Updated: May 1, 2018
We sit in our churches very comfortably, we’ve been there for years. We have all the friends we want, and maybe even a few we don’t want. We begin to be calloused to the stranger in our midst. I hope you will start to see these people that God has put in your life and in your church with a renewed sense of compassion. We have no idea what may have prompted them to seek God and His people. Why are they here, why are they coming, and will they come back based on their experience that day?
As we begin talking about the importance of hospitality in the church, it’s essential for us to first understand why people visit your church. In my opinion, all humans, regardless of race, culture, religion, and social status all have the same basic needs:
To belong to something.
To belong to someone.
To feel loved.
To be accepted.
We are born, actually created, to operate within relationships with other people. God designed us that way. He created us to have relationship with him and with others. Research tells us that people will often seek a church for the following reasons:
Refreshment, support, growth, fulfillment, faith, and fellowship.
Their family - help in raising children, keeping relationships together, etc.
A sense of belonging.
Restructuring/reordering of one’s life after a crisis, such as divorce, grief, or illness.
With this knowledge, we should begin to understand the reasons why many people are seeking a church as well as relationships within it. When I began to understand this principal and more importantly, when I personally experienced it, it ignited a compassion in me for strangers.
To illustrate what I’m talking about, I want to share a real-life story with you that my friends, Laura and Adam experienced.
"My husband Adam and I are high school sweethearts who graduated and went away to school together. We had met in youth group at our church in Tulsa. After leaving for college we felt so disconnected from everything we knew. Our families and church friends were all over an hour away, and we had a hard time building new relationships.
Someone recommended a church near us that had a college-age group, and we decided to visit on a Sunday morning. We nervously walked in, politely smiled and took bulletins from the door greater. We found a seat a few rows from the back and sat down. A few minutes later a group of older women came in and sat down in the pew behind us and announced “Well I guess ‘so and so’ won’t be able to sit in their seat this week.” They muttered back and forth about this, and we were so embarrassed. A few minutes later someone else came and sat in front of us and said the same thing. We decided to get up and move to the other side of the Sanctuary. Later in the service they asked visitors to stand up and introduce themselves- we sat awkwardly while everyone near us turned to look, but we didn’t budge.
That one experience made a huge impact on the next several years of our lives. We continued to visit our home church every few months, but never tried going anywhere else as long as we were in college. We were hesitant to try any other churches, and it led to a distance in our relationship with Christ that lasted for several years.
When we got married and then graduated, we finally returned home to Tulsa and to our church. Unfortunately, even there I have heard multiple times people complain when someone sits in “their” seat, and I wonder if the visitor heard them and if that moment could have impacted their life the way it did ours.”
As church members, we must remember that we have no idea why people come to visit our church. Will Mancini, a Christian ministry coach and consultant, shared in his blog that Cedar Creek Church in Ohio polled their guests to find out why they visited their church. I think this can be applied to your church as well.
Something is Missing – People may think about God, Jesus, and even your church as they drive by when that haunting empty feeling crops up.
Something is Broken – Unraveling marriages, lost jobs, health crisis, wayward children, and haunting additions all live beneath the radar.
Something is New – New marriages, new babies, new jobs, new locations are all big “kinds of new” that make some people more receptive to the gospel.
(I’ll add a 4th one to Will’s list):
4. National Crises and Disasters – When events such as terrorist attacks, mass shootings, and economic disasters happen, people seek truth, security, faith, and answers to their fears. We saw a large influx in people coming to churches following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Sadly, our churches did not know how to respond to the guests and strangers as they came looking for answers, community, and hope.
Next Sunday, I hope you will think about the reasons people attend your church for the first time. They probably won’t share the reason with you, but everyone has a reason to come. By your warm welcome, friendship, and hospitality, I hope you’ll give them a reason to stay.
What about you?Have you ever felt unwelcome when visiting a church? To help raise awareness of the importance of practicing hospitality in the church, share your story with us in the comments.
Next time, I’ll tell you about the time I attended church with George Strait!
Hospitality in Action Tip #7
Introduce yourself to a new face or new guest at church this week and invite them to sit with you during worship.