Quick Overview: Core Practices for Radical Welcome
Everybody wants to do it, but what is it? It’s more than good coffee and smiling greeters, though those don’t hurt. Here’s a brief primer on radical welcome and five practices your church can take up to get on the road to welcoming like Jesus:
First, An Introduction …
Radical welcome is the spiritual practice of embracing the gifts, voices, power and presence of groups historically and systemically held at the margins of church life, so that we can all help each other to grow into the fullness of Christ.
As you practice radical welcome, you join Jesus in stretching your arms and embracing The Other – any group prone to experience systemic oppression and marginalization in your congregation and/or denomination, especially given your church’s dominant race, culture, language, generation, socioeconomic class, education level, sexual orientation, gender identity and physical ability.
When you radically welcome, you share the gifts of your tradition and culture, even as you allow your heart and your congregation’s life to be transformed by The Other’s presence, gifts and power among you.
Practice 1: Receive the Love of God
How can I love anybody else if I’m unsure of God’s love for me? On the other hand, how powerful would I be, and what risks could I take, if I were sure of God’s love? Recall the words of priest and prophet Henri Nouwen: “I am convinced that I will truly be able to love the world when I fully believe that I am loved far beyond its boundaries.” Before you step out to radically welcome, be sure you’ve built solid practices for members to experience the original, unconditional, radical embrace of Jesus.
Practice 2: Get Out
If you think welcome starts at your front door, think again. To radically welcome, you have to get to know your wider community -- especially the people who are just beyond your doors who wouldn’t dare come inside. Do demographic research at a site like American FactFinder. Then get out and walk around!
Practice 3: Listen Well
Radical welcome requires deep listening to The Other. Sometimes we get nervous because we think relationship depends on us having all the right words. The hallmark of radical welcome is mutuality, which means sharing and listening equally. One process for balanced listening and storytelling is the One-to-One Conversation. Community organizers know the practice well: two people meet for a specific amount of time, with the goal of sharing their foundational stories and discovering shared passions and gifts and eventually casting a vision for shared action. It’s a different way of engaging our neighbors, and it leads to mutual transformation. And that’s what radical welcome is all about: mutual transformation!
Practice 4: Acknowledge Power
To radically welcome, you’ll have to deal with power: who has it, who doesn’t, whose culture shapes the church’s story and history, whose culture doesn’t. Trouble is, churches don’t talk much about power. But systems of power surround us, and each of us has group identities that place us closer to power in some places and out of power in other places. Filling out this Power Grid is a simple but powerful exercise for discovering who is at the center and who is on the margins. Once you know, you can start the important work of identifying ways to embrace each other.
Practice 5: Move toward Radical Welcome
Once you can admit which marginalized groups you would need to make a “radical” effort to embrace, put all the pieces together and start to share power and welcome with groups from the margins.
- Do One-to-Ones with members of cultural and identity groups whose stories do not shape the story, leadership and worship of your church. Let them tell you what radical welcome and sharing power feel like to them (instead of assuming you know and setting up programs to welcome them).
- Be ready to share what you love and also to receive the gifts of the Other, which may be different but quite beautiful. This may have an impact on your church’s worship, leadership practices, ministry style and community engagement.
- Especially as fear arises, stay in touch with how much God loves you. It will help you to be excited about sharing that love with new groups … and having them share the love and life of Christ with you in ways you could not have imagined. Why else would we radically welcome?