Who are the vulnerable?

Ditching the sidelines testimonial

A note from Steve
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The Vulnerable

The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. Psalm 9:9

The Vulnerable Initiative is how CityServe inspires, resources, and mobilizes churches to reach the vulnerable in their communities.

Who are the vulnerable?

Child on wheelchair and his dad on the beach at sunset.

Special needs families

Woman on the floor with anxiety.

Those with mental health challenges

At risk youth.

At risk youth

Pregnant woman holding her tummy.

Pregnant women & the unborn

Is your church taking hold of moments to engage with the vulnerable and offer them a seat at the King’s table? Do these lives in your community know their worth?

With replicable, scalable models and a customized coaching structure, CityServe can help your church reach and serve special needs families, those with mental health challenges, at-risk youth, pregnant women and the unborn.

Schedule a call with Steve Kramer, Director of The Vulnerable Initiative and learn how you can start with where you are and what you have.

Ditching the Sidelines

How a church engages with special needs families

“We’ve been a part of Easter egg hunts where thousands of kids would show up and special needs kids would be on the sidelines because it wouldn’t work for them,” said Pastor Paul.

Little girl smiling while holding her pumpkin at the pumkin patch.

Special Needs Children’s Day at the Stafford Acres Pumpkin Patch, a ministry of The Neighborhood Church

The Vulnerable—a CityServe Compassion Initiative, is about inspiring, resourcing, and mobilizing the local church to engage with the vulnerable in their communities. This includes special needs families.

Over 13,800,000 children in the U.S. have special needs, which is almost 20% of the children population in the United States. (National Survey of Children’s Health) Special needs families face many challenges, oftentimes alone. With a substantial population of special needs children watching from the sidelines, The Neighborhood Church unearthed a calling. Their story demonstrates a posture of servanthood for engagement, shares how the church is a place of refuge, and testifies of creative ways to help special needs children recapture their joy and play.

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Posture of Servanthood

In a little pocket of the countryside stands The Neighborhood Church. It opened its doors ninety years ago, on Stafford Road, a 30-acre campus located approximately ten minutes south of Portland, Oregon. “We just thought, what can we do to connect with the world around us and build goodwill for the church in our community?” said Pastor Paul Owen, Lead Pastor of The Neighborhood Church.

Christmas gift ligned up for the children.

50 special needs children attended the Christmas Gift Party, hosted by The Neighborhood Church.

Five years ago, Pastor Paul heard of a church in Washington that hosted a Christmas party for special needs families. He reached out to them, was inspired, and felt the desire to host an Easter egg hunt event for special needs families on Easter.

He nervously brought his church team of six together to share his desire to host this event and said, “I don’t know how you guys will respond, but I just want to put this out there.”

It turned out that God was already working on the hearts of his team before this idea was presented. The whole group came back and unanimously shared that they had a calling for special needs families. “I felt like I was going to take a risk with my team, [but] the Spirit was already leading my team ahead of us,” said Pastor Paul.

Refuge for the Vulnerable

Psalm 9:9 reminds us that “The LORD is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble.” This translates to God’s Church; we’ve been called to be like Jesus. The church body is a refuge.

God’s promise encompasses special needs children and their families. How can His Church be a sanctuary for these families and rise to the occasion, regardless of church size or resources?

“Do not despise these small beginnings, for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin…” Zechariah 4:10

Neighborhood Church started with what they had in ideas and resources and witnessed how God orchestrated the rest.

Recapturing Joy and Play

Illustration of childrens' playground.

Design rendering of accessible playground project at The Neighborhood Church.

The Neighborhood Church decided to assess the needs of every registrant and customized an egg hunt for each child. “When you’re serving families of kids with different needs, they have all kinds of skill levels, allergies, mobility…we created a long-form so we had a clear picture of what type of event that child needed,” shared Pastor Paul.

The event was about three hours long. “We had just shy of 50 families with special needs,” said Pastor Paul. “If they had mobility issues, were in a wheelchair, or used a walker, we arranged each one [egg hunt] differently. We had crafts, snacks, and activities that were learning and skill level appropriate.”

Their first event turned out to be a success. To this day, The Neighborhood Church has continued to host events for special needs families and minister to them, while building trust along the way. “Each year we’ve done somewhere between three and five events. All the events have a similarity to them—their seasonal flair is just a little bit different,” said Pastor Paul.

