Liminal. It is a Latin word meaning “threshold.” That little strip of wood or metal that is part of every doorway. Being “on the threshold” is the way we describe someone at a point of transition. Change. Already but not yet. Not entirely in…not entirely out.
I believe more than ever that pastoral leaders need to be designers of liminal space and experiences—thresholds for people to take one step toward Christ.
Liminal space is what Jesus created when he met Nicodemus by night. It is what Agrippa acknowledged when he said, “Almost you have persuaded me to be a Christian.” It is what Paul provided when he reasoned with the Athenians on Mars Hill. In each case, there was the occasion to be not entirely in…and not entirely out.
I have been blessed recently to hear of congregations and pastors wisely employing the “threshold principle” in their efforts. Here are five recent examples that I’ve witnessed:
One church developed a quality rendering of Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and invited the community.
Another church took its worship service to a local high school auditorium four times a year to be more accessible to people in the community.
One church took its food basket assembly project to a mall and engaged shoppers.
A district purchased a block party wagon with grills and games to be used around the district for gatherings in neighborhoods.
There are a growing number of pastors who office in coffee shops in order to interact with more people from the community.
In creative ways, these churches are making liminal space for people to test the pool of Christian faith.
The Wesleyan way is the way of “making.” “Making disciples” is a process, often a slow one. Leveraging the liminal is often one part of that process. The next step may be other people’s to take, but it is our job to offer it.
Rev. Ben Ingebretson is director of new church development for the Dakotas-Minnesota Area of the United Methodist Church.