“The only way to propogate a message is to live it.” Jim Wallis
It is important that radical welcome is modeled by the leadership and owned by the congregation.
While it may seem obvious that buy-in from both church leadership and the congregation is important, what is less obvious is how this culture of welcome comes about.
For some churches, their culture started with congregants who had a heart to reach out to the stranger and with time, they attracted a pastor who believed in this vision. For others, it started with church leadership challenging their congregation with a vision that in time attracted members with the same heart and mind.
The point is that missional attracts missional. The only way to become a missional congregation is to start living missionally.
(Click the green tabs below to read how welcoming the ‘other’ became part of each community’s DNA)
(Fresh Wind Fellowship; Abbotsford, BC) Fresh Wind was started by two couples who knew they were to start a church, knew the values that would guide the church, but weren’t sure who the focus of their church should be. Through a series of events, God showed the leadership that local group home residents (most of whom had serious physical and mental disabilities) were to be one of the four pillars of their church was built upon. Having people with disabilities at the center of a congregation creates a unique worshiping atmosphere. The residents can be loud, often uttering vocalizations during teaching and worship. Fresh Wind’s leadership welcomes much of the “interruptions” believing that the Holy Spirit is often trying to speak through the non-verbal residents. Interestingly, though hundreds of people have visited Fresh Wind the last ten years, many self-select out of the congregation because of its unorthodox worship culture leaving a small committed and very “safe” group of people who truly value the residents and their unique contribuition to the congregation.
(The Church at Brook Hills; Birmingham, AL) The practice of international adoption grew organically since Brook Hills began in 1990. By the mid 2000’s, it was such a church norm among congregants and leadership that people were not overly congratulatory or surprised when families announced their intention to adopt but rather would ask how many children a family intended to adopt. . This culture where adoption is a norm attracted many families who were in the process of adopting or had already adopted because found support and their adopted kids felt normal. The congregation’s matter-of-fact attitude about adoption was a big confirmation to newly appointed pastor David Platt and his family when they came on as head pastor of Brook Hills in 2006. Their family was in the midst of their first international adoption and felt a kinship with this congregation in their heart for orphan care. During the eight years Platt pastored, he went on to challenge the congregation to extend their welcome to “local” orphans in their county’s foster care system, building upon the already strong culture of international adoption.
(Northern Lighthouse Mission; Lincoln, NE) Sam and Karen Keyzer were church pastors commissioned by their Christian Reformed denomination to start a church plant in Lincoln. To do this, they gathered a small leadership team and launched the church with a city-wide mailing campaign. Six very eclectic people showed up as a result. One of them, a rough very marginal character, Leigh, had a friend he invited to church from a local correctional center. The next week, more inmates came with Leigh’s friend and thus an inmate ministry began. Northern Lighthouse’s story is unexpected in that neither the leadership nor the congregants had a vision of prison ministry, it developed as they followed what God was doing. Most of the traditional church people on the leadership team fell away when the inmates started attending leaving a congregation that is built on current inmates, former inmates and those from mainstream churches who have a heart and calling for this population.
(Grandview Calvary Baptist; Vancouver, BC) Fresh out of seminary, Tim and Mary Dickau moved to a fairly rough neighborhood in East Vancouver to pastor a dwindling Baptist congregation. Tim came to the church with a clear vision of being an incarnational presence in the neighborhood and started attending the neighborhood community gatherings and getting to know the local businesses. His commitment to the neighborhood attracted a group of theology students, social activists, and professors who have become a core group of leadership in the faith community. Tim and Mary first welcomed people into their home to help, and over time they experienced the richness of living in community. It eventually became a part of their family culture. Their example of sharing their family life with others has inspired many congregants to do the same. The Salsbury Community Society grew out of an early initiative to provide hospitality and housing to low-income residents. Kinbrace, a Refugee support and housing, and Co-here, a housing project providing community and support to low-income and homeless folks in the neighborhood also grew out of this community that emphasized a shared life.
(Peace Lutheran; Tacoma, WA) In 1971 Pastor Plaehn was called to a dwindling and aging white Lutheran congregation in an inner-city neighborhood experiencing white flight and urban decay. Plaehn came with a vision and passion to serve the struggling neighborhood and invite people in the neighborhood to be a part of the church. He walked the streets every week getting to know the neighbors and their needs and soon the demographics of the church started changing. A year into his leadership, he appointed an African-American man from the neighborhood Clarence Pettit to be the associate pastor/youth minister and this decision caused many long-standing members to leave the church. For a while it was uncertain if the congregation would be financially viable but God was faithful in keeping the doors open. In time, the church grew attracting not only a diversity of marginalized people from the neighborhood but also college students, professors, and missional minded people from other congregations who felt called to be a part of what God was doing at Peace Lutheran Church. Peace is now a very vibrant and diverse congregation both ethnically but also socio-economically with people from within and without the neighborhood. Congregants at Peace are committed to and very proud of the vision of being a diverse and welcoming congregation that is living out a vision of peace in their neighborhood.