As a late 30s dad, I’m technically allowed to go in into an Ambercrombie store. The door is open for me they’ll take my money but everything about it tells me I do not belong. In fact, most stores are open to me but some are made for me and some aren’t.
Often times in the Church, we can say, “we’re open to everybody” or “you’re welcome here”. But that doesn’t mean people feel like they belong. We should be doing the work to communicate, “it’s made just for you”. This is what real attunement looks like.
This doesn’t mean compromising on sacraments or theology or not caring for current parishioners. It does mean putting in effort so people don’t feel isolated, or feel they need to sound and act a certain way to belong. It means creating a culture in the parish that is radically welcoming, not conformative. It means allowing people to feel and experience God’s heart for them—we want you here and you belong here. We have a path for you to get somewhere good. We know what you are going through in life. We want you here.
So how do you create that kind of environment?
The heart of it is focusing on people not programs.
Are people trained to attune to others?
Have they been seen and accompanied in their own life to be able to do it for others?
And do people have the capacity to hear someone's story?
When people have seen me, walked with me in my journey, and didn’t just quote the “right” thing to say, that’s when my healing and discipleship have grown the most. That’s when I have felt the safest to open up and I have felt deeply loved.
The same is true in ministry. While a program gives you a great foundation, the trap is relying on the program rather than the person’s capacity to run it or their ability to attune to the needs of people. Take Alpha, for example. The magic is in the great hospitality, open environment, and conversation. If all they did was play the video, would it be the same? The principle that makes Alpha great is their emphasis on hospitable environment in discovering truth.
Too often we think there is a formula or program in a niche area of ministry that is the answer to our problems. We fight for more education, conferences, training… But a conscientious disciple could take a mediocre program, apply great principles, and probably see incredible fruit. We need hearts that are willing to get into the mess, willing to love, and able to walk alongside people. It’s about people living out gospel principles, not programs.
This blog post was originally posted on LinkedIn. You can find more here.