Preparing Your Church for Transgender Guests

Sam Rainer

February 26, 2017


A few years ago, I encountered my first transgender guest at church. Our transgender guest was similar to other guests. He was looking to fill a void in his life. The dark problems plaguing his soul were many of the same problems others experienced. For one, he was an alcoholic, trying to gulp away pain. Like others, he struggled with an identity. The transgender guest really wanted to be something else, then he didn’t, sometimes in the same conversation. A fluid identity is a curse. You don’t know who you are, and you don’t like it.

It’s a Complex Issue

God’s plan of redemption is simple: Jesus saves. The implications of our salvation in Christ are profound and deep—we know who we really are. However, sin complicates. It should be no surprise to us that in this fallen world people struggle to understand their identities, gender included. Additionally, the stigma of being transgender is disappearing. Only 35 percent of Americans believe it is morally wrong for an individual to identify with a gender different than their birth sex.

You Will Likely Have a Transgender Guest at Some Point

You cannot dismiss this issue, as if you’ll never face a situation in which a transgender person comes to your church. According to LifeWay Research, over 40 percent of young adults (18-24 years old) report having a transgender acquaintance. Across all ages, 27 percent of Americans personally know someone who is transgender. About one out of three women and one out of five men say they know a transgender person. If your church gets the Great Commission right, then you’ll have transgender people as guests, simply because your congregation is reaching out to people they know.

What can you do to prepare your church for transgender guests? Are there some steps you can take personally? How do you lead your church through this complex cultural issue?

Preparing Your Church: What to Do

Invite and encourage. Every worship service at every church should be open to anyone. Additionally, every pastor should set the example by inviting friends to church. Your transgender neighbors should not be excluded from hearing the gospel, nor should they be excluded from an invitation to church. Just about every church advertises, “Anyone is welcome.” However, few churches take the initiative to invite people who are different than the majority of the congregation. If church leaders and pastors start inviting transgender acquaintances, then it will encourage others to do the same.

Listen carefully. If you are a conservative evangelical (like me), then you likely find the idea of self-identification a bit irrational. Rich people do not get to self-identify as poor in order to avoid taxes. A white person should not self-identify as a black person in order to claim the black experience. A young teen cannot self-identify as a senior citizen to get discounts at Denny’s. You can no more choose your gender identity than you can choose your wealth, ethnicity, or age. But, however much you may disagree with the choices of a transgender person, you should still listen to them carefully. The old adage still remains true: People won’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. No amount of philosophical self-aggrandization will win a soul. The first step to reaching a transgender person is simply to listen carefully. You may be surprised at the bridges you can build by lending an ear.

Display genuine concern. Jesus loves the transgender person, and so should you. Crude jokes and snarky sermon soundbites won’t solve the problem. We should care for those struggling with gender identity issues. You can put a stake in the ground on this issue while at the same time exhibiting love for hurting and confused people. Truth and love are two sides of the same coin. God’s truth compels us to love others. And to love others, you don’t have to compromise the truth.

Teach with clarity, not nuance, but only after building trust. During your main teaching times, whether sermons or group lessons, go right to the heart of the issue and address it biblically and clearly. Don’t hide behind big words or fuzzy nuances. Tell your people exactly what you expect them to believe on this issue. If news reports contain more facts about gender identity than your sermon, then you’re not preaching. You’re dancing. You should do the same with transgender people—teach with clarity. However, you must realize a bold lesson of truth hits hard, like a barreling bowling ball striking ten pins at top velocity. Hard truth is received well only after you build trust with someone. Otherwise, they simply feel like you’ve knocked them down for sport.

Preparing Your Church: What Not to Do

Don’t ignore the issue. It’s not going away. Most of your people are paying attention to transgender issues. Why? They represent a major cultural shift. Pastors are called by God to shepherd their congregations. If you are a church leader, then your church deserves an answer from you on this important issue. Prepare your leadership team by giving them a heads up about this issue.

Don’t react viscerally. Audible gasps and eye rolls will not help. When you encounter a transgender person, don’t react viscerally in disgust. You also don’t need to exaggerate niceties in order to cover up your apprehension. Transgender people are real people, and they see through it. Train your church greeters on this point.

Don’t make unnecessary enemies. Stay focused on the gospel. Remember, the church is not fighting against flesh and blood. Our neighbors are not our enemies, even our transgender ones. Unfortunately, I’ve come across too many Christians—some of them pastors!—who simply complain about the moral degradation of society as if handbaskets of hell were inevitable. The mission of God does not advance by bellyaching. Loud complaints make enemies. Making the gospel loud enlarges God’s kingdom.

