When my wife and I retired and decided to move to Florida we searched for a place near a church with a Deaf ministry. We were not raised as Deaf, but were hearing-impaired most of our lives. Due to family genetics, my wife lost whatever hearing she had and is now deaf (meaning she is now deaf, but not culturally Deaf). Old age and 60+ years of hearing-aid use have worsened my own hearing so I’m now profoundly hearing-impaired.
As believers who follow Jesus, we despaired of finding a church with a vibrant Deaf community. There are many reasons for it:
Deaf believers are very few and far in-between. Deaf people are about .003% of the hearing population. On top of that, the rate of Deaf believers is about 1/10th of Hearing believers. Given that less than 20% of the general population regularly attend church, you have perhaps only .02% of the Deaf population going to church.
Given that the United States has 300,000,000 people, and only 20% regularly go to church, that gives us 60,000,000 believers who go to church. Another given is that there are 300,000 churches in the United States. So, the average congregation becomes 200 members.
The estimated Deaf population for the United States is near 1,000,000. The number depends on how “Deaf” is defined. If you include those who became deaf later in life, then it’s close to a million. If that million were all hearing, you would have an estimated 200,000 regular church goers. But, since the rate of Deaf who believe is 1/10th of Hearing believers then you have 20,000 Deaf believers who go to church, or an average of .067 Deaf believers per 300,000 churches. Even if you allowed a full 20% of the Deaf population to be regular church goers, they would still only number about 3 Deaf believers per church.
I’ll admit my numbers are only estimates, but my personal, limited experience with Deaf in the Church is that it’s not far from the truth. At these very low numbers, the challenge in providing a full “Body of Christ” experience for Deaf believers is great, very great.
Consider that a church with 200 faithful is hard pressed to assimilate and fully support 3 Deaf believers, let alone 1. What is needed from the Hearing church?
Consider that most parents of a Deaf child are hearing and most Deaf parents have hearing children. Very few families are totally Deaf/deaf. Thus, for a church to serve them, it must be able to serve both parents and children.
This means that a Hearing-only church, with no support for Deaf, can’t provide for families with Deaf members. Deaf-only churches, without support for Hearing, can’t provide for families with Hearing members.
Conclusion? Only churches which support both hearing and Deaf/deaf members are capable of providing the full Body of Christ experience to families with mixed hearing and Deaf members. In Part Two I will focus on Hearing churches, but the challenge for Deaf churches is similar.
[End Part One]