With many people never darkening the doors of churches these days, it is becoming important to reinvest in hospitality as a spiritual discipline in the life of our congregations in order to reach out to those who have yet to visit.
Hospitality is the biblical and theological discipline in which we welcome people–strange, friend, foe, and familiar–into our lives and our very community. Though this is disconcerting to some, it will become one of the primary modes of evangelism in the next century.
Hospitality starts at church, a place where we should get the training and intentional resources for reaching out to those who are unchurched.
You would think that churches are among the warmest, friendliest, and most hospitable places in the world. After all, churches are the very locations in which the Spirit of God moves and has its being, a place that offers the unique gift of God’s redemption. You would think.
Unfortunately, not all churches are personable, warm, and friendly; and very few have made the intentional effort to practice the spiritual discipline of hospitality in a community setting. I write from experience: All too often I have visited a church and left without receiving one personal greeting–a handshake and a name–with a person in the room.
Other churches overcome this by dispatching greeting teams to do just that; but even “official” greeters fall short of offering true hospitality. There is nothing more friendly, more warm, and more pleasant than when a regular person in the pew goes out of the way to shake a visitor’s hand, ask for a name, and welcomes him or her to church.
In an impersonal society, churches must be intentional in practicing biblical hospitality. According to the book of Hebrews, when we show hospitality to strangers, it is as if we entertain angels unawares.
I’m not disrespecting fellow churches here; I simply want every church to succeed because people’s lives and souls, especially those who have yet to call Christ Lord, are at stake.
With that said, I humbly offer several tips on how to improve hospitality in our places of worship:
First, read, preach, and form a Bible study on the topic of biblical hospitality. There are great books out there by authors such as Henri Nouwen, Christine Pohl, Brendan Byrne, and (for my liberal readers) the late Letty Russell.
Second, get it in your mind that everyone–not just the staff and greeters–is responsible for making visitors feel welcome. Yes, we must have people assigned at each door to greet visitors; but churches that train their laity to embrace each stranger that comes to church can offer intimacy and warmth more effectively than churches that take this topic for granted.
By the way, there is a difference between being a welcoming church and being a church that embraces others. If you ever go to eat at Moe’s, for instance, you will be welcomed: “Welcome to Moe’s!” everyone cries. But after you order, you still eat alone. In a church, we welcome people, but then we must invite them to the table of friendship and community. That act of embracing others must be intentional.
Third, have a brochure or card that provides information about your church, or include such information on your bulletin. How else are visitors supposed to find out about your church’s history, core values, and/or mission? It doesn’t have to be much, and even a clear and compelling website will do. This will also help inspire visitors to make informed decisions about how to get involved in ministry at your church.
Fourth, have a procedure in place for follow-up. Before I started on staff at Trinity, I went to a United Methodist Church in Duluth that had various couples who made it their business to invite visitors to dinner in their homes. One such couple invited my family to dinner, and it was soon after that that we became members of the church.
Last, practice hospitality in your home and neighborhood. Many people will come to church with you after they meet you in your home. Word-of-mouth is one of the most effective ways to “make disciples,” and your hospitality will attest Jesus’ words, “They will know that you are my disciples by your love.”
So be empowered: Love, greet, welcome, and embrace.
Dr. Joe LaGuardia is available to speak at your church, community, synagogue, or business on the theology, biblical basis, and application of effective hospitality. Please visit his website at www.joelaguardia.com or contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org