October 4, 2018 • Lee Faler
“Pastor, we are a FRIENDLY church!”
I’ve heard those words by many church members in various settings, and I imagine that if you are reading this article you have too. However, there lies a common misconception in our churches, that if a church is friendly then they are, by default, also a welcoming church. Just because a church is friendly, does not mean that they are a welcoming church. Let me explain.
Most of the time when a church says that they are a friendly church what they are saying is:
- The vast majority of our members are nice to each other. They may even be close friends and acquaintances. We get along.
- Before and after the service, members fellowship with each other.
- There is a sweet spirit of unity and harmony among the members.
None of the above mentioned things are bad. In fact they are all great things to be said about a local church! In fact, all of the above are byproducts of the gospel at work in a local church.
Here’s the problem. Sometimes a local church can be a friendly church, but not be a welcoming church. What does that look like practically speaking? Here are some diagnostic clues:
- Members speak to everyone in the church. Except first time guests.
- First time guests summon up the courage to visit a church, and have no clue where key areas are located inside the building (restrooms, children’s ministry areas, meeting points for various activities, etc.) and no one seems willing to help them.
- First time guests remain just that. First time guests who never return for a second visit.
Before I begin to come across as too harsh, or judgmental, let me make this statement: Many churches are completely unaware that they are friendly, but not welcoming. Automobiles have blind spots, and so do churches. The difference is that many individuals learn to identify the blind spots in their automobiles, and even overcome them. Sadly, many churches never identify their blind spots, and because they go undetected, they are never overcome.
What does the Bible say concerning this issue? Does Jesus care if local churches are friendly, but not welcoming? I believe the Bible does speak to this issue, and that this is an issue that matters to Jesus.
Consider Jesus’ words to a man who invited Him to dinner in Luke 14.
“When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the dead.” – Luke 14:12-14
Simply put, there should be something remarkably different about the hospitality of God’s people that points people to the kingdom to come. We should love and pursue those who cannot repay. While it is natural for us to gravitate towards those whom we are familiar with, it is supernatural to gravitate toward those who are strange to us. This very fact, drives us towards our need for the supernatural working of the gospel in us. Jesus of course is the perfect example of someone who modeled this sort of hospitality. We were not just blind, we were dead. Spiritually we were crippled with no way to get to God. We were not just morally poor, we were morally bankrupt in our sins. We cannot be more hospitable and giving than One who would offer their own life for those who in no way could ever repay.
Secondly, let’s look at a convicting reminder from James.
My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory. For if a man wearing a gold ring and fine clothing comes into your assembly, and a poor man in shabby clothing also comes in, and if you pay attention to the one who wears the fine clothing and say, “You sit here in a good place,” while you say to the poor man, “You stand over there,” or, “Sit down at my feet,” have you not then made distinctions among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4
Here the picture is painted of believers holding onto faith in Christ. James addresses a very plausible situation. Picture it. An individual who is obviously wealthy (you can tell by the many gold rings he is wearing) enters an early church worship gathering. Immediately, he is given the seat of honor. After all, they probably needed his tithe. He is shown preferential treatment.
Right behind him, enters one who is poor, dressed in torn clothing, and honestly, probably smells a little bit. He is not even deemed worthy to sit on a bench, but is ultimately stripped of worth by being told to “sit down at my feet.” This type of behavior was condemned by James and should be by us also. The fact that the rich and the poor have the same Maker (Proverbs 22:2), means that we treat both with equal dignity.
One thing that a lost world should stand in awe of is the way the Church refuses to treat one member as more esteemed than another. When a lost person sees a former drug addict, and the president of a corporation fellowshipping as brothers, they see the power of the gospel that crosses all boundaries and unites. Our world needs to see a picture of a gospel that can do this,: and our hospitality is one way the world sees that picture.
Finally God is seen in Revelation 19 as a host, hosting his people at the marriage supper of the Lamb.
Oh that we would long for the day that we stand in the presence of our Savior, and forever enjoy His presence! As He is seen as a great host, we should model His hospitality.
Hopefully we can see from these passages that it matters greatly to God, not just that we are friendly, but welcoming. One reminder that I do want to give is this: each first time visitor represents a person that will one day stand before God and be judged. That person will be either be judged according to Adam’s imputed sin, or Jesus’ imputed righteousness. We have a message that can save them. We have the great responsibility of not only preaching the gospel to them with our words, but modeling the gospel with our hospitality. People will hear the gospel with our words, but they will see it’s evidence with our actions.
So what can we do?
Particularly I want to answer this question for small church pastors (those with less than 200 in attendance) who may not have the resources to put together gift bags, and goodies to give to their first time guests. By the way, if your church has the resources to do that, rock on! This may not be the case in some churches, and I wish to speak to such.
A word to the pastors
Remember Your Calling. Never forget that one of your primary jobs as a pastor is to “equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12). One question you should ask is “How can I equip my people to minister by welcoming?” Here is a very practical suggestion that can be implemented immediately. Identify those in your congregation who are outgoing by nature and task them with the ministry of welcoming first time guests. God has hard wired certain individuals with a welcoming DNA. Utilize them! Lovingly instruct them that their ministry is to quickly identify first time guests in a worship service, and welcome them to the church. Station them in strategic locations and have a plan in place where more than one said individual greets a guest. How incredible would it be if the next time you had a first time guest at your worship service, you knew as a pastor, that several of your friendliest church members would be welcoming them?
Lead by example. One thing that I personally try to do is to identify first time guests every Sunday morning, and introduce myself to them. Once I do that, I try to introduce them to three church members sitting near them. After doing that, I write their name down to ensure that I will remember it later. By introducing myself, hopefully I am communicating to them, that I am not too busy to notice that they are present. By introducing them to other church members, hopefully I am setting the stage for conversation to ensue.
Have people in place to follow up with first time guests. This is where some of your members who may not be as outgoing as others can be utilized. A card can be mailed. A Facebook message can be sent. The sky is the limit. In today’s world of technology there is no excuse for not following up. People want to be noticed, but more than that, they want to know that someone cares. Following up with first time guests is a great way to communicate that someone cares.
Jesus has welcomed us into the greatest family ever. Our King is hospitable. Each week we have the unique opportunity to not just be friendly to our family, but to welcome those outside the family, in hopes that the gospel wouldn’t just be heard in the songs that we sing, and the words that we preach, but would be demonstrated in our actions. Because Jesus has welcomed us, let’s strive to be a welcoming church