Ethics, Morals, Behavior
Strenthening a Church Through Hospitality
by Ed Vasicek
When Marylu and I first moved to Kokomo, we were the new kids on the block. Some people slighted us because we were different. Others thought we were on the stupid side because we did not know what they knew. It took effort to "break in" to the church and communityat least at first. Fortunately, most folks treated us kindly, patiently, and considerately. Some tried to put themselves in our shoes, and we appreciated that. But note this point: if it was difficult for a pastor to break into a community and a church, how difficult must it be for other newcomers to feel at home?
The Bible is filled with admonitions for Christians to exercise hospitality. Romans 12:13 is clear: "practice hospitality," we are admonished. Although we tend to think of hospitality as making people comfortable while visiting our homes, such a limited definition narrows our minds and keeps us from seeing the bigger picture. Hospitality involves doing our part to see that others feel welcome and at ease with their surroundings. And hospitality is key to a church's effectiveness.
The nature of hospitality is meant to be variable. Often how we offer hospitality is hinged upon our personality. On one occasion, I remember giving strangers who were standing in line at Scoops ice cream parlor advance information as to what flavors were featured that day. That's because I am a schmoozer at heart and struggle with only a minimal number of inhibitions. That's me. Not everyone is like me, nor should they be.
But every believer SHOULD be hospitable, and a great place to demonstrate hospitality is at church, though we should also be hospitable at work and in the neighborhood. Our greeting time is a wonderful opportunity to sharpen this skill. True, greeting time serves several purposes: it provides an ideal transition time for children to be dismissed to Children's Church, it gives opportunity for folks to fellowship with one another, but it can also become a key time to show hospitality to newcomers. If there are no newcomers, you can be hospitable by hiking to a different part of the auditorium and greeting someone you do not know. Greeting time can become a time to share your enthusiasm with others.
Hospitality, at a church level, means taking ownership. See yourself as responsible to guide strangers, to greet them, to initiate small talk, and, if they return, to get to know them. If they have children or teens, you might put a word in for Awana, BASIC, SOL, or Sunday School. You might mention the Children's Choir. Let them know you are glad they are in attendance and you'd love to see them come back. Muster a little enthusiasm.
Hospitality involves putting yourselves in their shoes. Even if they never return, they are (for that little while) the "new kids on the block." It is your job to help remove the sense of isolation that comes from unfamiliar surroundings and people.
As new people begin attending, get to know them. It is great to develop close friendships within the body, and you should not attempt to make everyone your close friend. But closeD friendships are a bummer. You can have only a few close friends yet demonstrate an attitude of open friendship. The difference between open friendship and closed friendship is this: the willingness to socialize with others besides current friends. Whether you add new faces to your circle of close friends or simply increase your circle of general friends, hospitality demands you do not keep to yourself. Jesus was unusually close to Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, but he had many other friends. It is that attitude of openness that makes for deeper levels of hospitality.
Another simple way to practice hospitality is to leave parking spaces available for visitors. If you are healthy and do not have children or equipment to tote, consider parking at the City Tire or A.G. Edwards parking lots on Sunday mornings. Or you might be on the lookout for visitors. When folks visit our church, they generally cannot find the rest rooms (despite an abundance of signs), nursery, or classrooms. Offer to direct them or walk them to the location they seek. Initiate conversation AFTER church with visitors. Do not escape church like rats from a sinking ship, diving into the ocean! Schmooze around.
And how about an even greater form of hospitality—inviting friends and relatives to church? One recent study suggests that 9 out of 10 unchurched folks appreciate when a friend or relative invites them to church. They may not come, but they are glad someone cared enough to welcome them. Interestingly, studies show that on Easter of 1999, 12% of atheists and agnostics were in church! If you invite folks to church, be aware that some folks will not be able to find our parking lot the first time around (encourage them to use the Law Office parking lot). About half can find it, which is why we need the spaces mentioned above. Force them to face the rude awakening that Highland Park Church is near downtown, not near Highland Park! You could give them an HPC brochure that has a map on the back. (Find them in the track rack in the foyer.) You might even offer to have them follow you to church.
If our church is to make its mark for Jesus Christ, we have to bear down and get serious about reaching our potential. Bearing down simply means taking the Bible seriously and practically, including the command to "practice hospitality." Let's think and pray how we can improve, because the room for improvement is the biggest room in the world!
Reprinted from the November 2002 Body Builder, a publication of Highland Park Church.
Highland Park Church
516 West Sycamore Street
Kokomo, Indiana, USA