Excerpted from “The Call to Christian Hospitality: Living Into a Truly Welcoming Church”
by Henry G. Brinton;
I believe that all of you want to be part of a truly welcoming congregation, one that embraces all people with God’s love and grace. But if you are like me, you . . . probably set up some barriers to inclusion without even knowing it. Perhaps your church entryways are dark or cramped. Or, when you enter church, you gravitate toward a particular seat. Or you like a certain kind of music, regardless of what your guests might enjoy.
Fundamentally, most of us go to church expecting our own needs to be met. We have the attitude of guests, rather than hosts. We want to sit in our favorite seats, enjoy our favorite music, see our friends, and have food and drink with people we already know.
But what if we shifted our attitudes and became the hosts that God wants us to be?
The roots of hospitality [are]: Welcoming sites, worship, meals and small groups.
The first of the roots is Hospitable Sites. When I visited evangelical Saddleback Church in California, I discovered that it is a church that understands the importance of physical sites in Christian hospitality. They have built a campus with numerous “threshold places” — places that link the church to the world around it.
Wide driveways welcome me, with excellent signage pointing to large and convenient parking lots. . . . Saddleback is famous for its hospitality, welcoming newcomers as guests rather than as visitors. “The term ‘visitor’ implies that they’re not here to stay,” writes Rick in his book The Purpose-Driven Church. “The term ‘guest’ implies that this is someone for whom you do everything you can to make them feel comfortable.”
How are you doing at your church? Is it easy for a first-time visitor to find your Sanctuary? Where do they go for church information? For children’s programs? For a cup of coffee? . . . In the life of the church, hospitable sites are very, very important. . . . When we create hospitable sites, we are put in touch with something that is holy.
Now I’m not saying that you should try to copy Saddleback . . . But you need to create threshold places that serve as bridges between the outside world and the inside of the church — sites that are inviting, accessible, and comfortable.
Something as simple as your church sign can have a significant impact. The pastor of Faith United Church of Christ told me that one simple act had done more than anything else to bring gays and lesbians to his church. He and his church leaders added a rainbow flag to their church sign. Suddenly, the sign itself became a welcoming threshold place. . . .
So why do we do this? Because God does it. Our hospitality reflects the hospitality of God — the God who embraces all people with love and grace. We see this in Isaiah 56, in which the Lord reaches out to outsiders such as foreigners and eunuchs, and says, “these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer … for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (v. 7). . . . God always wants to expand the circle of inclusion, and to welcome people in ways that will not merely accept them, but will “make them joyful.”