Don’t say you can “fix it.” Back to my first transgender guest: The mistake was not that I reached out to someone desperate for help. Of that I have no regrets. The mistake I made as a pastor was buying into the perception this person had of me. He thought I was going to “fix it” and give some magical advice to make the pain go away. Of course, I shared the gospel. Of course, I shared how Jesus heals. But I did little to lower the lofty expectations of my abilities to solve his issues. He believed I could fix it. I played the part. Additionally, many other transgender people don’t want you to “fix it” because they don’t believe they are broken. Don’t claim you can do what only Christ can.

Your church will have transgender guests, and your congregation likely needs to be prepared. Equip them to know what not to do and what to do.

15 comments on “Preparing Your Church for Transgender Guests”

  1. Nate says:

    Good thoughts. We have had a few attend, mostly those who were cross dressing. Would be interested in how you dealt with the bathroom issue. We happen to have a single bathroom on one level that anyone can use and I discreetly asked these folks to please use that one to not create an issue, but others may not have that capability

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Nate – Excellent question. With this issue, balance is important. I wouldn’t want to create/build transgender bathrooms at my church, because I don’t believe it’s God’s will for people to express/choose a gender different than how He created them. However, I also wouldn’t want a transgender person to feel hostility from our congregation. Your approach seems to strike a balance.

      1. Gary Kniseley says:

        I’m glad you brought this tough issue up that nobody wants to deal with (including myself) but I’m afraid that most of us will deal with it sooner than later. Many student ministry pastors are already working with students who struggle with sexual identity. Last week at a conference with pastors the issue came up and a dear brother is processing this with his elders at his church. They have a man who dresses as a woman and has two different names–one male and one female. The pastor’s wife is concerned that she will bump into the man in the restroom–rightly so since others already have. There are legal ramifications to be concerned about as well. A family restroom works well for everyone and they could be asked to make use of it in honor of the other guests. I agree with Sam that grace is essential and although we don’t want to cater to any particular sin it does make a provision to protect the church. They may not know Christ as Savior and they should be seen as an opportunity to love and share the Gospel. They could also claim to be a believer who struggles with this sin or identity.

      2. I’ m glad you don’t allow for special bathrooms. If laws are past ( as they almost were ) then we must face the consequences for disobeying these abominations. Their will be fines, jail time, churches losing tax exemptions and great persecution towards the righteous.
        I am for evangelizing the sinners regardless of their sin. In church settings where a man wears make up, high heels, dress, nylons using a bathroom that my wife, daughter, young son use is not acceptable. The GLORY OF GOD, HIS ORDER IS FIRST. When we pander to perversions the scripture condemns then we are fighting against the Lord. We also harm the transgender person by agreeing with his / her delusion. Be careful saints for this is a CORE SIN that hits at the very heart of God’s creation. Yes, bring the gospel to every creature under heaven, but do not compromise the Word of God. God bless, His servant, Peter

  2. Charlie Henry says:

    Excellent outlook on a relative social issue. No one should ever be overlooked in recieving the Gospel.
    Thank you Sam for continuing to be a true servant for Christ. I am proud to call you a friend.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Thank you Charlie. And I’m proud to call you a friend too.

      1. Carolyn says:

        Hi PastorSam. My husband and I are struggling with an issue at church. We’ve had a trans accept Christ as his SAVIOR. This person was born male. We DO love all people no matter what they believe,look like, etc. Our struggle is this person is now a greeter at the front door as a trans. Your thoughts???

        1. Elizabeth says:

          If you love that person, what’s the issue? But you don’t, you’re more concerned about optics. Years ago I left a church like yours, and I left it hard– returning to my religious roots.

  3. Elizabeth says:

    Your immediate groping for the bathroom issue tells me all I need to know about whether a transgender individual, like myself, would be welcome in your church. You say you are “preparing” for trans guests– but preparing for what? It just sounds like you want to lure us in so you can “hit hard” with the “truth”– “truth” in this case being some terrible idea about how we’re deluded and need to detransition or something, I’m sure. In any event, this is one of the reasons I left Christianity and returned to the faith of my childhood.

    1. AMP says:

      Thank you for stating that Elizabeth. Those comments were repulsing me, especially after the article references the term “guest”. Is that how we think about our “guests”?

  4. Lea Harte says:

    Does it matter if people believe that this behavior is morally wrong Additionally, the stigma of being transgender is disappearing. Only 35 percent of Americans believe it is morally wrong for an individual to identify with a gender different than their birth sex. Maybe our opinion doesn’t matter at all. It’s God’s word that matters.

  5. Greg vaughn says:

    Wow…I am struggling hard on this issue. Your word brought charity.
    Your example hit hard on the practical issues I am facing.

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