The accessibility of the Church and the Gospel’s message of “universal access”

jesus-banquet-last-first disabilityThe Church exists to give voice to the gospel by enacting it in community. The Gospel is a message of “universal” access: mission exists because of the conviction that every person should have access to the saving knowledge of God in Christ. And that salvation is open to all: the message itself is one of universal access. It seems reasonable to conclude that God desire the church to be accessible to all whom God calls. If universal design has been helpful in other areas involving universal access, perhaps it’s worth a look at seeing whether or how these “design” principles are relevant to church planters, pastors, and others who have an impact on the “designing” of faith communities. As we do that, we’ll also reflect on whether or how the principles themselves reflect aspects of the Gospel of the Kingdom.UD Hong Honk

The “textbook definition” of universal design is “The design of products and environments to be usable by all people, to the greatest extent possible, without the need for adaptation or specialized design.” Just let that sink in for a minute…

Do you sense a resonance with the gospel already? Well, nothing needs to be added to the gospel for anyone to be saved by it, right? Affirming that would deny its universal validity. The gospel of Christ does NOT need to be adapted or specialized; the message about what Jesus accomplished in His death comes to each and every one of us in the human race directly enough that, whoever we are, we are invited to say, “I am coming to the foot of the cross, where I know I am welcome “just as I am.””


Though the Gospel cannot be “adapted” or “modified” (without losing its integrity)… it CAN (and must) be “translated” into the real-life languages and cultures in which real people live. The gospel addresses all people, and we are committed to making the gospel accessible to all people; this serves as a strong motivation to have the church’s “design processes” reflect these realities.

There are a variety of different articulations of universal design principles, but we’re going to work with one of the earliest and best statements, developed at NC State University: The Principles of Universal Design.


Over the next week, we’ll unpack each of them, asking how using these principles might affect the values and practices of church “designers,” and looking for ways these principles engage our theological imagination as we seek to faithfully enact that doctrine in a global diverse-yet-one-in-Christ community of worship and mission.

So stick around! I’ll start posting my reflections next week… but feel free to comment with your own ideas. 

PRINCIPLE ONE: Equitable Use | The design is useful and marketable to people with diverse abilities.
PRINCIPLE TWO: Flexibility in Use | The design accommodates a wide range of individual preferences and abilities.
PRINCIPLE THREE: Simple and Intuitive Use | Use of the design is easy to understand, regardless of the user’s experience, knowledge, language skills, or current concentration level.
PRINCIPLE FOUR: Perceptible Information | The design communicates necessary information effectively to the user, regardless of ambient conditions or the user’s sensory abilities.
PRINCIPLE FIVE: Tolerance for Error | The design minimizes hazards and the adverse consequences of accidental or unintended actions.
PRINCIPLE SIX: Low Physical Effort | The design can be used efficiently and comfortably and with a minimum of fatigue.
PRINCIPLE SEVEN: Size and Space for Approach and Use | Appropriate size and space is provided for approach, reach, manipulation, and use regardless of user’s body size, posture, or mobility. 
Copyright 1997 NC State University, The Center for Universal Design 

This post continues a series which begins here. The series continues, with reflections on the above principles, here.


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