Every time church gathers there is an offer of hospitality. A diversity of people worships together, learns and grows together, and becomes family together. In fact, hospitality is a lifestyle. As a congregation, we have the opportunity to offer a home and family to people who, at that moment and for all practical purposes, are looking for a place to belong. Every gracious host or hostess makes the offer “Make yourself at home.”
As Christian congregations, we are unique in that we exist primarily for the sake of persons who are not members. The question is, “How do we create a hospitable atmosphere and climate that welcomes every person who walks through our doors?”
The apostle Paul instructed the early church, “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). Hospitality becomes how we, as a congregation, share our faith in God’s great generosity revealed in Jesus. It becomes a ministry of evangelism. We share our love in Christ because that is who we are as a congregation.
My friend, Roger Swanson, tells a story about growing up on the streets of Boston. Roger and his brother made it a practice to break into a church in their neighborhood, not to do vandalism, but to seek refuge from summer’s heat and winter’s cold. One day the pastor caught them. They expected the pastor to call the police. But, because the neighborhood was full of children and teenagers who were not involved in traditional Sunday school, the pastor took them to his office and said, “Of all the people in this neighborhood, you are trying the hardest to get into this church.” With those words the pastor offered them a key to the building, a room for a boys’ club, and the opportunity to meet Jesus.
Because the pastor offered them all the comforts of home, the boys’ club became a Sunday school class. Not long after that, the boys’ class and a girls’ class merged into a youth fellowship. Two of those youth later became ordained ministers and leaders of local congregations (Roger Swanson was one of those persons). Several others became active lay leaders in other congregations.
What would happen if you and your congregation began to pray, “O God, send us the people no one else wants and help us receive the people you send to us?”
“Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcome you, for the glory of God.”
Hospitality, at its best, is a congregational lifestyle. It becomes the normal practice of welcoming people and meeting people where they are at any particular time or place. Every person is a person God created and for whom Christ died. It is through you that the people God sends to you will experience God’s love.