Congregations with inclusive attitudes and practices toward lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people make themselves much more attractive not only to LGBT people but to many others as well. Becoming a welcoming and accepting congregation can create an atmosphere in which church growth can happen.
Obviously LGBT people are far more likely to attend worship, participate in other activities, and in time become members of congregations that are welcoming and affirming of them. Estimates on the percentage of LGBT persons in North America range from 3% to 8%. Even at the lowest end of the range, the numbers involved are very significant. Churches who welcome and affirm LGBT people can expect to see growth in other categories as well including:
- Those who are family members of LGBT people and want to be a part of a faith community in which their loved ones are fully accepted.
- Those who are young adults and have a more accepting view of LGBT people. Such young adults may be more open to invitations to participate in a welcoming and accepting church.
- Those of any age who are accepting of LGBT people and who want to be in a faith community that is accepting of them.
In the process of doing research on hospitality, Christian Community has encountered congregations of many different denominational traditions that practice a broad, biblical hospitality and that are growing as a result. In a society in which people experience rejection and judgment in many different settings, people are hungry for the kind of full and healthy acceptance that such congregations have to offer.
The media have fed on stories of churches that withdrew from denominations because of more accepting positions on LGBT issues. People who are working against LGBT acceptance in some denominations work to create the impression that welcoming and affirming churches are likely to lose members. Making meaningful comparisons between congregations, however, is very difficult because of the large number of variables that contribute to church growth and decline. Those who want to argue against LGBT acceptance can select examples to confirm their position, but the overall direction of what is happening in congregations in North America does not support their position.
Christian Community’s research over the last decade affirms that churches with a broad hospitality, including full acceptance of LGBT persons, are very likely to grow if they do the other things that make for church growth. These growing churches are characterized by:
- A broad, biblical hospitality that is extended to all people, regardless of race, economic level, physical ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity.
- A membership that is comfortable reaching out to persons who are not in the church and inviting them to participate in worship and other congregational activities.
- Careful follow-up on visitors to worship and other activities so that people know they are valued and wanted in the life of the church.
- Clearly articulated beliefs and values, accompanied by an openness to those who disagree.
- A genuine openness to new people with a willingness to include those who are new in positions of leadership and in the social networks of the congregation.
With or without LGBT acceptance, churches that do not reach out to nonmembers, do not provide a warm welcome to guests, and do not positively assimilate new people are not likely to grow. Churches that do those things and that reflect a broad, biblical hospitality are in an excellent position for growth. For a more thorough discussion on this, see the Christian Community book: Deep and Wide: Hospitality and the Faithful Church.