sneak peek” into your church, making it more accessible to people who have yet to join. It also reinforces the core of your message to your existing community.

Don’t limit yourself to text-based formats. Take pictures, record videos, or make podcasts, all of which can then be distributed to your congregants and other potential worshipers. Since everyone has their preferences when it comes to content formats, you can reach more people if you have more channels and platforms available.

Video and Streaming Services

Recording and streaming your services is one of the simplest and most effective ways to make worship more accessible to a large group. Though it may sound counterintuitive, live streaming can increase in-person attendance while simultaneously expanding your digital reach. Publishing your recorded services can also be beneficial, as this allows congregants to watch the video at a time that’s convenient for them.

There is no shortage of ways to use video or streaming in your church. Naturally, you can give a more traditional service over video, but you can also use these tools for smaller and more intimate sessions, such as Bible study, Sunday school, or group discussions. These interactive videos also help build a sense of community between attendees.

Whether you prefer to record in advance or do it live, take care to make your videos accessible, too. Best practices include:

  • Putting open or closed captions on your videos;
  • Uploading transcripts;
  • Including an audio description;
  • Using text that is clear and easy to read;
  • Using contrasting colors so text and images are easier to see;
  • Avoiding sudden or fast-flash content.

It’s best to prioritize accessibility from the get-go, so you can ensure your videos include, instead of alienating, your audience.

Spirituality Apps and Online Tools

There are mobile apps and online tools for seemingly everything, and religion and spirituality are no exception. Though they can’t replace worshipping with others, these apps can help you take a more personal approach to faith and integrate it into your congregants daily life. They can also help more people engage with religion in a way that works for them.

Some popular apps include:

  • iDisciple: iDisciple delivers personalized content and spiritual resources to your feed, including articles, videos, and sermons.
  • LiveControl: LiveControl is a live streaming platform that helps you create dynamic videos to increase your audience reach and boost donations.
  • Ministry Grid: Ministry Grid is an online tool that provides you with resources and materials to train the next generation of church and spiritual leaders.
  • Worship Band in Hand: Worship Band in Hand is a tool that helps you arrange, edit, and play music during worship.
  • YouVersion: YouVersion is a free tool designed to help you engage with the Bible in a way that is comfortable for and accessible to you.
  • Echo Prayer: Echo Prayer is a free app that helps you manage, remember, and share your prayers.

Of course, these are just a few of the many different apps available. There are also tools devoted to specific faiths and denominations. Don’t hesitate to do additional research to find tools that can assist in leading your congregation and ultimately benefit your church community.

Fundraising and Giving Platforms

As a church, you rely on donations, but it can be difficult for people to contribute unless they’re at an in-person service. Luckily, you can use technology to facilitate and increase online giving. Just having multiple avenues for donations, such as during your live stream or on your church website, simplifies the giving process for your congregants.

In addition, consider using one of the many platforms dedicated to online giving. Each platform has its own features to make the giving process easy (like recurring donations) and enjoyable (like donation rewards) for everyone involved. 

Ultimately, making worship accessible may not be easy, but it is necessary work. In your quest for inclusivity, you will likely make mistakes or unintentionally exclude certain groups. No one is perfect and these missteps are normal and natural. Focus instead on trying your best and making your congregation welcoming to as many people as possible.

How To Make Places of Worship More Accessible

The first step to increasing accessibility is to improve the physical space where you worship. Environmental barriers are likely one of the main reasons people avoid in-person services, especially individuals with disabilities. If the space itself is more accessible, more people can attend.

As a religious entity, you aren’t subject to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, this law outlines the standards other institutions are required to meet to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities. It’s a great resource for accessibility improvements, particularly if you aren’t sure where to start.

Here are a few ideas of how you can make your place of worship more accessible:

  • Designated seating or pews for individuals with disabilities;
  • Print materials that are easy to read, such as with large text and clean fonts;
  • Hearing loops or captioning technology;
  • Programs, events, or groups that support individuals with disabilities and their family members;
  • Designated parking spaces for people with disabilities;
  • Wheelchair ramps;
  • Automatic doors;
  • Elevators, stairlifts, or wheelchair elevators;
  • Bathroom upgrades, such as a designated stall for people with disabilities;
  • American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters who can translate the service and song lyrics during worship;
  • Digital materials;
  • Clearly written name tags

Depending on your space and your congregation, you may only need to make a few improvements. Generally, it’s best to ask your community to explain what they need, as they know better than anyone else. You can also form an accessibility committee whose function is to determine what improvements are needed and how best to make them.

Finally, make sure your congregation is welcoming to everyone who comes into your church. Your attitude can make a significant difference in how inclusive your congregation is. Even if you’re unable to make other changes, everyone can make worship more accessible if they are kind, inviting, and empathetic to other congregants.

Additional Resources and Further Reading

Check out the following resources for even more information, ideas, and inspiration on improving accessibility in your congregation:

  • ADA.gov: This website contains all of the information you need to know about the ADA, including federal guidelines for accessibility improvements.
  • All Belong Center for Inclusive Education: All Belong provides resources to schools, congregations, and communities to ensure education is accessible to everyone, regardless of their disability status.
  • Friendship Ministries: In partnership with All Belong, Friendship Ministries helps faith-based communities and congregations form and foster inclusivity in their organizations.
  • HeartShaper Children’s Curriculum: HeartShaper has created Sunday school curriculums for children of all ages. They have online resources, as well as resources specifically intended for children with disabilities.
  • The PURE Ministries Network: The PURE Ministries Network works with churches and their leaders to make worship more accessible to all.
  • The World Wide Web Consortium (WC3) Accessibility Standards Overview: The WC3 curates and maintains guidelines that you can use to ensure your website is accessible and user-friendly.

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