Upon a recent visit to another church, I noticed a lot of gray hair. Looking around, I also noticed there were not many children, teens, or even young adults. There was only one young couple with children. Of course, some churches have many in the younger age groups, but the question comes, “How can you train up a child in the way he should go if you do not have a child to train (Proverbs 22:6)?” Let’s consider that question regarding Deaf children.
Early Education – The American educational system has emphasized early childhood education for many years. Teaching and training can and should begin at a very young age. It is interesting how many moms and dads want their baby’s first word to be either “Mom-ma” or “Dad-da.” It has been said that children tend to form much of their language skills within their first five years of life. Teaching Deaf children early is very important.
Ten Percent – It has been estimated that only 10% of Deaf children are born to Deaf parents. Some have said that many of the Deaf leaders in the Deaf community tend to have Deaf parents. One reason could be that those children learned language skills very early. In other words, they have an advantage because of early education. Many Deaf children born to hearing parents may not have this advantage if their parents do not know sign language. Although this information may be difficult to verify, it is obvious that teaching children, deaf or hearing, at a young age can greatly help them in their adult years.
Deaf Children – Hearing churches tend to have classes for every age group of children. Teachers realize that they are investing in young lives and willingly sacrifice time and effort to prepare and teach. However, teaching Deaf children can be more challenging. For example, at ages 7-8 years, when hearing children may have a vocabulary of over 20,000 words, the vocabulary of many Deaf children may be much more limited and contain mostly 48% nouns.* Deaf children are not mentally slow, but they may have limited language skills. “Being deaf is a communication handicap” (Anna Mindess, Reading Between the Signs, p. 87). Often their Sunday School teacher is more limited, and communicating Bible stories and truths may be awkward. Teachers must not only prepare a lesson, but must also teach Bible vocabulary and signs. Teachers must spend extra time considering how to communicate effectively with this age group. It is not easy, but the next Deaf generation needs to know about Jesus Christ! Churches (individuals in churches) should consider the great need of teaching Deaf children.
Deaf Teenagers – This is an exciting age for ministry. Whether Deaf or hearing, this group is learning about life outside the home. They are beginning to decide their values. They decide how they relate with others socially. They make important decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. Because they are learning many new things at one time, they may think they have all the answers. They tend to think they are smarter than their parents, but this age group has limited information about the world around them. They may be learning only one world view, so their decisions may not be based on enough information. Deaf teenagers can greatly benefit from learning the Bible, especially at this time in their lives. There is a need for churches to minister to this age group as they change and mature.
Deaf Young Adults – As this age group considers college, a family, a job, and their direction in life, they need mentors to guide and help in these important decisions. Often, Deaf people tend to look to Deaf friends as their “families.” This may be partly because of communication difficulty with their natural families into which they were born. This age group tends to become more settled in their lives and to enter into some kind of routine. But this group seems to approach life with much energy. There is a great need for Deaf Christians in this age group to openly follow Jesus Christ. Church ministries and good Christian mentors are needed.
Show Me – The words “Saved,” “New Life,” “Born Again,” “Regeneration,” “Transformed,” and similar “church” words may mean nothing to Deaf young people. However, a good Christian example along with clear and understandable teaching of God’s word can help many young Deaf Christians follow God with their lives. The goal is to “make disciples” and grow Christians, not just to build a church program. Somehow people seem to know when a church is sincerely trying to help them to grow as Christians. Young Deaf people need to see older Deaf (and hearing) Christians walking with God and making godly decisions in their lives. They need an example to follow.
New or Old – The answer to reaching the next Deaf generation is not in new methods, new programs, or new technology (but sometimes these can help). The answer is to use trusted and proven Bible methods. Jesus taught the answer, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations (including Deaf), baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Deaf young people need to be taught the Bible. They must be shown by example. They must receive Christ the same as older Christians did. They must be trained God’s way, using the Bible. Methods and programs may change, but the Bible is the same from generation to generation.
Whether you have Deaf adults, Deaf children, the hearing impaired, ASL Deaf, oral deaf, families, deaf ministries, deaf churches or another group, SWM is here to help. Does your church have an effective ministry to Deaf children, teenagers, or young adults? Please write and tell me about your ministry. Does your church need help with deaf ministry? To contact Jon click here.