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You’re (Not Just) Welcome!

Not too long ago, a Lutheran church in Colorado announced that they had decided to quit being a welcoming church.  Their pastor wrote a long blog post, saying that despite the amazing amount of time and energy they had put into becoming a welcoming church by redoing their worship, training ushers and greeters, putting their friendliest people to work in hospitality, they were no longer going to consider themselves “welcoming.”


Why? They realized they had been misplacing their emphasis and needed a new focus.  Their biggest insight was that “welcoming” was, at best, a passive approach. Being welcoming meant they waited for visitors and guests to drop by their church and, then (and only then) they were as kind and encouraging as possible.  Being welcoming meant hoping that the folks who dropped in would come back again.  And, most of the time, being welcoming meant being a little disappointed and a little self-defensive when it turned out they weren’t someone’s cup of religious tea.


Their solution?  They made a commitment to being an “inviting” church.  As their pastor wrote, “Inviting” is different. That means we leave the comfort of our congregational home-court advantage. The main activity doesn’t happen in our worship space when people drop in, but in the neighborhood when we go out. It isn’t so much welcoming them into our place, but going out into their place and meeting them there.”


Underneath their decision to forego the welcoming moniker in favor of embracing the invitational spirit was another important shift.  They gave up thinking of other people as potential members and donors to be secured and started thinking of them as, well, the very people God was calling them to join.  In other words, the new spirit required a complete flip in their evangelism:  it wasn’t about getting the world into God’s church but about getting the church into God’s world.


In her new book, Grounded: Finding God in the World, Diana Butler Bass say that the real problem confronting declining mainline churches is that more and more people find God in the world around them, rather than believe in a God found only in heaven or in a church building.  To connect with modern spirituality, Bass says, people in churches need to take their warm and welcoming spirit out into their neighborhoods and communities.   


With Lent, our annual 40-day pilgrimage with Jesus from Nazareth to Jerusalem approaching in February, I find myself thinking:  If God and Jesus are in the world, that’s where I want to be too.