Take a moment to consider your church and the community it serves. How many children are retarded to some degree? Of what worth do you consider them? Are they not persons created in the image of God, equally as important as the normal child? Wouldn’t you like to help them learn as much about their Creator as they are capable of learning? Wouldn’t you like to accept and love what is sometimes an unlovely child and show his parents what Christian love really is?

If you decide that an MR program is needed, you then must convince the staff and congregation of this. There are at least these reasons for establishing a program for the mentally retarded:

1. To help the parents. Such a program shows to the parents the love and concern that all Christians should show to one another. These parents may feel overworked, anxious, guilt-ridden; the MR program gives them a chance to relax, freed for a while from the responsibility of caring for the child (this may be especially true for parents of children in the lower functional range). It also enables them to attend the regular church service.

2. To provide a Christian education for the retarded child. Christ came for all, not merely for the intellectually adequate. The MR child should have an opportunity to develop a relation with Christ to his fullest capacity.

3. To aid the MR child in social adjustment. What better place is there for him to learn self-control and other needed lessons in social behavior than in an accepted, loving Christian environment?

Many people, both children and adults, are afraid of the mentally retarded persons. Fear may lead to ridicule. The congregation, young and old alike, should have the problem of mental retardation explained to them, as well as the impact mental retardation has on families.

Following this, a committee of interested people should survey the community to determine the number of mentally retarded children, their levels of retardation, locations of their homes, and so on. Perhaps they will also be asked to find out whether other local churches are interested in cooperating in the program.

Once a definite decision has been made to set up classes for the MR and the money has been appropriated, the community should be made aware of the program. As soon as the parents have been identified, they should be visited by the members of the committee.

I feel that whenever possible the MR child should be taken into the normal Sunday-school class. He is likely to look younger than his age and be able to fit in quite easily with a younger group of children. This procedure will test the success of your efforts to help the congregation understand mental retardation. If you have succeeded, the students and teacher will receive the MR child lovingly into the class. Some qualified person should be available as a resource person for teachers of the normal classes in which MR children have been placed.

If there are MR children who by size, functional level, or frustration level cannot fit into normal classes, one or more special classes should be established. Such a class should be kept small—fewer than ten, in my opinion, with a teacher or assistant for every two or three pupils.

Concordia Publishing House has a leadership training series for teachers of the MR. Also, accompanying this article is a list of fourteen books, any of which will be found helpful.

During the teacher training, have one or more people who work with the retarded come in to tell about the joys and frustrations of their work. Present a realistic picture to the potential teachers, for the work will be difficult and very demanding, though extremely rewarding. Discuss the fruits of the Spirit that are essential for this work—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Have the staff examine available materials and explore methods of adapting regular Sunday-school materials. Brainstorming will lead to numerous ideas for making needed materials that can’t be purchased.

After classes have begun, continue to check on the teachers. Encourage them—they will need it. It’s highly possible that you will have misassigned one or more students or teachers; be sure to keep the program flexible so that changes can easily be made.—VARINA S. FLORENCE, student, M.A. program in Christian education, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Deerfield, Illinois.


BAUER, E. CHARLES, Retarded Children Are People, Bruce, 1964.

BOGARDUS, LADONNA, Christian Education For Retarded Children and Youth, Abingdon, 1963.

BREITENBECK, G., For Parents of Retarded Children, Redemptorist Fathers, 1960.

BREITENBECK, G., For Teachers of Retarded Children, Redemptorist Fathers, n.d.

BUTLER, SCHUYLER V., An Analysis of Educable Mentally Handicapped and Their Role in Church Education, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, 1972.

HAHN, HANS R., and RAASCH, WERNER H., Helping the Retarded to Know God, Concordia, 1969.

JOHNSON, JERRY DON, and JONES, MARTHA, Learning to Know God, Bethany Press, 1966.

KIRK, SAMUEL A., Educating Exceptional Children, Houghton-Mifflin, 1962.

MARTIN, C. LEWIS, and TRAVIS, JOHN T., Exceptional Children: A Special Ministry, Judson, 1968.

PALMER, CHARLES E., The Church and the Exceptional Person, Abingdon, 1961.

PETERSEN, SIGURD D., Retarded Children: God’s Children, Westminster, 1960.

Religious Education For the Mentally Retarded, Kentucky Association for Retarded Children, n.d.

ROBINSON, HALBERT B., and ROBINSON, NANCY M., The Mentally Retarded Child, McGraw-Hill, 1965.

STUBBLEFIELD, HAROLD W., The Church’s Ministry in Mental Retardation, Broadman, 1965.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.