A recent conversation on Facebook caused me to wonder what may be required to be a truly welcoming church.

Here are five principles for being a welcoming church:

1. We aim to welcome everyone. But we do not welcome everything.

If you come to our church with the intention of preying on members of our community, we do not welcome your behaviour. If you cause harm to anyone, your actions are not welcome.

We do not welcome abuse. We do not welcome violence, manipulation, disrespect, or any word, action, or attitude that aims to diminish or control any other person. We do not welcome anything that damages the well-being of others or the thriving of the human community or the world.

2. Welcome is not a program; it is a state of being.

True welcome cannot be implemented as one more good idea in the hope that it will fill my church.

I need to come to that place of strength and security within myself where, apart from basic human civility, I neither need nor expect you to be different than the person you are.

I can only welcome you if I am free from needing you to join my program or support my vision. While I am grateful for whatever gifts you bring, your value to our community does not depend upon your money, or the time, energy, or commitment you give to our programs. All I desire for you is that you might become more fully the person God created you to be in the way that is uniquely you.

3. In order to welcome to you I must experience in my deepest being that I am welcome.

Until I know that I am  welcome right here, right now, just as I am, I will be unable to open fully to you as you are. Your differences will always be threatening and cause me to shut you out until I have fully experienced the gift that I am welcome.

But, I will never know that I am welcome if I depend upon you to welcome me. I cannot rely for my sense of welcome on how you treat me or any external accomplishment or achievement. An abiding sense of welcome comes only from knowing within myself the value, beauty, and goodness of my life simply because I am created in the image of God.

4. Welcome always requires mess.

We hear a lot these days about “messy church.” But any church that wants to be truly welcoming will be a “messy church.”

Being part of a welcoming church means sharing space with people who may not agree with me, people with whom I may not be comfortable, or who may behave in ways I find incomprehensible. In a welcoming church things may not run as smoothly as I might hope. There may be interruptions; people may not show up to do their jobs. Our worship may not always be as perfectly aesthetically pleasing as we might hope.

If we are going to be a welcoming church, we do not get to choose who we welcome. In order to truly practice welcome, we need difference.Only a church that is characterized by diversity can serve as an experiential workshop in giving and receiving unconditional welcome.

5. People in a welcoming church understand that church is a vehicle for opening human hearts.

We gather in worship in order that our hearts may soften and open to the power of love and life we call “God.” As our hearts open to the presence of love, our hearts will open to the people with whom we worship and ultimately to the whole of God’s world. Only open hearts can create a welcoming environment.