Carla Christopher

Here are some helpful tips on becoming a more welcoming congregation or worship space.

It’s not just a slogan or a sign. It’s looking for any barrier that keeps someone from full participation and finding creative ways to remove that barrier.

Welcome is active work to create seats at the table for those who haven’t had room before. Diversity is so much more than just skin color. It’s language, culture, education, and financial resources. It’s physical and mental health (visible and sometimes invisible), age, gender, or family structure. Sometimes, welcome looks like printing out the words for a visual processor; sometimes, it looks like gluten free snacks at coffee hour. It looks like LGBTQIA+ people in the pulpit and on church council with straight, cisgender people using their privilege to actively support them. It looks like no one feeling like a second-class citizen or an afterthought. It’s neither work nor is it optional when it is family.

So how do we start?

Look at who is already in your congregation but who is regularly on the margins. Who attends but doesn’t participate? Who stops by coffee hour but doesn’t sit or chat with anyone? Who comes to your special events but does not show up on Sunday?

Without shame or guilt tripping, find out why and then work to remove any barriers. Are you not offering childcare in a church filled with single parents? Are your events late at night with a congregation of mostly seniors who prefer daytime driving?

Next, take a step outside of your doors. Use tools like census data or demographic software like Mission Insight. Who is in your neighborhood? What groups of people are in your community but are not represented in your congregation? What might be the reason for that? A few one-on-one meetings with community leaders or non-church friends can offer helpful insight. Now, work to remove those barriers.

This is only the first step and no, it will not necessarily fill your congregation with a brand-new group of passionate super volunteers who tithe their full 10%.

What it will do is make you a more loving and authentic place of welcome.

It will help you be a place where visitors are more likely to stay and where people on the margin are more likely to participate.

This is an important part of laying the table so that you can extend a fruitful invitation to the meal.

Views expressed reflect the diversity of voices and experiences across our synod and belong solely to the author, not necessarily to the Lower Susquehanna Synod or the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.