Talk About Special

One day in 2023, Dennis Blaisdell got a call from the pastor of his previous church, Meridian Point Church, in Colorado Springs, Colorado. He wanted to know what Blaisdell thought about the idea of launching a church specifically designed to cater to people with special needs and their families. Then he asked if Blaisdell would consider leading the ministry.

“After praying with my wife about it, we decided that if we’re living this life for God, and he’s calling us to ministry, then we would sell everything and move back to Colorado to launch this church,” says Blaisdell.

While it’s not unusual for a church to create a special-needs program, Access Christian Church was designed with the special-needs community 100% in mind. Blaisdell believes that people have good intentions when launching a special-needs ministry. These programs often fail, he says, because the church has already been established for a number of years, making it harder to restructure or change things about the service. 

“On the flip side, when we started this church, the first thing we thought about was, ‘What would a person with special needs need when coming into this worship area?’” says Blaisdell. “We started from the ground up with that goal in mind rather than already having a house and trying to put on an addition.”

Blaisdell and his team connected with Joni & Friends, a faith-based organization committed to reaching and serving people with disabilities within churches. Joni & Friends flew a staff member to Colorado to offer training. In addition, Blaisdell met with more than 25 families, caregivers and individuals with special needs to get their opinions.

“They are the experts,” says Blaisdell. “They live that life every day, so they know what is needed.” 

The doors of Access Christian Church opened to the community in December 2023. 

Blaisdell describes the main worship area as “looking so weird and being so awesome.” The space includes wiggle chairs, camp chairs, rocking chairs, beanbag chairs and even swings. In addition, church leadership put up two tents with rugs inside for those attendees who have sensory issues. 

“The space is set up so that kiddos can move around if they need to,” notes Blaisdell, who jokes that after teaching middle school for seven years, there isn’t a distraction in the world that bothers him. 

They also offer a shorter Sunday service, an “unplugged” worship experience, and calmer lighting options.

As he began researching the area’s special-needs population, it became apparent that there is a lot of hurt in this group’s background. 

“It’s heartbreaking,” says Blaisdell. “Some people have even been kicked out of churches because they couldn’t remain quiet or quit moving around.”

He met one 44-year-old developmentally delayed man who was ousted from three different churches for singing too loudly. 

“He was told, ‘This isn’t the place for you,’” Blaisdell recalls. “We are missing the point as the ‘big C’ church when that is happening.”

Access Christian Church emphasizes that everyone has God-given strengths and talents that need to be used in the kingdom. Therefore, church leadership has as their goal to give everyone the opportunity to serve.

“We don’t just want to create a place for people to come on Sunday and leave,” says Blaisdell. “We aren’t called to sit in seats and listen to a guy talk. We are called to serve.”

He recently met with a family whose son with autism is generally nonverbal. Blaisdell asked what his strengths were, and the parents said that their son loves to give hugs. Blaisdell and they talked about it and decided he would make a great greeter. 

“[The son] repeats things, so one day he was repeating ‘Jesus loves me.’ Another nonverbal kid started mimicking him, saying, ‘Jesus loves me,’” says Blaisdell. “That’s evangelism right there.”

Creating a church specifically with the special-needs community in mind is unchartered territory, so Blaisdell tells his leadership team that they need to be both rigid and flexible as they iron out the kinks—rigid in regard to routine, yet flexible as they adjust to meet people’s needs.

“If we find that we are missing something, we will do whatever we need to do to change it,” says Blaisdell. “We’re just so excited about what’s happening here.”

Christy Heitger-Ewing
Christy Heitger-Ewing

Christy Heitger-Ewing is a contributing writer for Outreach magazine. In addition, Christy pens the “Now & Then” column in Cabin Life magazine. She also writes regularly for Christian publications such as Encounter, Insight, and the Lookout. She is the author of Cabin Glory: Amusing Tales of Time Spent at the Family Retreat.