“The master said, ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities.” Matthew 25:23

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, God began to work in Pastor Paul’s heart. “Lord, we know this world is going to change; it’s going to be different. We want to do ministry with special needs kids,” Pastor Paul recalls praying.

“During these events, our church had a playground, but it was not accessible,” said Pastor Paul. “Then we thought, why wouldn’t we build a playground for children where all skill levels could use it at the same time?”

Pastor Paul and his team began to pray about it. “I thought it was going to cost us $100,000, but the project turned out to be a quarter of a million dollars,” said Pastor Paul. They decided to present their vision at the Love Your Neighbor Sunday event at church.

On that very Sunday, Portland experienced a once-in-a-generation ice storm—everyone in their region was out of power.

When this happened, Pastor Paul was at the church lobby, preparing for the service. “I sat in the lobby with a couple of people from my church. We got a generator up, got WiFi from our phone, and we broadcast,” he said.

“As a pastor, you think there’s no way you’re going to get the money when you present your vision and nobody shows up at church. It’s a year later— we have raised more than $170,000 dollars,” said Pastor Paul.

The Neighborhood Church’s goal is to fundraise the remaining funds needed for the installation of the equipment and safety surface and complete it by May 2022.

“God’s done some great things. We had a long way to go, but the Lord’s met us all the way through it,” says Pastor Paul, in faith.

Little boy petting a goat at a pumpkin patch.

Special Needs Children’s Day at the Stafford Acres Pumpkin Patch, a ministry of The Neighborhood Church

To learn more about The Neighborhood Church and support their ministry, please visit http://www.theneighborhoodchurch.org.

Special needs families, who are in every community, will come to a church that makes efforts for accommodations and creates ways for them to engage. The most fascinating thing about The Neighborhood Church is the number of families they’ve been able to meet and know because they hosted seasonal events created just for them. They took small steps and God delivered in big ways. When the local church cares for special needs families, they can ditch the sidelines and engage with the church in ways that bring them closer to Jesus.

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A Note from Steve

It was a chilly evening when my nine-year-old daughter Sela and I went to the playground. The plan had been for my wife Julie and I to watch the first basketball game of the season of our son Kees but his younger sister Sela had become restless and wanted to go out to the playground for a few minutes. I rode out with her on my mobility scooter that I often use when the distance becomes too far for me to walk. We thought we would be the only ones out there that evening due to everyone wanting to watch the games at play inside the adjacent gym.

Less than 5 minutes after arriving at this playground, an African-American grandma also showed up with a little boy and stood next to me while her grandson ran off into the darkness toward the big slide and merry-go-round. To avoid any potential awkward silence, I said aloud, “You know these kids, they have so much energy.”

Her response is what caught my immediate attention, “Yeah I came here to watch my grandson play basketball but this little guy has autism and so he can’t sit still.” For a few minutes, I shared my personal story of being born with cerebral palsy and how CityServe works to resource churches to help minister to people just like her and her grandson. She seemed amazed and genuinely touched by my story and our ministry. Then Sela and I said our goodbyes and went back to watch Kees play basketball. As I rode away, I took one last look over my shoulder at this grandma who was out in the cold, in the dark with her grandson all alone. This is something that I have seen all too often as the CityServe National Director of the Vulnerable Initiative…so many people are fighting life’s battles… all alone.

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I get asked all the time, “Steve, who are the vulnerable?” For us at CityServe, the “vulnerable” are considered special needs families, those with mental health challenges, at-risk youth, and pregnant mothers and the unborn.

Our mission is to inspire and resource churches to reach the vulnerable in their communities. We want to make sure that no one is left alone in the cold, in the darkness but all have a place to call home- a place to feel not only welcomed but celebrated.

Sometimes reaching out to vulnerable people can make us also feel vulnerable, inadequate, unable to know how to help but the good news is CityServe has all the tools to help you so all you have to focus on is being a friend to someone who is in need.

Would you and your church like to reach the vulnerable in your community? I would love to hear from you. Feel free to reach out to me at 503-580-1544 or stevekramer@cityserve.us.

Steve’s Story

Compassion Initiative’s
Podcast #2