NJ church opening cafe staffed by individuals with special needs: 'The Kingdom of God in 3D Technicolor'
A New Jersey megachurch is opening a cafe staffed by adults with special needs to better reflect the “Kingdom of God in 3D Technicolor,” pastor Tim Lucas has revealed.
This year, Liquid Church in Parsippany, New Jersey, will transform the Clean Water Café at its Broadcast Campus into a full-service coffeehouse operating Monday-Friday that “will serve delicious breakfast, lunch, and specialty coffee creations in a warm, work-friendly environment.”
The coffee shop will provide over 30 jobs for those with Asperger's, autism and Down syndrome who have aged out of the education system.
“I think special needs ministry is singular in its ability to show the Kingdom of God in 3D Technicolor,” Lucas told The Christian Post. “When Jesus says, ‘The last shall be first,’ He means that the way we love and care for the weakest members of His family will contribute to the strength of the community. It’s lavishing the love of the King on His most vulnerable children.”
According to statistics, about 80% of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities are unemployed. Through the Clean Water Café, Liquid hopes to “create a path for our special friends to be accepted, included, and valued in the workplace.”
In addition to supporting the local community, the café will have a global impact: Any profits from the shop will be added to the donations that Liquid is already giving to support the Clean Water Cause in Africa and Central America.
According to Lucas, the 5,000-member church seeks to “saturate our state with the Gospel of Jesus Christ without watering down the Gospel.” And the rate of autism among children in New Jersey, he revealed, is the highest ever documented for a state.
“Starting a special needs ministry wasn’t initially part of our vision, but it’s something we felt God called us to do,” he shared. “We said, ‘What a beautiful opportunity to serve an underserved population.’ We looked at, ‘How do we create space at the table for children and adults with autism, Asperger's and Down syndrome?’”
In addition to employing individuals through the Clean Water Café, Liquid Church provides support to parents of children with special needs through support groups and parents night out events. Additionally, the church hosts an annual “Night to Shine” prom for those with special needs.
But the church’s largest and most unique special needs ministry, according to Lucas, is its Buddy Program. At Liquid, every child with special needs is assigned a buddy who walks with them from fifth grade to high school, ensuring they can participate in all of Liquid Kids environments. Each buddy is trained to meet the unique communication and language needs specific to the child they are assigned.
“In general, the church is 30 years behind culture when it comes to special needs. They don’t have the manpower and muscle even if they’re passionate about it,” Lucas told CP. “What happened at Liquid was, millennials stepped up and said, ’We understand inclusion,’ so most of our buddy volunteers are in their 20s and 30s.”
About 400 families participate in Liquid’s Buddy Program, Lucas estimated, adding that many families travel from all over the state to attend worship while their children participate in the program.
“There was one 10-year-old young man named Grady with Down syndrome, ADHD, and verbal apraxia, meaning the speech messages in his brain didn’t transfer to his mouth,” the pastor recalled. “When his family came to us, they said, ‘We’ve been kicked out of our last three churches. It wasn’t the church’s fault, but they didn’t know what to do with Grady. All three churches treated him as a behavior problem because he was disrupting classes.’”
“People,” Lucas continued, “have no idea the toll special needs take on a family. Most people don’t even attend church because their children are seen as a disruption.”
Grady was paired with Katy, a 20-something-year-old who “met his energy,” the pastor said.
“And at Liquid, we were OK with him being disruptive because we view it as the joy of the Lord that was uniquely put in Grady,” Lucas said.
For Grady’s family, the 90-minute drive to church was more than worth it.
“Grady’s mother told me, ‘This isn’t just for Grady. It’s saving our marriage,’” he recounted. “We only have one hour a week where we can go worship God and have a moment of respite and be spiritually renewed before we go back to being mom and dad to our son, Grady, as well as our other children.’”
After attending Liquid Church for a time, Grady spoke his first sentence: “I want to go to church.”
“It was incredible. His mother said, ‘We’ve found a home, and Grady has found healing,” Lucas said. “Praise God. Isn’t that what the church is supposed to be? Through our special needs programs, people have caught the Father’s heart.”