Relationships don't expand without first sharing common places. Whether those places are physical spaces, common interests or mutual conversations, they are necessary for connection.
I'm sure we've all put ourselves in situations where we attended an event out of obligation but discovered we really enjoyed ourselves. You can see the growth and enjoyment that came from participating. I hope we all have many stories of successful relationships that develop when we take a step and enter into a new experiences. Yeah us!
But what about the experiences we shy away from? Have we examined the lost opportunity in order to challenge ourselves to move forward? Let's consider what it might have taken to step into a new experience when we were uncertain. Let's consider the difference between an opportunity that welcomed us versus an opportunity where we were invited, personally, to participate.
Recently, while attending the Summer Institute on Theology and Disability, I had the opportunity to hear Eric Carter share the results of some research he and his team had recently conducted at the Kennedy Center at Vanderbilt University. This research found that 52% of adults impacted by intellectual and developmental disabilities do not belong to a faith community. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that 56% of parents state that faith communities lack the necessary support to include their child. When the researchers turned their attention to the faith communities, they found only 18% of churches offered any kind of intentional focus to invite those with disabilities.
Certainly our faith communities intend to be welcoming, but maybe this is where we begin to see that offering a welcoming environment just simply isn't enough. You see, uncertainty is a barrier for us all. In order to take that step and be included when welcomed we might need an intentional, thoughtful invitation. Invitations are personal while welcomes are general. Particularly for those who have had past experiences that have not been positive, they might need an extended hand in order to take that next step.
While I believe our communities of worship should be positioned to best model a personal, meaningful invitation, it doesn't stop there. If we're to take the next steps toward full community inclusion, truly creating experiences for us all to share common places, we must challenge ourselves beyond general welcoming. It's time for us to extend thoughtful, personal invitations. Who will you be inviting today to join you in a new experience?