No matter how long your congregation has been welcoming LGBTQ people, there is always more to learn. This week, we suggest engaging in some active listening. Think of groups that are underrepresented or often unheard from in your congregation; some examples might be LGBTQ people of color, youth, seniors, bisexuals, people engaged in polyamory, those from conservative backgrounds, parents of LGBTQ children, people with non-binary gender identity etc. The list really can be endless so consider who might be helpful for your community to hear from. What are people curious about or who do they know little about? Then put together a panel of engaging people to talk about their lives and the issues they are most concerned about.

If your congregation has a number of newcomers or it has been a while since you’ve talked about this, you may wish to do a more general and diverse panel on the issues of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Here are some ideas to get started:

  • Come up with a strong theme for the panel that you think people in your congregation will be interested in. You might want to ask your panelists to share about their lives, offer their spiritual perspectives on their identity or other specific topic.
  • Decide if you want to include panelists from only within your congregation or if you’d like to invite people from outside. These might include people representing community organizations or others in your wider community.
  • Decide if this will be an internal conversation within your congregation—will you invite only members and friends of your group to come—or do you want to make this a community event and do outreach to those who do not currently attend your congregation? Then develop a plan to publicize the event accordingly.
  • Invite your panelists, paying to attention to diversity within the group. Having different points of view, and various social locations, can make for a much more interesting panel. You’ll want to attention to race, gender, profession, and class as well as to varying perspectives on the topic. Diversity in your panel also prevents the audience from making incorrect assumptions (for example, an all-white panel of bisexuals might lead the audience to mistakenly believe that all bisexuals are white).
  • Select a moderator for the panel to introduce your speakers, keep track of time, and facilitate questions. This is really helpful to make sure that the event runs smoothly. The moderator should develop questions for the panelists. It can be very helpful to connect the panelists via email or a brief meeting ahead of time so they know a little about each other. Here are some tips for moderators from [Harvard Business Review and Toastmasters. The Toastmasters article includes some general pointers for organizing panels as well.]
  • Set your date and time and publicize them. Do you want to hold this event immediately before or after a worship service? At the time of a regular education event at your congregation? Or make it a special evening or weekend program?
  • Consider having an evaluation form for those in attendance. You may want to ask them what they learned from the program, if they’d be interested in another panel event, and what topics they might like to see explored.
  • Be sure to thank your panelists for their participation with a note or small gift; thank the audience as well for their attendance.

View the rest of our 52 Ways to Increase Your Welcome series.