The Implications of “All are Welcome”

Recently, I had the privilege of having a Facebook conversation with a pastor friend.  He was openly wondering questions about welcome and what that really means after having read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s Pastrix. I think my pastor friend unwittingly gave me the start of a series of blog posts, so we’ll see where this conversation takes us.

To set the stage, we have all seen it, churches more and more are trying to claim that “all are welcome.”  But that begs the question, are we honestly and really ready for that?  Because to be honestly open and welcoming to anyone and everyone means that we can’t hold barriers of expectations.   What does all-inclusive look like?

The concept of “all are welcome,” as my pastor friend reiterated has challenges because it is well-intentioned, but its passive.  It implies that people are welcome, but it says nothing about there being a multi-directional relationship.  It assumes that people come to church, and that’s a one directional thing.  How does this correlate though with the concept of being a called and sent community?

The idea of claiming to be an “all are welcome” congregation is great.  But it doesn’t demand anything from us. As my pastor friend argued, “It doesn’t ask us to actually get out there, boots on the street, talking with our neighbors or really anyone.”  If you are going to claim this as a value it has to lead to action.  If you just name something and there is no action taken, they are just words.   Leaving something at just naming it is shallow, meaningless, and not reflective of the depth of what I believe it means to be a people of God.

If we truly want to embrace the value of “all are welcome,” we need to equally embrace the idea that “all are sought.”  It’s not so much about the sign outside the church that says services are at 8am and 11am, and Sunday School is at 9:30am.  Rather, the sign should say, “we are out and willing and wanting to talk with anyone, anytime!”  A congregation that is headed for the streets to show, embody, and tell that  “Jesus loves you, just the way you are…” that’s a congregation that really gets, believes, and lives that “all are welcome.”

We have tried the strategy of saying that all are welcome to the feast, we have put the signs out front and in the local paper.  We have even tried social media.  All of these are good and important, but they are only part of what it means to say “all are welcome.” To really mean it, means we need to take seriously the concept that all are sought.

What could it mean that “all are sought?”  I’ll begin to unpack this question in the next post in this series which can be found here.  For now, I am curious, what do you think of when you hear that “all are welcome?” What would that mean for you?  How about the idea that “all are sought?”

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