“Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, to bring praise to God.” Romans 15:7 These words are an excellent touchstone for any congregation working to be more inclusive. Building community while pursuing individual faith can be challenging, especially in today’s fast-paced world. Even the best among us can wake up and realize we’ve created a community that doesn’t live up to this ideal, a place where some feel less than welcome. Grace allows us to recognize this shortcoming, and to move forward with solutions. Where there are walls, impediments to inclusivity, we can take concrete steps to break down barriers and welcome diverse new members to our community of faith. Here are just a few ideas to build a more inclusive church community:
Positioning greeters at all exterior and interior doors for each service and event is a simple, yet powerful step. They can offer a cheerful greeting, of course, but they’re also able to assist people with a wide variety of disabilities, the elderly and visitors who aren’t familiar with your facilities. Plus, if you have great greeters that don’t make a guests first time an isolating event (such as asking questions like “are you new?’) then they’re bound to feel like they belong and will look to further participate.
Sight impairments make full participation in church difficult. Consider verbal announcements of program and bulletin information before or after services to keep everyone informed. Additionally, consider making a variety of materials available in audio formats, large print, and braille.
Consider adding sign language interpreters to a broad range of your services, classes, and events. Sign language can allow people with hearing impairment to engage in worship and education entirely and feel fully included in the community. If you have the resources consider getting an ASL interpreter, while it might not be required under religious situations (but required is a whole lot of other places), it’s going to show that you care about accommodating your community.
Simple changes to your facility, many of which can be made through the efforts of church volunteers, can make your community accessible to people who use wheelchairs, walkers, or who have other mobility impairments. Think about ramps, handrails, automatic doors, lowered water fountains, sinks and other facilities.
Be intentional as leadership and as a community, consciously and consistently inviting people with disabilities and other diverse groups to join your church. A simple invitation and heartfelt welcome can work wonders and make new members feel genuinely at home. If you have the budget, consider investing in some stickers to pass out to new guests, to give them something memorable so as to encourage further participation. Building an inclusive community is consistent with our values, and furthermore, the diversity it brings strengthens our church and opens new doors as we pursue our journey of faith.
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