“Can I join your church?”
This is a question I have received more than once via email or text message. Back in February, my wife, some of our friends, and I started a church, and one of the first questions that has recurred over and over again is this one: “Can I join your church?”
The person is not typically asking because they are mildly curious about how membership works in a new church. No, the question usually is framed in the context of, “I have been told by other churches that I don’t belong there, so is it possible that Collective Church could be a safe place for me to find a church home?”
They are asking because they are divorced.
They are asking because they are gay.
They are asking because they are women who have been seeking empowerment in a world where the men have always run the show.
They are asking because they vote differently than most Christians they have encountered.
In short, they are asking because they feel like they have never fit in and have never been welcome anywhere, so why should our church be any different?
And my answer is always the same: “Yes, you are welcome at our church.”
There is no “but” or “if.” There is no asterisk next to the person’s name in our membership file. They are welcome. Period.
I realize that lots of churches have very specific rules about who can join. Some of these rules are self-imposed by the church leadership, and some are inherited from their chosen denomination. They have rules about how a person needs to be baptized, rules about a person’s sexual identity, rules about a person’s relational history, and rules about how much money church members are expected to give.
However, one of the benefits of starting a new church is that we open ourselves up in new ways and simply say, “You are welcome” to anyone who stumbles into our midst.
The reason I feel this way is that I am under the impression that the church is meant to be a physical representation of the Kingdom of God in this world. It is also my understanding that the Kingdom of God is available to anyone who wants to be a part of it.
When we look at the list of people who follow Jesus, we see a lot of diversity. We see a tax collector—a national sellout, profiting off of the oppression of his neighbors—and a zealot—a patriot who would commit violence against national sellouts like his friend the tax collector. We see people who endured unspeakable poverty. We also see that one of Jesus’ followers was married to one of the wealthiest men in the country (Luke 8:1-3). Political left and political right; wealthy and poor. And toward the end of his time with them, Jesus invites them all to sit around a table and to eat together.
So yes, everyone is welcome, because that is the kind of community that Jesus modeled for us. Everybody is welcome simply because Jesus welcomes everybody.
If you have been made to feel as though you don’t belong—either by your personal history or how you see yourself or how other people have made you feel—this is not the way it was meant to be. You are loved, and you are welcome regardless of any labels that someone might want to attach to you.
I used to be part of another church, and when I left someone from that church said to me, “You know, Rob, you’ve never really fit in here.”
That was probably true. I’ve been lots of places where I didn’t fit in. But in starting this new church, we wanted to create a place for people to fit in, even if they never have before. It can also a place for people who have always fit in everywhere.
To the popular kids and to the outcasts, to the mainstream and to the off-beat, to the normal and to the abnormal, Jesus offers a place at the table.
You are welcome because Jesus says that you are welcome. That’s good enough for me.