I was recently told by a visitor to church that our congregation was friendly. While I told the guest that I was glad they thought so, I couldn’t help but feel a little defeated. Now, in all fairness, I am a cynic by nature (pray for me) and it seems like the visitor enjoyed their visit…right?? Not to be groundbreaking, but I couldn’t help but think to myself that being friendly and nice, as a Christian, should not be celebrated as something above and beyond the call of duty. It should be an expectation, a standard. Of course we are friendly. If you claim to follow Christ and you are not greeting others with a natural kindness, I would challenge you to look to Him and “check yourself.” A Christian who is seeking to follow Jesus will find joy in Him and organically be friendly and open to all. That should not be a surprise.
Friendliness vs Hospitality
There is a major difference between being friendly and being hospitable. Friendliness is quite passive. It is surface level interactions. Hospitality is founded on being proactive, going out of your way to serve others and to have intentional, meaningful conversations. Paul says in Romans 12:13 to “contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” Don’t wait for your neighbor to reach out and you. Jesus says in Mark to “…love your neighbor as yourself,” saying it’s the second greatest commandment of all.
Look to the Ultimate Host
It’s easy to use seasons of life as excuses to put off being hospitable. You want to reach out to others, but careers, family, sleep, or yard work (the worst) take precedent. Take a lesson from the ultimate Host. Christ made an intentional effort to break bread with His disciples knowing that He would die on a cross the very next day. Let that soak in — He hosted His last meal on this earth and gave some pretty intentional heart-to-hearts. We make the excuse that we have “too much going on” when in reality we are simply exhausted from staying up too late the weekend before, and want one night to catch up on all things Hulu. As Christians, we are called to parallel the love and generosity of Christ. We serve well because Christ has served us well. We love well because Christ loves us well (1 John 4:9-12). This is the cornerstone of hospitality.
While you may not serve on the church’s hospitality team, or you may not think you are gifted with hospitality, or you are the newest hipster trend of being the most introverted extrovert, we are still all called to be gracious, courteous and seeking hosts. You may not be the most outgoing person in the church, but you are at the table. We all are. Christ, the ever seeking and inviting King, has invited us, ALL of us, to sit at His table. Bring your friends. Bring your neighbors. Let the Father use you to serve others well. Show and share the grace of our Lord as He has shown you.
Be intentional. Ask questions. REAL questions. Get their phone number. Use it. Think of day that week you are free and ask them to come over. Go get coffee with them, go get some shaved ice (#summertrend2017), or break bread in your home. Find someone else in the church body you think will have similar interests and connect with them. Make a habit to pray for those you meet that week.
Be sacrificial. How do you serve others on Sunday mornings? Throughout the week? Seeking to serve sacrificially can be many things. It’s sacrificing conversing with your community group right when you see them to make sure the guest you just walked by finds the coffee bar (I know you are headed there too), it’s sacrificing sitting with your neighbor or classmate and instead sitting with someone you don’t know and worshipping together. It’s sacrificing meeting your co-worker or family for lunch right after the service, and inviting a visitor to lunch instead, or inviting them along. Jesus served in some of the lowest ways, even stooping to wash His disciples’ feet. Are you willing to sacrifice and make yourself low for the sake of the gospel?
Be mission minded. The church is part of our mission field. Whatever role you are serving in on a Sunday morning should be a reflection of Christ. Whether that job is greeting at the door, cleaning bathrooms, bass playin’, or checking toddlers into the Kids Ministry, you should put your all into serving. Have good attitudes, anticipate needs, walk guests down the hallway to insure they know the way, and be on time. Volunteer for areas of need versus areas of interest without the expectation of recognition. Every way we serve should be intentional, sacrificial, and to the glory of God.
And yes, be friendly.
Try to be more aware of how you utilize your time on Sunday mornings with newcomers. Perhaps you begin by seeking out visitors, having conversations with them and helping them make meaningful connections before you chase down the friend you have been wanting to see all week. Maybe it’s rearranging YOUR schedule to make a visitor feel welcome. By the way, hospitality doesn’t just stop with guests. When is the last time you have had a fellow member in your home that is outside of your small group or neighborhood?
We are called to declare and display the gospel. That includes displaying the gospel in greeting, welcoming and serving guests at church and in our daily lives. We are called to be intentional and hospitable servants that build up the body of Christ. Peter says in 1 Peter 4:9 to “offer hospitality to one another without complaint.” Pray that the Lord will open your heart and eyes for more intentional, sacrificial and missional opportunities with visitors in order to show the love and hospitable heart of Jesus Christ. For this is true hospitality.
Kyler Keith is the Director of Hospitality at Emmaus Church. He and his wife, Mindy, have two children (Eva & Rhett), and one on the way. He has not written a paper since college, circa 2007. Rock Chalk!!